Gamers8 Artists Spotlight: Saudi's King of Pop Mishaal Tamer

The Saudi artist is quickly rising to fame worldwide, What’s On sat down with him to get the lowdown of his journey…

Mishaal Tamer is one of the biggest stars to come out of Saudi Arabia recently. Known for his unique mix of alternative, indie, and pop music, homegrown artist Mishaal is the first Saudi artist to sign a major record deal in the US with RCA Records.

Born in Jeddah, Mishaal’s story with music began when he broke his arm at nine years old and learnt how to play the guitar as part of physiotherapy. Since then, Tamer has gone on to release his debut EP in 2020 called Life’s a Ride and major singles like Superman, Cigarette, and Look Into My Eyes (Wallahi) and even toured alongside major international sensations One Republic as part of their tour.

What’s On: How do you feel being the first pop artist in Saudi Arabia?

Mishaal Tamer: Honestly, grateful. Like if you go on my Instagram and you keep scrolling, scrolling to the very beginning, my first post was done right after they lifted the music ban, like literally right after. And I was even too shy, no one in my family was like yeah Mishaal, be a musician, you know it was like do Computer Science, that was my thing. So I didn’t even show my face, I posted it on an anonymous account called Papa Misho and it’s still my account now, but we changed the name, like a 10-second long video, and now Subhanallah like 200 million streams across the globe. And that’s not even me putting it out, that’s people taking it and sampling it like producers from the US and Korea, a huge part of my fan base is Korean actually.

I think the smartest thing the country has done is lift this ban on music, because nothing in this world spreads as fast as music and connects the way music does. It’s not only that it goes around and it bridges cultures, it’s not only that it will make you be like what’s Saudi Arabia, where’s this guy from, or where is this. It’s not like a tourist location, like a tourist location you look at and think I could go there or I could go to every other tourist location. What can we do with music, why is it different? It spreads way faster than an advertisement, the people spread it for you, and it connects people emotionally. So it gives you a connection to not only the music, and here’s the best part, but also the person behind it, it’s a human being, a real human being behind this music and that is connection. And that makes you be like, oh that’s what a Saudi can look like, that’s what a Saudi can sound like, and that’s what a Saudi can do, and you have these beautiful places, I wanna go. Grateful, grateful. Like what the country is doing is amazing and I’m glad to be a small part of it.

What’s On: How would you describe your particular style of music?

MT: I have no idea how to describe it. I mean like Disco Cowboy, for example, the song has three instruments, literally just drums, bass and oud. And not just any oud, I’m not doing the thing that a lot of American-Arab artists I see, like they would take a bunch of instruments and force it into the music because now the Arab thing is becoming a hot thing and everyone wants to be Arab, like do something  original man. Being from here, I’ve grown up with this music that everyone looks at as exotic and I don’t like that. And we’re the young generation, let’s be innovative, let’s figure out something new that we can claim as our own, we’re Generation Z, and whatever comes after it, I don’t care what it’s called, just make it your own thing, see a door, break it.

So, it’s an oud broken in from the back. I swear I broke it with a pencil and book in my apartment, and then I hooked it up with some microphones attached it to some pedals like a guitar pedal and even a bass pedal cause you know, why not, and then I heard a sound that I’ve never heard in my life. In Disco Cowboy, it starts with this light, almost hypnotic music, the tonality that you get out of that is impossible to get from a western instrument like a guitar. And then, when it hits the low note of the oud, it’s like the ground opens up. A sound that you would normally need five heavy metal electric guitars to make, comes out of one string from an oud, that’s our power. This is what I try to do with my music.

This is what I think any Saudi artist can do, honestly forget me, maybe I’m the first, but I don’t want to be the last. If you’re seeing this, do it too, find a tablah and do something cool with it, have fun, the world is yours. Music just got opened up to us, it’s at our fingertips, everybody in the next coming years is going to be learning how to play these instruments, have fun, do your thing. The world is yours, and the world hasn’t heard you yet. Make your sound, make it whatever you want, it’s yours. If anything people are saying is S-Pop (Saudi Pop), that’s S-Pop. Make it yours, if you’re Saudi, you’re making S-Pop.

What’s On: We know you recently toured with One Republic, can you tell us how that came about?

MT: Luck. I was gonna come back home to Jeddah, and then I got a phone call. This is when I was shooting Disco Cowboy in LA and I was really homesick. So, I was thinking man, I can’t wait to go back and see my dog, and just be by the beach again, go fishing and all that stuff and see my cousins. And then I get this phone call that’s like someone was at the music video shoot yesterday, and I was like who, who was there, this guy Drew Chaffee (handles musical direction and playback for artists including OneRepublic) and he was on the phone with with the leader and producer of One Republic, Brent Kutzle and Brent listens to the song (Disco Cowboy) and he’s like who’s this kid? He’s like he’s from where and after they’re like let’s hear some more of his music, and then they heard Cigarette, and that was the one that did it, they put it on their post, and the phone call was like do you want to go on tour with One Republic in Europe? And I’m thinking I’m homesick but this is an opportunity I cannot miss, so I went for it.

What’s On: What does the rest of 2023 have in store for you?

MT: My first album. Everyone in the label was telling me call it Mishaal Tamer because this is your first debut project, you’ve only released demos, these are your first actual songs, actual music, call it Mishaal Tamer, call it your name. But, I’m not calling it that, because I’ve been here at home, and I’ve noticed something being here, it’s changing. Everything’s changing. I also know that through my platform as a musician through Spotify and all that stuff, I’m not reaching only Saudi, I’m not reaching only the Arab world. I’m reaching places that I’ve never even been to in my life, what do I want to tell them? So that’s what I called the album, Home Is Changing. I want to try and put it out before MDLBEAST, if that is possible, that would be ideal.

What’s On: Who are the artists that inspire you?

MT: Hajaj from Saudi, he’s a good friend, an incredible human being, and if you’re seeing this and thinking I’m your favourite artist, Hajaj is my favourite artist, so go check him out please. Obviously Mohammed Abdo like my god, the melodies, insane. Andrea Bocelli, One Republic, Imagine Dragons definitely, Cigarettes After Sex, Deftones, Metallica, Michael Jackson, Tupac, MF DOOM is one of my favourite rappers actually, and Amr Diab.

What’s On: Anything you’d like to say to young Saudis looking to you as an inspiration?

MT: Don’t be afraid to do something that you wanna do, no matter what anyone tells you. I’ve heard a lot. When I was growing up almost every day I would hear like when are you gonna quit guitar and focus on something real, guys, home is changing and this is now something real, go for it, don’t let anyone stop you. Like dude, we can do so much, the world has not seen anything, let’s show ’em what we’ve got.

Images: Social