March 16, 2006

Chico, ex-goat herder, first Arab to top UK charts

By Talal Malik

LONDON (Reuters) - A former goat herder and male stripper
has sold twice as many records as Madonna in recent weeks to
become the first Arab to top the British pop singles chart
since records began 44 years ago.

"Mashallah (Thank God) - it's beyond dreams. To know that
I'm the first Arab to do that, it's a very proud moment," Chico
told Reuters in an interview.

His debut single, "It's Chico Time," is enjoying its second
week in the top spot.

Born in Wales of Moroccan parentage, 34-year-old Chico came
to prominence on prime-time British television talent show,
"X-Factor," where his personality, dance routines and cheeky
grin compensated for his singing.

"I've been trying for fifteen years, been knocking on
doors, and nothing's ever happened. Then suddenly this!" said
Chico, whose real name is Yousseph Slimani.

Of all the artists he would most like to sing with, it is
Madonna he chooses, referring to her as a "living legend."

"I wouldn't mind dueting with Madonna, so I can say, 'Sorry
for knocking you off the top spot'," said Chico, after
dethroning the Queen of Pop. Madonna's "Sorry" was her 12th
number one, but major music retailer HMV said Chico outsold her
by a margin of two to one to peak the charts.

Chico was raised in Morocco by his grandparents until the
age of 13. During his childhood he worked as a goat herder
before leaving for Britain.

"I lived with my grandparents in Aroubia, in the mountains,
and was a goat herder. What a life -- I was brought up on a
thousand-year tradition."

In Britain he worked as a "exotic male dancer" to pay the
medical bills for his grandmother after she suffered a stroke
and wished to travel for healing to the Islamic holy city of

"God works in mysterious ways - I ended up saving enough
money and sending my grandparents to Mecca," said Chico.


As well as pop music success, Chico and Madonna share an
interest in mysticism -- Chico became a Sufi disciple 16 months
ago and Madonna's devotion to the Jewish school of mysticism,
Kabbalah, is well-known.

The pop star says his new-found fame was the result of
mentoring from Shaykh Nazim al-Qubrusi, an 83-year old Sufi
mystic living in northern Cyprus.

"Until I met Mawlana Shaykh Nazim, my whole life was in the
wilderness, I was like a moth wondering aimlessly, waiting to
be reunited with the Divine Ocean," he said.

To avoid being cast as a "one-hit wonder" like many of his
talent-show peers, Chico -- the first Arab at the top spot on
the Official UK charts for at least four decades -- said he
will release an album with a Middle Eastern flavor.

"What I really want to do is introduce Arabic music to the
world, but on a big scale," he said.

Prior to becoming a singer, Chico and his brother also
produced a short film which gained a British Film and
Television Academy Award (BAFTA) nomination, and still harbors
ambitions to make films.

"Ultimately, I would like to make spiritual films, such as
about the Prophet Mohammed, his companions and people like
Jalaluddin Rumi (a Sufi poet). Whatever I'm going to be doing,
it's going to be spiritually involved."

It is an ambitious leap from "It's Chico Time," which
features the chorus: "Well, you can get delirious, if you take
life too serious."

(Additional reporting by Omar Younis)