What’s On has a Craig David in Abu Dhabi interview as he prepares to perform at People By Crystal Abu Dhabi. The musician is known for his fitness regime. 

Back in 1999 in the UK, it was pretty much a given you’d hear garage singer Craig David’s voice every time you went to a club or turned on a radio. His classic hit Rewind, with two-step DJs the Artful Dodger, was an anthem that year and his debut solo album, Born To Do It, sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

The Southampton-born singer went on to release five albums, win a Grammy and was nominated for 12 Brit Awards in the UK. During his career, he’s worked with the likes of Jay Sean, Rita Ora and Sting. Craig’s been living in Miami for the past six years, and he’s been busy while he’s been out there. He started recording DJ sets at his home while hosting house parties, which he eventually uploaded onto Soundcloud. They proved so popular, he started recording them for two radio stations in the UK, and now takes his set around the world on tour.

On September 25, he plays People by Crystal here in Abu Dhabi.

So what’s the deal with TS5? It’s a DJ show and is pretty much the same vibe that I do from my home in Miami, which gets broadcast every week in the UK on Capital Extra, so it’s a DJ singing performance.

So what kind of show can people expect? It’s me performing in and around other people’s songs. So it’s not an hour of me performing my own songs. That’s what TS5 is about. It started as a pre-party thing to do with friends, which evolved into me getting some decks, which evolved into me hosting a party and then broadcast live on the radio from Miami to the UK, originally on Kiss FM.

Why did you decide to do DJ sets? My friends kept messing around with the iTunes playlist I’d set up. I was only doing it for five to 10 friends and everyone had their song that they wanted to play and they never finished it because they’d jump to another song they liked. So I got some decks to control the music, which then led to people saying to me you’ve got to get a mic. It turned into hosting. Then we invited select people around and it turned into house parties. It was a very organic, natural growth. I was putting them out on Souncloud and that’s when it got picked up by Kiss FM. So it’s got a vibe like a house party, not a radio show.

So what kind of music will you be playing? Trey Songz’s Touchin’, Lovin’, Loyal by Chris Brown, then throwbacks like No Scrubs by TLC and In Da Club by 50 Cent. Some dancehall stuff, and reggae, and some soulful EDM and two-step garage.

A very different show to you performing your hits then? You need to experience it. It’s about ad libbing around other people’s songs. It’s not, ‘me, me, me’ playing my own songs, as I’d do that differently with my band. I feel like I have more flexibility with my songs – acoustically I like to break them down. I often think about how I can make my band shows show the same way I’d put together a TS5 show, which for me is about what I feel right now – there’s no real playlist for it. I’ve got all my songs and you can’t say that one setlist that worked in one venue will work in the next.

Are you worried people will leave disappointed as you’re not playing your old hits with a band? I hope some will be pleasantly surprised. Others might be disappointed not to hear certain classics but hopefully they’ll go away thinking they enjoyed the night and saw a different side of me performing. I used to shun DJs: you were either an artist or a DJ, or the DJ warmed your set up. But DJs now are like rock stars and everyone can be multi-faceted.

Are you ready for an Abu Dhabi crowd? There’s a lot of expats here, so you feel there’s a connection. But I like the fact you can go somewhere that isn’t a recreation of home in a sunny climate. I like to see what a place is really about. We can all sugar coat it with hotel and restaurants that look the same as anywhere else. But what makes Abu Dhabi different to Dubai? That part I’m interested in. I’m hoping to see some sights before I go because otherwise all I’ll leave with is memories of hotels and food in restaurants. It’s like a bubble and you have to break out.

What have 15 years in the music industry taught you? I’ve started to understand about not reducing people down to things. We use people for a means to an end. But we’re all human beings. We’re just looking for connections. My success has come from people connecting with my music. I’ve learned that if you can connect with people and don’t just see people as a means to an end, life becomes a beautiful thing. It’s important as a human being to understand that. It takes stress from your life. My music now isn’t a commodity, it isn’t about sales and trying to get to a certain chart position, it’s just music, and that’s what my first album was about, I didn’t know it was going to be successful, I was just doing music because it felt good to me.

So you don’t miss being one of the most talked about artists in the UK and the US? My days were just full of promotions, interviews and working. I thought that was my life. But it ultimately comes down to the music. People say it’s about branding, but for some of my career, I wasn’t in the beautiful place I was when writing the first album ­– and my next album. Nothing is a coincidence when you look back in hindsight, you think, ‘there something about me that’s not doing something right there’. You can blame everything else, but I found that being in the spotlight made me less aware of where I was. I was a robot.

So how have you changed? Before I was just making music consciously from the heart and doing what pleased me. Then after a while you’re pleasing everyone else but yourself: people from radio stations, record labels, and you’re looking for leverage in every deal. But it all gets you nowhere and it makes you unhappy and you don’t appreciate the success in your life because ultimately success is loaded with failure. Once you’re built up, you’re then fearful you’ll be second best. So I’m in a beautiful place now where I’ve experienced that and I won’t let myself get back into it.

And what impact has that thought process had on your music? I’ve got new music and I’ve been putting it out on Soundcloud for free. I do believe good music will be bought in the end. I’m putting music out with the intention of it just doing what it is doing, and that’s how I made my first album, and now I don’t feel I have the stress of worrying about the radio not playing my new single. I’m enjoying my craft gain. And when you’re back to that, you’re on the right track.

People By Crystal, The Collection at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Thur to Fri 11pm to 4am. Tel: (050) 2972097. Taxi: St Regis Saadiyat Island. thecrystalgroup.net