Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf in European debut
Published Sunday 29/09/2013 (updated) 07/10/2013 16:29
THE HAGUE (AFP) -- The Gazan winner of the Arab Idol talent competition, a rare symbol of Palestinian unity, is to give his first concert outside the Arab world in The Hague on Sunday.
Mohammed Assaf, 24, became a national hero when he won the pan-Arab contest in June after transfixing millions of television viewers with his soaring renditions of Arab love ballads and patriotic Palestinian songs.
“I am happy, this is an opportunity to be in front of a non-Arab audience, and that's a good thing," Assaf told AFP in an interview. "I’d like to reach out to the world.”
Organisers said they expected the 800 tickets for the young heartthrob's concert in The Hague's town hall on Sunday night, his first outside the Middle East and north Africa, to be sold out.
“Music is a unifying message," Assaf said.
"Maybe there are different audiences, or the techniques are different in the Middle East and in Europe and America, but what I know is music is something that when people first hear, they love.”
Assaf arrived in The Netherlands from his new home in Dubai and had dinner with Arab ambassadors on Saturday evening, a spokesman for the Palestinian delegation in The Netherlands, Roel Raterink, told AFP.
Organisers said Palestinians from Germany and Belgium are also expected to travel to The Netherlands for the concert, which will also be attended by most Arab ambassadors.
Israel in August took the exceptional step of allowing Assaf to move from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a "humanitarian gesture".
Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza since 2006 which was tightened further when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control there the following year.
Assaf said he was now living in Dubai "because of the conditions in my country".
"Because of the siege, it is easier for me to go to Dubai, it makes travel easier because I have concerts in some Arab countries and in Europe, and in America over the next months.”
No Israeli diplomats will be attending. Israeli President Shimon Peres is on a visit to Amsterdam at the same time, the Israeli embassy said.
One-time wedding crooner Assaf was also to meet members of The Netherlands' Palestinian community before heading to Italy for another European concert, Raterink said.
Born to Palestinian parents in Misrata, Libya, Assaf grew up in the teeming Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza before winning the 2013 edition of Arab Idol in Beirut in June.
His victory sparked scenes of jubilation across the Palestinian territories.
The week after he won, Assaf performed in front of some 40,000 fans in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The contest in Beirut transfixed the viewing public with Assaf's story which saw him sneaking out of Gaza, nearly missing his initial audition in Cairo, and then only making it through after a fellow Gazan pulled out.
Palestinians remain divided between Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip and its Fatah rival which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
On his return to Gaza in June, Assaf called for an end to the "division" with the West Bank, and urged unity between Palestinians.
While this is his first performance in Europe as Arab Idol winner, he says he went to summer camp in France in 2003 and performed in Marseille in 2006.
“We took first prize for a cultural song. I was singing and there were guys dancing the debke, an Arab dance," he said.