Not Eminem. Just Emin
Billionaire Azerbaijani pop star Emin, already big in Russia, has set his sights on Ireland
Connected: ‘I’ve been living in Moscow most of my adult life. I work in the shopping centre retail business and co-own the Nobu restaurant here. When I’m not in a suit I’m performing live or recording’
Who are you? My full name is Emin Agalarov. I’m 36, Muslim and Azerbaijani by birth, but I’ve been living in Moscow most of my adult life. I work in the shopping-centre retail business and co-own the Nobu restaurant here. When I’m not in a suit I’m performing live or recording.
How did you get involved in music? I went to college in New Jersey and started off singing at open-mic spots in bars. I was so dreadful it embarrasses me even now to think about it. Music was always a passion growing up: I used to translate Elvis Presley songs into Russian and sing them at home. Now I’ve had a few multiplatinum albums in Russia I want to have a go at Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe.
Your father is one of the richest men in the world, and you are married to the daughter of the president of Azerbaijan. Can you be taken seriously as a musician, given your background and wealth? Of course there’s a prejudice against me out there, the fact that I’m not financially dependent on my music career. I’ve struggled with radio play, I’ve struggled to be taken seriously, but then you hear things like RTÉ radio playlisting your new single, and BBC radio making you their song of the week, and you realise that all is not lost. You can have the best recording equipment in the world, the best studio and musicians in the world, but if the songs aren’t there you’re nobody in this industry. Yes, I come with baggage, but all I ever say to people is, “Come to the show and judge for yourself.”
You work in luxury retail. It’s your full-time job. What happens if your career takes off in Europe? Do you ditch the suit and become a full-time pop star? The business thing has always been there. To make some money when I was a student in New Jersey myself and a friend set up an eBay store, selling Russian memorabilia, and that went incredibly well for us, so we were then able to open a physical shoe shop. The fashion scene has a huge interest for me. As regards the dual careers, at the moment I’m getting asked to commit three months to touring and recording, and I usually reply, “I can give you one month.” To walk away from the family business would be a betrayal of my father. There’s only me and my sister, and she has no interest in business. But we’ll see what happens; the next few months in Europe will be interesting.
You’re hardly a struggling artist No, but if people think that this is a “hobby” for someone with lots of money, then they don’t understand all the work that goes into recording, rehearsing and performing these songs. I am very serious about the music, and taking the leap into Europe is a real test for me,and a real test for my songs.
Why are your arms bigger than my legs? I’m also a boxer. You need the power in the arms and shoulders for that. I’ve never boxed professionally, but I box as much as I can. It’s the entertainment industry: you’ve got to be in shape.
You identify as a Muslim. That’s rare in the international pop world I am a proud Muslim man, but I don’t pray four times a day. I believe in one God. I grew up in Azerbaijan, which is a very liberal society. I’m proud of the fact that we were the first Muslim country to give the vote to women. Being Muslim today [means] facing a whole wall of prejudice. Real, unforgiveable wrongdoing is taking place, and the opinion in the West can be, “Well, they’re all in it together, those Muslims. Let’s hate them all.” But then I get the same thing about Russia – that it’s a cold, grey and Soviet place.
Musically, you’d be on the Michael Bublé/ Enrique Iglesias end of the spectrum. Who were your heroes growing up? My heroes were Elvis, Elvis and Elvis! One of my favourite Elvis songs is My Boy, and now that you’ve told me it was written by an Irishman [Phil Coulter] I love it even more.
Emin plays the Sugar Club, Dublin, on May 27th; emin-music.com