“I THINK I’M the same person on stage as I am off stage,” says Scandinavian singer-songwriter Jonas Desai.
“I’m pretty relaxed and pretty confident.” This unassuming self-belief is hardly surprising, given that the 22-year-old chose music ahead of modelling and professional football - his other two potential career paths.
Jonas was born in Sweden to father Jagdish, who had emigrated there from India in the 1960s, and mother Margit, a native Swede.
The softly spoken singer grew up in the northern city of Skelleftea, becoming disenchanted with its sleepy monotony in his teenage years.
“My hometown is pretty boring at times,” he told City Times. “You meet the same people every day, you do the same thing and you go to the same places - there are two bars and one discotheque.”
During this time, Jonas immersed himself in sport - playing semi-professional football as a midfielder for his local club, Division One North side Skelleftea FF. However, his ambitions to carve a career as a pro-footballer were soon superseded by his desire to become a performing artist.
Jonas began making music in earnest two years ago, after visiting Dubai from Sweden to play at his brother’s wedding. Watching that set was Dutch producer Reiner Erlings, who invited him to London to record a demo. Not wishing to arrive empty-handed, Jonas hastily turned his hand to songwriting, coming up with a couple of songs to lay down in the studio. These sessions would eventually form his first EP ‘Get Me Out’, released through Involved Music.
Jonas eventually moved to Dubai permanently at the start of 2008, and has spent the last five months working round the clock on debut album ‘A Weight Off My Mind’.
“This is my full-time job,” said the singer, who is managed by his older brother Andreas. “I’ve been super-busy in the studio, and I’m doing a bit of modelling at photoshoots and fashion shows here and there to get some money.”
The 12-track pop-rock record fuses the finer moments of David Gray, who Jonas opened for at this year’s Dubai International Jazz Festival in February, and the early material of Jonas‚ idol and “inspiration” John Mayer.
“I think John Mayer has an amazing ability to speak simply about things that are very complicated and difficult, which helps people understand what he’s talking about,” he said. “I really appreciate when a musician has that control over his music, and he’s a great guitarist as well. I aspire to be as good as he is one day - it takes time, but I think I’m on my way.”
After all the blood, sweat and tears of the recording process, Jonas celebrated the release of ‘A Weight Off My Mind’ recently with an official launch party at The Music Room in Bur Dubai’s Majestic Hotel.
“I have high hopes for the album,” he said. “If people listen to it, I think the music will speak for itself. I wrote the songs because I felt like writing, not because I wanted to make a living out of it, and I think it has a lot of soul. It’s based around my thoughts and everyday life. “Whoever wants to hear my music, that makes me happy - if it’s in Dubai, if it’s in New York, if it’s in Sweden it doesn’t really matter, but I wouldn’t mind being the first established singer-songwriter from Dubai. That would be pretty cool.”
To help promote the album, Jonas plans to tour India next month - which will mark his first ever visit to his father’s home country.
“I’ve always wanted to go,” he said. “What better way than to play a few gigs there? Hopefully we’ll play Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Calcutta - as many as we possibly can. There’s a Western wind coming in over India now and people really appreciate the kind of music I make, so I think it’s the right time to go there.”
So does Jonas intend to go down the rock and roll route of hard partying and endless hedonism befitting the life of a musician?
“I’ve been asked before what I think about Amy Winehouse,” he said. “I love her, she’s amazing and I’m sure she’s the sweetest girl. I don’t want to say what has happened to her is her fault, because the music industry these days puts that kind of pressure on you.
“I don’t know how I would handle the paparazzi chasing me, being in your face every morning and evening, that’s such a surreal situation to have that coverage every day.
“I go out and have fun, but at the end of the day you have to take a step back and say ‘Am I still me? Am I being the person I want to be?’”
Jonas spoke to City Times at the Live Music + Live Art + Live Fashion event in the Emirates Hills, an interactive exhibition showcasing creative talent in the UAE.
‘A Weight Off My Mind’ is available to buy now from Virgin Megastores, iTunes and www.amazon.com.