Akon touching down

Updated: 2011-10-25 08:01

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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Akon's hard-edged hip-hop and catchy dance floor hits are on the menu for his first Chinese mainland tour, on Nov 4 at Beijing's Mastercard Center, Nov 5 at Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena and Nov 7 at Guangzhou Stadium.

The multi-platinum superstar, who is the boss and broker of Lady Gaga, will bring his hit songs including Mr Lonely, Right Now, Beautiful and Oh Africa, which he sang for the World Cup in South Africa 2010.

"We had a show set up a few years ago and had to cancel for some reasons, but I am excited to finally get the chance to visit China and be able to perform. I hope that I have time to explore," the 38-year-old singer-songwriter says in an e-mail interview.

Akon touching down

As a songwriter and producer with his own record label, Akon has influenced the music industry behind the scenes by working with many of the world's biggest names, from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber and Eminem.

He is credited with 45 Billboard Hot 100 songs since he first rose to prominence in 2004 with the release of Locked Up and has six Grammy nominations, an American Music Award for favorite male R&B artist and four World Music Awards. The prolific artist also made it onto Forbes' 2011 list of hip-hop top earners.

Akon says that balancing his roles as a boss and a singer is the core to win in the market. In order to stay fresh, he listens to "everything but what I do". Traveling also has given him plenty of inspiration.

"My past experiences have affected and will always affect my music," he says.

For the upcoming tour, his fans are looking forward to the surprise showing of Lady Gaga, who was unleashed by Akon onto the world. For Akon, Gaga is a born star and he just helped her find a suitable music style.

"It seems like everyone else is trying to do what worked for her. Her creativity is incomparable and I can't wait to see what she is going to do next," he says.

The concerts will also see Akon's tribute to "iconic figure" Michael Jackson. As the last artist to release a record with the late King of Pop, Akon will perform the song Hold My Hand at the concerts.

"Since I started my music career, my dream was to work with him and I can't believe that I made that in less than five years," he says. "He was the kind of person that I hope to work with more than often. He made the kind of music that can heal the world but he left us, which is such a tragedy."

Akon attributes much of his international success to his cross-cultural background.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he spent much of his early childhood in Senegal, where both his parents are from. The son of famed percussionist Mor Thiam, there were always artists around when he was growing up. His mother designed costumes for the Jackson 5. He says that it was then that he gained "an appreciation for melody and making music that can crossover many different languages".

Following on the heels of the widely successful The Cranberries China tour in late July, Akon's concert is among the latest in a growing tide of Western acts hoping to conquer the vast entertainment market of China.

His arrival is also a testament to the growing popularity of hip-hop music, in China.

"Akon has had a great influence on Chinese pop stars, such as Jay Chou and Wang Lee-hom. He has helped hip-hop gain wider popularity among the Chinese urban youth and homegrown hip-hop groups have been emerging," says Wang Zhong, 27, a popular hip-hop DJ, who is also known as Garfield Zhong. "Akon's concert will definitely encourage more young Chinese people to love the music genre."

Taiwan rapper Wilber Pan has worked with Akon on his single, Be With You, for his 2010 album, 007.

Yin Cang, or Hidden, the first hip-hop group in China, in 2000, has been influenced by Akon.

"Chinese people are conservative and reluctant to express their emotions. But in the world of hip-hop, we can freely express ourselves through the music genre," says Zheng Zhong, one of the band's founders. "I am looking forward to his concert because the experience of live hip-hop music is exciting."

"I also see this as big sign of more foreign music stars coming to China. If Akon comes, Lady Gaga is not far away," Zheng says.