Below, Billboard spoke to Massari about his upbringing in Toronto, fusing Middle-Eastern flair with pop beats, and his goals to accomplish peace through his music.
Where are you from?
Until about the age of 10, I lived in Lebanon and of course due to the Civil War, we were lucky enough that Canada had accepted us as immigrants to -- actually, Montreal, another French-speaking city. It was obviously a very difficult transition for [me and my father, my younger brother, and mother] but it was also the very thing that saved our lives. Unfortunately when a civil war is taking place, there's nowhere that's safe in a country because the way that a civil war works, it just moves around. Battles are constantly moving around so it was very difficult. I never got the chance to finish one school year when I was a kid, never really had a proper birthday. Seeing things that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But at the same time, it's these very memories that I have from that young age which actually helped me appreciate life so much regardless of the obstacles I have been faced with.
In 1990, being a young Lebanese kid, the only language I knew how to speak was Arabic. And going to a new school and having to speak French and obviously not knowing a word of French, it was a little bit difficult. Me and my brother would always get picked on. You know how it is -- kids could be a little bit cruel sometimes. and I feel like all these things that took place were just getting me up to be a little bit tougher.
Could you describe life in Montreal?
We lived in Montreal a couple of years and then because my dad couldn't really cope with the whole French part of it and he was English taught. So we moved to Toronto after that about 1993 and we were kind of there ever since. I met Manny Dion, one of my managers, when I was 13 years old in elementary school. I was in grade 7 and he was in grade 8.
The first time I ever stepped on a stage in my life to perform, I was 13 years old -- shaken, rough. I was terrified, I had stage fright. It was a song called "Sukiyaki", and I can't remember the name of the actual group, but it was basically a song at the time that was extremely popular. It was the most amazing experience of my life because I actually had a standing ovation after two malfunctions, and it was unbelievable that the minute it had ended, people were clapping. It was as if this light bulb had gone on in my mind that said this is what you're going to do for the rest of your life.
And as the years went on, it was so funny that all of my friends from high school are now a part of this project that I'm doing. None of us were really in the music business and somehow each one of us had the exact skill required in order for us to make this work. So it was definitely one of those triumphant stories that we all enjoy.
What were your musical preferences growing up and what did you perform on stage when everyone clapped?
Growing up, obviously being a part of that world in the Middle East, [I was] listening to a lot of Arabic music, and a lot of the legends that til today have beautiful songs. And then growing up also in North America and listening to Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and a variety of different music. I was in love with the sound of R&B music. I feel like R&B music was definitely what taught me how to kind of mix this Middle Eastern and North American-fusion of sound into one sound, which I have now.
How did you first link up with Sal and Belly?
Oddly enough, me and Belly's older brother went to school together. Me and Sal went to school together as well. Belly was a little bit younger. We all sort of met around that same time, and we were probably like 14, 15 years old. We all sort of went to the same schools, knew all the same people, would go play at the same arcades. It was just from there that, as the music started getting serious when we were getting a little bit older, we just started coming together and feeling like we can do a great job working together. We all had each other's backs and we felt that we had a lot to prove, especially being from a small city that's overlooked as far as talent.
At the time, we felt like we had something to offer a lot of people, who were starting to gravitate towards the music that we were making because it had a fusion of Middle Eastern sounds and North American beats.
Moving along to your upcoming single, where did the inspiration for "Done Da Da" come from?
I was finally starting to make music that I loved again. At some point, when it becomes a business, you start feeling like people are trying to steer you in a certain direction to cater to an audience that they feel radio is going to like and it just got to a point that I said I just want to make music that I love. I grew up listening to dancehall music -- that was my first real love. Something about reggae music is very close to Arabic music so I definitely was able to relate to dancehall very much. It allowed me to be able to compose the melodies that I do on these songs.
With "Done Da Da," Sal gave me the green light and was like just go do you, do whatever it is that you feel comfortable doing. We have this album that has an extremely powerful, melodic feel to it, and it's very positive, uplifting, strong, sort of like pop-reggae in a sense. It's a bit more urban than it would be pop. I definitely feel like I'm able to, for the first time, give my 100 percent to my audience and to my fan base and to myself. Just being true to myself with the sound I have now with this album.
What do you hope to accomplish with this album? Any collaborations?
We definitely got a bunch of collaborations on this album. We got Tory Lanez, Beanie Man, Shaggy, Afrojack, and of course, my executive producer Daheala. I'm just hoping that somehow my music allows me to create a peaceful dialog in the world. As a man from the Middle East, I want to be able to make great things happen through my music, almost break barriers, be able to just kind of bring people together. That's my dream, to be honest -- to just spread peace.