“I’m actually of Syrian descent, which as of now is still on the U.S. list of terror-encouraging countries,” says singer-songwriter Malek Zavaro. “Which is B.S.” The 30-year-old Usher-inspired crooner was in grade school when his Middle Eastern family moved from Dubai to San Diego in 1988.

“Even though I spoke English, I was picked on and bullied, due to my heavy accent.… I actually got trash-canned my first day of school at Montgomery Middle School. I had no friends all throughout junior high and very few friends in high school. I hated the weekends, so I’d just sit in my room and sing. American pop music was my friend.”

An unabashed Michael Jackson fanatic, Zavaro’s romantic electropop demos earned him an agent in the Middle East, Eddy Boustany, who landed his debut album a 14-country distribution deal with Virgin Records stores in the Middle East and Europe.

“When the CD comes out next month,” says Zavaro, “I’ll be one of the few Middle Eastern–American [performers] who isn’t at least a second- or third-generation American.”

His debut performance as a solo artist happens Friday, April 16, at USD’s Joan B. Kroc Center. “This is my first organized and produced show, rehearsed with my band, where people have purchased tickets. I’m performing only my own songs, not covers, and I’m not sharing the stage with another act.”

Even if Zavaro’s album beats the odds and takes off overseas, he says the childhood traumas he suffered over his heritage will always be hard to let go of, for both him and his tormentors.

“The kid that trash-canned, Collin, me was one of the biggest bullies in school, and he committed suicide a couple of years back, from depression. He apologized to me for what he did, a few months before his suicide.”

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