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One-on-One with Anita Williams

Dubai-based Irish vocalist and jazz performer Anita Williams is known for her smooth, swinging and polished sets. She talks about the jazz circuit in the UAE, her new album and her love for Umm Kulthum.

You’ve been living in Dubai since 2012, that’s quite a while. What has made you stay there?
My husband’s work brought me here originally, and I have grown to love the city a lot. Dubai is not all skyscrapers and outlandish wealth. It has a real, original Arabic beauty to it. We live in Jumeriah by the beach and life is very easy and peaceful here. Dubai is by far the safest city I have ever lived in, and I have lived in many. So I guess it is very endearing and home for the foreseeable future.

And how has the jazz scene evolved since then?
When I first arrived, I was very taken aback at how limited the jazz scene actually was. I had left my wonderful jazz band behind in Ireland, and it took me some time to settle in the music scene. However, over a year I did meet some wonderfully talented Jazz musicians, and we formed a true old school jazz band and I have not looked back. The guitar player in this band was how I came to write our album…something I actually never knew I could do.  

Tell us about your new album, which is scheduled to launch soon.
My guitar player, Alex Vorobev, and I sat down last summer in my home and wrote the music and lyrics. He had already recorded the music, and I gave the lyrics a go. I was actually astonished as the words kept flowing. The album is a mix of all things Jazz...swing, bossa, blues, ballads and good old time jazz. There is a nice surprise in store as we do a superb cover of two of my favourite jazz ballads. It was an inspirational time in the melting heat of Dubai.

So how did you initially become interested in jazz?
I received a gift for my 13th birthday of a Billie Holiday CD, ”You’ve Changed,” I can remember it like yesterday. That woman brought tears to my eyes and my love affair with Jazz began.

What do you think could be done to boost people’s appreciation of jazz in Dubai?
To be very honest you are either a jazz lover or you are not. Jazz is not for everyone, but once you are hooked, that is it, no going back. It’s passionate, rich in melody, edgy, heart-breaking and much, much more.

Do you enjoy listening to any kind of Arabic music? If so, which Arab artist would you be interested in collaborating with?
I have fallen in love with Umm Kulthum and her incredible voice.  My husband, being Arabic, has introduced me to a lot of Arabic music, but for me, nothing compares to her haunting voice. I guess she would have been the Arabic artist I would have loved to collaborate with...That unfortunately can never happen now,  but her memory lives on strongly in our home.

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