On July 4, Enrique Iglesias became the first Western artist to play a concert in Syria in three decades when he performed his steamy Latin-inflected pop for a sold-out crowd of 10,000 in the capital city of Damascus. Back home in Miami, Iglesias rang up EW.com to chat about playing in a country that President Bush once linked with the ”axis of evil,” and how a bit of strategic deception helped convince him to play the historic show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come to be the first Western artist to play in Syria in 30 years?
ENRIQUE IGLESIAS: They just invited us, the promoter there. There’s this guy that’s trying to promote the arts there. He didn’t tell us there hadn’t been a concert there in 30 years. He probably didn’t want to scare us.
So you had no idea you what were signing on for?
I found out at the press conference [in Syria]! I knew that nobody had played there in quite some time, but never in my mind did I imagine 30 years. I thought maybe two years, whatever. It amazed me when the promoter said it. I couldn’t believe it. That’s a long time!
Were you worried at all?
I really wasn’t. I’ve traveled around the world, and I’m so used to being places where there’s conflict. I’ll give you a quick example. I was in Bali right after [the 2002 terrorist attack]. There was a lot of tension and it killed the tourism there, [but] the place was still beautiful. People tend to move on, and people tend to keep on living their lives. Same thing happened in Damascus. Obviously, there’s tension, but there are still millions of people that live a normal life. It’s not like you’re going to go there and there’s going to be gunshots or bombs going off in every corner. When people watch the news, that’s the vision they get from these countries, and it’s not like that.
What impressions did you get of the audience when you played?
It was one of the best crowds I ever played for. They went absolutely nuts. There were all types of people, whether it was Christians, Muslims, or Jewish people. That’s the stuff that you never hear about — they’re all there and they were all mixed in and all having fun. And I saw it with my eyes.
Did they know your songs? Were they singing along?
Every single song. Whether it was a single or it wasn’t a single. That’s what amazed me — from the first song to the last song.
Had you known that there were so many Enrique Iglesias fans in that part of the world?
I know that in the Middle East we’ve always done really well. Anywhere from Lebanon to Israel to Dubai, all those countries I’ve been to, and it was always huge. Whether it was 20, 30, 40 thousand people, we always sold out.
Do you think a lot of other international artists will start visiting Syria now that you have?
I truly do think it opens up. The first thing we ask when we go to a place is, ”Who else has played there?” And whenever they say somebody that you know, it immediately makes you feel a lot better. That’s what the promoter said to me: ”Enrique, look. Nobody wants to be the first, because nobody wants to risk it, and the management and the agents, they’re afraid. We need someone that we can say, ‘Well, he was here.’ And that will open up the doors.”