Sámer Issa first became famous in the Czech Republic in the year 2004, during the first series of the contest Česko hledá superstar (Superstar Czech Republic), where he placed 3rd. He was only a teenager back then, and he received a lot of acclaim for his songs and awards, which had his head spinning. In the last years, however, we haven’t had much news of the 33 year old man originally from Syria. If you don’t happen to bump into him outside while he’s walking his dogs, or you don’t follow him on social media, you have the feeling that he disappeared. However, in this interview for Luxury Prague Life, the singer disclosed his great plans to us. And if he’s successful, he’s going to have a starry career.
Sámer, I haven’t seen you in such a long time. How have you been?
I’m doing well. I’ve just come back from America, from Los Angeles, where I was working. I got great offers there, which really got me thinking, whether I should stay in Czech Republic at all, or If I should move there, and try something from scratch. Which would be something absolutely new for me in the way, that many things that I’ve done here wrong, I wouldn’t have to do over there. But mainly there are great people there, in terms of work and in general, they have good energy. I’m thinking, that if everything goes well, I’ll be able to move to Los Angeles in September with my entire Zoo of pets (two dogs, two cats, a turtle).
Well, you have been living here in the Czech Republic for a while now, you were discovered thanks to Superstar…
That was in the year 2004, 14 years back. I was seventeen then. Time flies, it’s horrible.
But your career wasn’t bad…
You could say that. I’ve got something here, that’s atleast stable, let’s say in terms of being an artist. But I started getting the feeling, that I’m not enjoying it anymore. It’s always the same clubs, the same things, the same people. Even when it came to some songs, I had to give way in a lot of things. I had to sing things that I didn’t like.
Did your producer force you to do that?
We made a compromise. The worst thing they told me was that I had to add the words Instagram and Facebook into my lyrics. Yeah, sure, that was exactly for me! I told them, no way. If someone wants to express themselves with music, they can’t be limited by what’s a ‘thing’ now.
I made a compromise in the way, that I made a Czech record, which isn’t bad. I think some of the songs are hits. From what I’ve ever made, these songs really sound wonderful. But I think that if it came to the next one, it’d be the same thing, a kind of intertia. I’d do another round of something similar, I’d shoot three music videos, I’d go on a few holidays, but that’d be it. I’d be at the beginning again.
Now I have a goal, because I got an offer from one agency, saying they would like to put me in a band with a DJ, and we’d go around as a band performing at various events. And in a year or year and a half, they’d like to prepare me for the American The Voice.
And places like New York or other cities don’t appeal to you?
No, not really. Los Angeles is a kind of mecca of showbusiness, everybody’s there – from the biggest producers to the biggest music record companies and publishers. The most common profession there is an agent looking for a star. People from all over the world go there, by day they work at the bar, and by night they go to castings or perform.
When I was there the first time for three months, I performed as well, at two clubs even, and I really got into it. But I was afraid. I was afraid to move there straight away, because I had family, friends and everything here. However, when I was there the last time, the people really got into my head in terms of work opportunity. I’m thirty-three and they told me: ‘This is the last call!’
In the Czech Republic you already went through a similar competition already, so you’d go into The Voice, and you’d as if return to your teenage years.
I know, but in the end, I wouldn’t mind, because I already know what things are really key there. And that is the choice of song, and to have great respect for people and humility. Those are the things that were lost on me at the beginning of my career.
But you were like that at the beginning…
I was, but when it all ended, I made a lot of mistakes. We were all drunk with fame. We were all somewhere in the clouds, and it was really hard to get a message through to us. I know, that I refused some performaces, even though they offered big money only because I didn’t feel like it. That wasn’t exactly professional. And in that way, I burned bridges with a lot of people.
But it’s not even about that. I think, that if you manage to make one hit abroad, you’re off the hook for the rest of your life. You can travel around a few states, it’s simply bigger over there, than it is here in Europe.
