Tobias Rahim (a 6'7" Kurdish Danish singer) strode across the stage of Copenhagen’s Royal Arena on a recent Saturday dressed in a gold cowboy outfit with tassels.
He was halfway through "Stor Mand" ('Big Man,') a romantic duo sung by Andreas Odbjerg - another Danish star. Rahim didn't even need to sing: he pointed his microphone towards the crowd of 16,000 people who sang every word.
The crowd, some of whom were wearing cowboy hats like Rahim, made their admiration for him even more clear when they began chanting: 'The girls are after your body. The 33-year old, who had posed naked for a prior project, moved quickly onto the next hit.
American music lovers have become used to hearing pop songs in other languages than English. K-pop and Spanish-language acts such as Bad Bunny had hit songs on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart, and French-language artists have appeared at major US festivals.
Danish is a staccato, often staccato, language that is spoken by just six million people. Its alphabet contains the letters AE O A. This makes it an unlikely candidate for pop's new lingua-franca. Rahim told an interviewer the day following the show that Danish-language pop could also take off.
Denmark is known for its noir television dramas and gastronomy outside the country. Rahim claimed that the pop scene in Denmark was equally talented. He said that the energy in the country is very strong. Rahim heard that Danish is an ugly language. He disagreed, saying: "Any language turned into music can be beautiful."
A few Danish musicians have been making music in English for years to reach audiences overseas, such as the young and fresh LukasGraham, or the artistic singer MO. Simon Lund, music editor at Politiken, one of Denmark's major newspapers, stated in an interview that while the country still produces great English-language song, it is also experiencing a boom in Danish language pop with catchy melodies.
Lund stated that Rahim was a phenomenon among those. Tracks from his second album 'Nar Sjaelen Kaster op ('When The Soul Vomits") topped Denmark's Singles Charts for almost 40 weeks last year. Nar Maend Graeder ('When Men Cry,') a song about men being able to cry, sparked a debate in Denmark about masculinity.
Rahim published a collection of poetry in the lead-up to Christmas that featured a picture showing him bare, with a rose clenched in his mouth. Lund stated that the book was sold out and now Rahim is 'impossible' to ignore in Denmark.
Rahim, who grew up in Aarhus as a half Kurdish and half Danish man, said that he often felt "half" and never fully fit in. He added that the nude photos showed him as a proud and whole mixed-race 'neo Scandinavian man'.
Rahim has spent his entire career trying to achieve success outside of Denmark.
He moved to Cali in 2009, just after completing school. There, he made friends with rappers, reggaeton artists, and other musicians living in the city's poorest neighborhoods. Rahim spent two years in Cali, Colombia making music and only left after he saw a neighbor shot.
He released a few tracks in Denmark as a member of the reggaeton group Camilo & Grande. But, he felt the need to move, and in 2018 he moved to Accra, Ghana where he became an Afropop singer under the name Toby Tabu. Rahim says that in Ghana, he tried to be like other local musicians, working hard to get his upbeat music played on radios, supporting big local artists, and sleeping on couches as he tried break through.
His career in Denmark really took off with the album "When the Soul Vomits" written with producer Arto Eriksen, which is filled with pop songs influenced by the '80s and his own songwriting. Rahim used to be scared of being vulnerable with his music for fear that producers would tell to stick to "sexy reggaeton." But at the height the coronavirus epidemic, he was forced to overcome these doubts. He began working on songs about his Kurdish roots and his father's emotional distance.
Even in a small nation like Denmark, the experience of becoming a pop sensation has been mixed. Rahim told us that last year, he felt like he'd been on a runaway and had delusions that someone would kill him.
He had a panic episode in the fall while practicing for a performance to be given at Denmark's biggest music awards. He said that he felt like his body was submerged. He left the show, and from public life altogether. Only this spring did he return with an arena tour. He said he is feeling better and released two tracks in the last few weeks, "Toget" ('The Train') and "Orange", about the challenges of this year and a more optimistic future.
Rahim stated in a 90 minute interview that he would not have a plan when he wanted to break through outside Denmark. He said 'I will go wherever the river takes me'. Rahim then pointed out a tattoo of a fish running through a stream, with the word "river" written above it in Danish to demonstrate how important this idea was to his.
Rahim stated that he loves making music in the United States, but he also loved the rest of the world.
Rahim decided to bring the world, at least for the moment, to Denmark during his recent arena performance. He announced at the end of the show that he would be playing'Kurder I Kobenhavn' ('Kurds In Copenhagen'), which is a tropical pop tune about immigration, but ends up as a Middle Eastern dance song complete with Kurdish instruments and chants.
He asked several musicians and singers to join him on stage, including one who was waving a Kurdish flag. One of the guests talked about his pride in being a Kurd. Then he told the audience to link their pinkie finger and begin bobbing as if they were dancing at a Kurdish marriage.
Rahim radiated from the stage as the crowd followed him. At that moment, Rahim looked like he was at home.