Who is Kamaliya? The mysterious pop star who’s big in Ireland

She’s a former Mrs World, an opera singer, a film star, her husband is a billionaire

Kamaliya does a disco-heavy cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s Sign Your Name

Kamaliya does a disco-heavy cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s Sign Your Name

 

The iTunes chart is a wild and wonderful thing. Next to your very regular and current hits such as Calvin Harris’ Feels and the song that will out live us all, Luis Fonsi’s Despacito, you will have the likes of Lou Bega’s Mambo No 5, Bill Whelan’s Riverdance and Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.

These are, you might say, timeless songs that capture a zeitgeist. But for the last three months there has been one consistent presence in the Irish iTunes chart that may come as a surprise – and she goes by the name of Kamaliya.

Kamaliya is from the Ukraine and is a former Mrs World – that’s Mrs, not Miss – which is a pageant for the beautiful married women of the world, and she was the star of 2013’s reality show Meet the Russians.

The short-lived 2013 reality show followed the lives of insanely rich Russian and Ukrainian entrepreneurs and socialites living in London, and it was the first proper introduction the world had to Kamaliya and her supportive Pakistani husband, Mohammad Zahoor.

He is a British businessman of Pakistani origin who is now based in Ukraine. He founded the Istil Group, which works in the steel industry, is the publisher of the Kyiv Post, and is thought to be a billionaire.

In a GQ feature from 2014 by Danny Wallace, we caught a glimpse into the decadent lives of the couple. Champagne baths and private jets that cost $7,000 an hour, only for them to wait on the tarmac for five hours as Kamaliya gets ready. Zahoor told Wallace that his plan for Kamaliya was “to send Lady Gaga into early retirement” – because Kamaliya is also a pop star.

Kamaliya and her husband in the reality TV show Meet the Russians
Kamaliya and her husband in the reality TV show Meet the Russians

On her website, an eight-minute long video boasts her achievements so far. These range from the mum from the Brady Bunch announcing her as the winner of Mrs World in 2008 – where she says that “beauty is not just a body, not a face. It has to include inner beauty too” – to her appearances in Russian sitcoms and action movies. “Salvation and conquering is not easy,” she says, clad in a white leather pantsuit, moments before a snippet from the Russian movie My Widow’s Husband shows her ballet dancing with a bare-chested blond and chilly photoshoots in front of the London Eye.

An opera singer, a pop star, an actress. She’s aiming for global domination in 2017 with the aesthetic of a Popstars auditionee in 2000. This is Aqua meets Cascada. A popstar manufactured through an expensive Brookside lens. The American Dream but with Russian influence.

iTunes chart

Since May, Kamaliya has had up to nine songs in the Irish iTunes top 100 at any given time, most of them super polished and Eurovision-ready. Yet few people here seem to know who she is. She has had little or no radio coverage we could track down; she doesn’t appear in the official Irish charts; and no club DJ we spoke to, from the George to Lumo, has heard of her. And yet her songs – six on the last count – seem to be on heavy rotation in the iTunes chart.

To chart in the lower half – the bottom 50 – of the official Irish singles charts, artists could be selling less than 50 copies of a single in one week but in the iTunes chart, if an artist was to sell 100 songs, they would appear higher up in the iTunes chart but nowhere else.

This means that songs can have sudden, volatile bursts in the iTunes chart. On the day after the Manchester Love concert in June, almost all of the artists at that concert charted again with the songs they performed.

If a song appears in an episode of a popular TV show such as The Handmaid’s Tale, it will often chart within hours of the episode airing, and if The Coronas or Arcade Fire play a sell-out gig in Ireland, older songs of theirs will suddenly reappear in the iTunes chart. One quick click and €1.29 later, any song stands a chance of charting briefly on iTunes in 2017, only to be replaced with something else 24 hours later.

In this way, the iTunes chart is a reflection of what’s popular right now. Kamaliya might have released a new album in July called Timeless, but any Irish connection is loose.

On a mission

We got in contact with her Austrian-based distributor Rebeat, which put us in contact with her management and label, in the form of Sergey Chlechko. Someone with this name is also listed on bloomberg.com as an acting director of the closed joint stock company Mini Steel Mill Istil in Ukraine.

It seems like the steel mill industry, thanks to Kamaliya’s husband Zahoor who owns Istil, and the pop industry are close bedfellows.

Chlechko did his best to shine a light on Kamaliya’s Irish success. “There is no apparent Irish connection, yet Kamaliya’s manager is an Irish lady, Hermione Ross, since 2011,” Chlechko told us in an email. Ross is the daughter of Irish folk singer Christie Hennessy and she also made an appearance on Meet the Russians.

He says that there is a “hidden bond” between Kamaliya and the Irish people, which he says was apparent in 2012 when she supported Steps on their comeback tour and when she performed at Belfast’s Pride that same year. In Belfast, Chlechko says, Kamaliya “was stunned to know that gay community was closely following her and all her songs from her album ClubOpera”.

With this sudden and inexplicable popularity in Ireland, and the UK “and in fact worldwide” he says, she then “vanished from the music scene to give birth to her long awaited dream – twin girls Arabella and Mirabella”.

Kamaliya performing on Ukranian version of Dancing with the Stars. Photograph: Twitter/@kamaliya_zahoor
Kamaliya performing on Ukrainian version of Dancing with the Stars. Photograph: Twitter/@kamaliya_zahoor

Four years later she is charting again and while it doesn’t seem like Lady Gaga has suffered much, Kamaliya’s string and disco heavy cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s Sign Your Name is apparently what caused her resurgence here.

“In Ireland,” says Chlechko, “the people went out all the way to look for her old albums and made her songs [an] essential part of the charts.

“Feeling the strong bond and love from Ireland, Kamaliya is tapping the possibility to perform in Ireland for her followers.”

While she is yet to break the threshold of the iTunes charts into the official charts, Kamaliya and her husband Zahoor are on a mission for this pop career to take hold of Ireland and the rest of the world. And it all starts with one click, €1.29, and a little help from the Ukrainian steel mill industry.

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