Wissam Hilal Talks New Album, Making a Better Life For His Family and More in His Contrast Magazine Cover Story

Photography by Mixalis Khoury

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Wissam Hilal, aka WISSAM, is an upcoming international Syrian pop singer-songwriter. He was born in Sweida City, Syria in 1989 and was the eldest of two boys. His artistic talents became evident in childhood and he was encouraged by his supportive family to pursue his passion for music, which led him to win inter-school singing competitions.

At the age of 18, Wissam moved from Damascus to Lebanon, Beirut where he made his first foray into the music industry. He soon attracted the attention of established artists, who offered their guidance and support and believed in his ability to change the landscape of commercial English pop music in the Middle East.

Wissam recorded his debut album in 2008, entitled “You Belong To Me”. The album contained eight original pop/rock tracks and was released locally in Syria and Lebanon and was well received.

As his popularity grew and style matured and also after completing an English Literature Degree; Wissam relocated to Dubai in 2012, where he started planning and preparing for his first official music release of an international standard.

One month after his arrival, Wissam began working and recording music with acclaimed Lebanese manager/producer Wajih Accary. He collaborated with International producers and songwriters, across Los Angeles, Cairo, Beirut and Dubai and including Bryan Todd, Scott Krippayne, Leland, Mike Linney, Sean Welsh, to name but a few.

His career started officially in January of 2013, with the release of a song entitled “Single”, in the Middle East and North Africa with Melody Music Egypt. It scored #1 on Melody for two-weeks in a row and also reached #1 on some African radios, such as Kenyan Pilipili FM. The MV has played on high rotation on Melody Music TV and other Arab music channels in the MENA.

In May 2013, Wissam made his first International collaboration in Los Angeles, with multi-platinum producer Bryan Todd for BT Entertainment. It afforded him the same producer as Miley Cyrus, Jordan Sparks, Ashley Tisdale and the opportunity to showcase his abilities with the song “The Last Goodbye”, which was written by Todd and Scott Krippayne. The music video premiered exclusively on MTV MENA, before it hit Melody Music, Mazzika and further channels. The song reached 700-thousands views in its first week of release, which climbed to a million soon after.

In April 2014, he released the smash hit “I Want You To Know”, written by Bryan Todd, Brandon Drahos and Mike Linney. That marked Wissam’s second US collaboration with Todd. “I Want You To Know” was premiered exclusively for the first week on NRJ Hits TV Lebanon and played heavily on NRJ radio and most of renown Lebanese radios, before it caught the attention of European and Middle Eastern radios and shortly thereafter, began playing on Melody TV and Mazzika TV.

As a 24-year old Syrian boy from a modest family, achieving such success; his story was inspirational and Wissam received considerable press attention on major television and radio stations. He was chosen to perform in the NRJ Music Tour 2014, alongside international artists, including Indila, Conor Maynard and Magic System and his music videos have collectively gained more than seven-million views worldwide, he claimed his MVs back from Melody which led to removing his videos from Melody’s YT channel so he could upload them on his own VEVO later on.

By the end of 2014, Wissam had performed in numerous events across Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Dubai and had also released his fourth and most streamed song and music video “Ignite”, which was written by Sean Welsh and written and produced by Bryan Todd.

In 2017, Wissam became acquainted by the LA-based, British-American producer Mams Taylor, who is known to be a part of the rise of Lady Gaga, by investing more than 20% in her “Fame Monster” album. The former rapper started producing Wissam’s EP, which consists of six songs, all thoughtfully written and composed by talented arrangers and songwriters in Los Angeles; to compliment Wissam’s sound and vision.

Wissam spent long nights at recording studios and now journeys into 2018 with the song and accompanying video of his song titled “Harmony” with Universal Music MENA, which released on March 16th and six further songs waiting in the wings. And so, Wissam Hilal has achieved as a young man, what he dreamt of becoming as a boy.

How hard was it for you dreaming of international recognition in the pop industry knowing that you come from a small village in Syria? Ironically, it wasn’t hard at all. I had to live the dream in my own mind as if it was real. I used to wake up every day grateful and knowing that this will happen one day. I didn’t think of how I’m gonna do it, because it would’ve seemed impossible of course, I just worked for it as if it was happening for sure not having a clue how.

Did your family support your music at earlier stages? I used to struggle to collect three dollars in my pocket to be able to go to college. Two dollars for bus transportation and one extra dollar for a bottle of water and a sandwich. I remember one time I couldn’t go to do my exam because I didn’t have these three dollars.

My family didn’t have that money to support my music. My mom always wanted me to leave the music thinking that it wasn’t realistic for me.

Syria is living one of the worst human tragedies in the modern history. How has it affected you? My heart is absolutely broken daily for what’s going on in my home country. It hurts me from the inside seeing my beautiful safe country going through this. One of my cousins has been killed during the war in an explosion. I haven’t been to Syria in five years. It’s been hard honestly.

Life goes on. We Syrians will always be creating music love and art thru it all. It will be all good again.

Who inspired you musically growing up? Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin were on the top of the game to me. Avril Lavigne inspired me as she is a great songwriter. Many, many other performers. I’m a big fan of Pink as well.

You started your career with your first single “Single” in 2013. What was that like for you? It felt unreal. Melody Music Egypt released the video and it blew up in a week. It charted number two in Egypt and hit number one in Morocco. Things just happened unexpectedly.

In 2014 you were chosen to be one of the international NRJ Music Tour performers. Your song even went up the charts in some European countries like France! It felt for a moment that I have reached the top and there’s nothing else bigger I can achieve and it felt like this for couple months before I realize there was so much more waiting for me.

Jihad Almurr, the head of NJR Lebanon discovered my song “I Want You To Know” then it started playing on high rotation on NRJ Radio. People seemed to love it and that’s the moment when it started going up the charts. I was chosen to perform in NRJ Music Tour alongside with Indila, Connor Maynard and Magic System.