Exclusive: Emin in Dubai talks music, restaurants and Robert De Niro
"I'm just trying to be myself"
Meet Emin Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-singing sensation, Robert De Niro's Nobu business partner and the son of real-estate royalty. Now in Dubai for his second concert, Buro 24/7 Middle East sat down with the chart-topping artist, in between sound checks ahead of his concert at the Burj al Arab, to talk Nile Rodgers, his restaurant plans for Dubai and what MTV really think of him...
Welcome back to Dubai and congratulations on Boomerang making it into the top 40 UK charts. How does that feel?
It's the most exciting feeling in the world. But this is not my first time, it's actually my fifth single that's broken into the top 40 UK but it's the first up-tempo song, the rest were ballads. It's exciting to finally have a song that is play-listed all over Europe and the UK and enter the Billboard charts in America at number 22 and 24 this week, so hopefully we will hit the top 20 soon.
You last performed in Dubai five years ago, what's taken you so long to come back?
I don't know. But there are a few Russian artists constantly performing here and so I thought this will be fun to come back. My kids have joined me too. I managed to catch a week of vacation with them. They're almost 7, they're twins. We've done Aquaventure, SEGA Republic, the beach, lunch, dinner.
When you started producing songs in English were you surprised they took off so quickly in the Western market?
My first video played for 5 years in Europe and the UK before it played in Russia. I think the Russian music industry has some prejudice because of my background and family; my father's a big real estate tycoon but then when people heard me on Radio 2, the BBC and Heart FM in the UK they checked out my music. Then they said: "We don't play English music, Russian radio only plays Russian". So I said fine, I'll try it and I did a song in Russian, I didn't like it but it went to the top 10 most played Russian songs so maybe it wasn't so bad. It bought me a much bigger audience and an opportunity to tour. It's a nice balance.
Tell us about Boomerang?
Boomerang is fantastic. It's a song I recorded about six months ago, which I first played at a charity show for the homeless in the US. Nile Rodgers was the honoree of the event and he went on stage and delivered an amazing speech about how he was once a homeless man. Then my band to play three songs and backstage he said: "Emin, you know I really like your band, so unexpected for you to come out of Russia and that song you did, Boomerang? It's fantastic. It could be a worldwide hit for you." So I said: "Nile not without you playing guitar in it!"
I was taking off on the plane and I get a tweet from Nile saying he would love to collaborate! So not only did he play guitar, he also re-produced the song, sang lines with me and now MTV are naming me 'the first Russian artist to cross over into main stream pop'. I'm not even Russian!
That's extremely exciting, no?
Actually it puts a burden on me. What on earth should be my next single? To live up to the expectation is tough because the industry is like OK, this guy can make some cool music but what's next? One song doesn't do anything for you, you need consistency like Adele and Sam Smith and all of the current big names. So, let's hope I don't mess this up.
Aside from music you're also in the restaurant business...
Yes, I'm opening a second Nobu restaurant in Moscow with Robert De Niro on November 9, 2015.
Tell us about that?
It's exciting! I opened the first one six years ago and I'm opening a restaurant here in the Madinat extension too. In Moscow I have 15 restaurants but Nobu is already in Dubai but I think I can do a lot of my own concepts and hopefully I can succeed.
Your culinary concepts are renowned in Russia, which ones would you bring to the Middle East?
I think here definitely an Azeri restaurant because a lot of Arab food is similar. I also have a concept that is called the Rose Bar, which is a restaurant. You know how in the Summer in the South of France everyone drinks Rose? Well I created a restaurant with boat plank floors and a lot of white with a re-tractable roof, open terrace, music so that could be cool and I have two of those in Moscow so maybe a third one will be here in Dubai.
What is it like working with Robert De Niro?
He's one of the most successful people in the world. They're usually the most humble and down to earth people because they know it all. They've seen it all. Robert is the perfect example. As a business partner he's the easiest person to work with and never has any complaints if everything is done right.
What's one thing people don't know about you?
Let me give you an honest answer. Out of all of the millions of things I do, the best one, the most successful... is being a father because I'm a kid. With my seven-year-old's it's like being in a big kindergarten. It's like the childhood I never had and I get to re-live that with them.
I was born in the Soviet Union. during the first 15 years of my life there wasn't even Lego.
How did you get so involved in music then?
My mum gave me an Elvis Presley tape when I was 12 and it was rock'n'roll and I said: "Wow, I want to be that man!" So for the first 10 years I was trying to be that man and for the rest of my life I'm trying to be myself.