The American The Voice doesn’t have much in common with the Czech Superstar.
It doesn’t, not even the Czech The Voice. I saw one episode, and I thought that’s cute, but I’d probably leave it at that. There is incredible competition in the American one. But, on the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people, who say: ‘I could have tried it. I could have, but I didn’t.’
What about your girlfriend? Would she go with you?
She’s all over the moon, understandably. She won’t fly with me, because she has work here. She has a son here as well, and it’d be complicated. But she’ll fly over to see me, and then we’ll see.
So is it decided, then? You have everything planned?
Now, I’m in the process of trying to get a visa and a driving license, so that I could get around there. I’m taking this very seriously. The worst will be taking those small animals on a plane. First, I’ll fly with the dogs, that is with the smaller one, it’s a bit of a hassle, because Bob is a slow English bulldog, and he’s already had two operations, it’s a bit more complicated with him. And furthermore, flights are very strenuous for animals. But I won’t leave them behind.
And that cats? The turtle? Who’s going to take care of all that?
My girlfriend and my family, they’re used to it. When I went to America for the first time for three months, they took care of them. You can count on them, they like them.
You are originally from Syria, which is hard to believe now, given the fact you’ve been here since you were six. However, do you have a family there? Do they know about your various successes?
Definitely. My father had eleven siblings, so grandma and grandad had twelve children. Grandad died already, but my grandma is still there. And the family is very closely knit, they meet very often. I know that when dad calls with them, or if I write them, they follow me and ask about me. Dad sends them my CDs and music videos.
I made a music video for the song Syria, which was filmed in the Sahara, and they were over the moon from that. I decided to make the music video for my family, because I know that my dad was never happy that I chose such a profession. I know, he’s always wanted me to be doing something normal, and this was the first time he was happy. He was proud of me.
Would you ever like to go there again? Taking into account, what’s happening in Syria today…
I’d like to, but I don’t think it’ll be easy in any foreseeable future, because I’d have to do military service there, which would last about six years. I’d probably die in the first two days (laughter)
How is that possible, don’t you have Czech citizenship?
I have both Czech and Syrian citizenship.
Can you refuse?
No, they would simply drag me off, right at the airport. So, I can’t show myself there.
So, you’re never going there? Until what age is military duty compulsary?
I don’t know, I think it’s until the age of 38. My dad went through military service, while my mom was pregnant with me. She went to see my dad to Syria, she waited for him there, and it was horrible. A blonde in Syria, she couldn’t speak a word of Arabic. She said, it was very difficult. Also there is another kind of mentality over there.
So, for you it’s also something you barely relate to?
I assume, you can’t speak Arabic.
My first language is Arabic, I spoke it for six years. It’s a long time ago, but in our family we still speak Arabic. My dad speaks pretty much only Arabic, and my mom, when she’s arguing with him also speaks perfect Arabic. Arabs apparently can’t even notice, that’s she’s Czech when she’s speaking.
So your parents are still together?
Yes, of course, they’re living here in the Czech Republic, they live in Děčín. Now, they ‘ve opened a shop with vegetables. They’ve been living happily together for about forty years.
How does your environment see your origin now, given the migration crisis?
It was interesting to people at elementary school, and at high school I was a bit ostracized. They shunned me away from other people, and they called me names due to my Arabic origin. It all started when a new teacher came, and asked what’s everybody’s name, and when it came to me, she stopped and kept asking questions for about half an hour. And so my classmates made fun of me, and didn’t like me.
I remember, that when we used to be outside, there was a group of ‘friends’. I used to go alone there until second year. Back then, one of my friends who was a girl, came back from a health facility. She was great and very kind. She was one of the good ones, because mostly the others were children from rich families. Most were stuck up. So they didn’t really like me in high school.
They didn’t really think about it after Superstar, but now, when the whole situation with migration started up, they even assaulted me at the park, they started shouting at me. I’ve even got a scar to this day, from how they cut me with a knife. I was shocked.
