Voice behind Expo 2020 theme song: Mayssa Karaa on infusing Middle Eastern beats into modern global pop

The Lebanese-born singer is working relentlessly on spreading the message of self-love and her vision to introduce the Arabic culture to the Western ears


Purva Grover

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Published: Thu 28 Jul 2022, 7:32 PM

Last updated: Fri 29 Jul 2022, 12:14 PM

Let’s admit it, we’re still humming This Is Our Time, the official theme song for Expo 2020 Dubai. We can’t get enough of it, be it adding the track to our Instagram reels or stories, or simply relishing it as we drive on and sing along. And a huge credit for that does go to the multi-octave voice Mayssa Karaa. The song was a worldwide collaborative effort spanning seven cities, two orchestras, and three main singers: Emirati legends Hussain Al-Jassmi and Almas, and Mayssa. An American citizen born in Beirut, Lebanon, Mayssa is also a songwriter, whose overarching musical message is about empowerment and overcoming adversity. Mayssa infuses Middle Eastern influences into modern global pop, melding an inspiring, unique, creative blend.

A graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, she was appointed as the Artistic Director of Berklee Abu Dhabi, Berklee’s newest outpost in the Middle East in January 2020. She released her debut album in Los Angeles in 2018, Simple Cure, and has been writing and releasing original music since. Mayssa’s latest release enforces her universal message of self-love with the new track, TiTi. Influenced by the Arabic saying “TiTi la rehti wala jiti”, a reminder that physical changes don’t alter who you are; the track is a timely message that real beauty lies within, no matter what changes we make to our physique.

“We have a perception that making a change in our physical appearance will impact who we are as people and how we see ourselves,” explains Mayssa. “But often the image we portray to the world conflicts with who we are deep down. It’s important to align who we are on the inside with who we are on the outside for good mental, physical and spiritual health. We must be true to ourselves,” she adds. In a conversation with the artist, we learn about her connections to the UAE and the various ways she’s exploring and strengthening her ties with the region.

UAE, the land of unique experiences

I moved to Abu Dhabi in 2020 after having lived in the US for over 14 years. Since my time here, I have been witnessing the atmosphere that the UAE is creating to enable the creativity of artists and empower their musical journeys. And I have had unique experiences so far since my move, from being a headliner at the Abu Dhabi Festival to singing the theme song, This is Our Time, to being the former artistic director of the “Firdaus” all-female orchestra to name a few…

The Arabic influences

I grew up in Lebanon listening to and performing classics from the Arab World, which remained an inspiration to me after leaving the country. The Arabic influences were always highlighted in my music as my vision was to introduce the Arabic culture to Western ears. This fusion truly represents my identity and the musical journeys I have encountered in my life while being exposed to diverse genres of music.

Collaborations and celebrations

My first solid step in the industry was having an Arabic version of a rock classic featured on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of the movie American Hustle, which has opened doors for collaborations and has generated interest from many well-known artistes to learn more about the richness of Arabic music. Since then, I have been blessed to collaborate with international platforms and iconic global artists such as Oscar-winning producer A.R. Rahman, Scott Page (former band member of the band Pink Floyd), Mike Garson (former musical director of David Bowie’s band), Carmine Rojas (former band member of Prince’s band), Sesame Street Middle East and Nintendo, to name a few.

Transforming the arts education

Our goal is to transform arts education in the Middle East, create the region’s next generation of artistes and inspire them to better our world. As the Artistic Director, I thrive to help develop the creative capacity in this region and aim to help empower aspiring artistes to take their careers to the next level by giving them access to the Berklee experience, which I was very fortunate to be exposed to as a graduate from Berklee.


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