What? How did it happen?
I was on my way home from training, and two guys came up to me and said: ‘You, go back to Syria, you bloody Arab!’ I ignored them, I just went on, and one of them pulled me to the ground and the other one started threatening me with a knife, and he said something like he was going to cut my face. He scratched me with the knife, so I punched him and ran away. And suddenly I found out, that he properly cut me. I had to go twice to laser surgery, so that I wouldn’t have a scar. I was so shaken by that experience.
And did you report it?
Yes, I did that as well.
There are cameras everywhere here…
Here yes, but in that park there weren’t any. It happened. I have to move on, I can’t let it drag me down.
What does your day look like? I guess you don’t go to work as we know it…
I perform, and I also have clients, who I work with on promoting, on Instagram and social media. Those are usually clients from the fashion business, who want me to promote and pay for it. I have contracts with them.
That’s why you look like a poster boy? I remember you in the style of RnB.
It isn’t in fashion right now. The first year, we did a lot of performances, but then I was completely out of a job for two years with performances. Nobody was interested in us, those from Superstar anymore, suddenly the market was over-saturated, and back then I was telling myself if I survive this, I’ll survive anything. I was even down on rent, it was really a problem. But in the end, I started to get my head around advertising, and I turned it around. And people respond to that. And when I don’t have enough performance work, I atleast have the option to promote, and it takes care of my bills and other things.
What is your target group? Back then it was teenage girls.
Now it’s moms, actually. The most followers that I get, are in the age group of women between twenty-five and forty. And there are guys too, so that’s also interesting. I looked at a graph on instgram, and there is a ratio of 51 girls, 49 boys, so that’s awesome. It might be thanks to my image, they can see that I go to a gym, I do thaibox, and things like that. Many people find that it’s motivating for them.
Do you feel, that you can influence a lot of people?
You also used to be a rebel. And I can see, that you still smoke!
That’s a kind of bad habit, that stayed with me. Otherwise, I also used to drink a lot more, and now I don’t, I don’t have any alcohol at home. I work out at a gym, I eat healthy. I changed my lifestyle, because I knew that I can’t handle that way of lif e for a long time. Also, a person is absolutely exhausted from living like that, tired, and stops functioning. And if I’m supposed to promote something or sell something, and if it’s supposed to look good visually too, I can’t live like that.
So, you’ve become wiser?
You could say that.
You have big goals, in terms of your career and singing. But what about your personal life? You are 33 years old.
You’re right in the fact, that I’m the only one in the family, who doesn’t have children yet.
And do you want to have children?
I don’t want to have kids yet, I myself am still a kid. In spirit I’m still a child, and I have my own children, by that I mean the animals, that I’ve adopted. Bob had a hernia and a split open head, I found him on the internet, they didn’t take good care of him. Izzy is from a breed farm, we saved her from that place with my friend. Tracey is the only one I had from when I used to live with my ex-girlfriend. She wanted to have kids with me, and I told her, if she can take care of a puppy, then in a year or two we can talk about it. I wanted to put it off. In the end she knocked on my door in fourteen days and told me she’s done, she can’t handle the dog. So the puppy stayed with me. These are my children, a kind of preparation.
I definitely want to have kids one day, but my career is important for me right now. It’s important to make something in this world. To not be just one of the many people, who reproduce. We are one generation away from an uninhabitable planet, and these are some of things that are really serious. And so it makes you think, whether you want to make your child face an insufficiency of whatever. And then it could be unhappy. I think about these things.
I knew you when you used to be such a rebel, so I’m in such a shock, that you’re talking about such serious matters.
It’s true. I think about these things, because there are seriously important factors and sides to what should make a person decide if they really want children. And especially, once I already have a family, I want it to have everything. I want to be able to afford the best schools, a big house, and I want everything to be perfect. I don’t want to have a child, and then scrape by, not enough money to not go on holiday for five, seven years… I don’t want that.