We all know that Qatar is preparing to host the Fifa World Cup 2022, but did you also know that its rich musical heritage is embracing influences from around the world? The fusion of traditional Arabic music with modern technology and outside influences is helping to create dynamic new sounds.
When it comes to music Qatar has a rich heritage of melody from which to draw. From the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra to traditional Qatari songs we will look at how classical, traditional and folk music blend together to enhance Qatar’s musical culture. We will also examine how Arabic and Western symphonies can come together to augment a cross-cultural fusion in sound.
The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) is made up of more than 100 musicians from all over the world. Created in 2007, its aim is to inspire adults and children in the region, regularly performing a mixture of Arabic and Western symphonies at Katara Opera House.
The musicians have an intensive schedule. As well as practicing five days a week, in high season there’s usually one concert every weekend. The visiting young German conductor, David Niemann, is quickly establishing himself as one of the most gifted conductors of his generation,
"You have Arab musicians, you have European musicians, from the Far East, really from almost everywhere. So it’s an eclectic interesting mix of cultures really and to work with them is, in that regard, a pleasure."
The mandate of the QPO is unique in that it extends beyond just performing, as explained by QPO Austrian born clarinet player Rony Moser,
"This was very interesting to me – not just to live abroad but to be part of a new cultural project. And when we came here end of August 2008 it was a big mixture, more than 30 different nations inside the orchestra and of course everybody had certain levels of experience, but we started everything from scratch."
Nuturing Young Musical Talent
But it’s not just established performers who are honing their skills in strings, woodwind and percussion. At the Qatar Music Academy there are some very promising talented young musicians who are aiming to become the next generation of classical musicians. At 10 years of age, Sze Han Law, is one such student at the academy,
"I play the violin and the piano. I’ve been playing violin since I was five, and I’ve played the keyboard since I was four and the piano since I was five. I really want to be a soloist and like inspire younger generations to play classical music."
As well as tutors for Western classical instruments – many of whom are part of QPO - there’s a strong focus on teaching Arab percussion and strings. Ahmed Al Jaidah, is studying the oud, a traditional acoustic string instrument,
"My teacher, Mr Ahmed, taught me how to play the oud and how to become a successful student. He always pushes me and says that you are doing well and that you can be better and he always gives me harder and harder pieces so that’s how I can go forward."
Zlatan Fazlic, is the Director of the Qatar Music Academy,
"We have got specially commissioned pieces of music composed by local composers and our two leading ensembles actually play arranged music for Western instruments and Arab instruments. We are very proud that we can offer that kind of fusion between East and West."
Bringing Traditional Qatari Music To A Wider Audience
Nasser Sahim Al Jassim is a multi-talented musician, composer and singer, as well as being the Deputy Executive Director of the QPO. His latest project is a personal mission to bring traditional Qatari folk songs to a wider audience,
"It started from my grandfather, who really has his duties to develop music in Qatar during beginning of 20th century. He gave the rest of the duties to my uncle who also works in the 1960s to start developing the Qatari music and songs. And after that he pass it to me. So I took this really seriously, and that’s where I am now, developing the Qatari music to a different direction."
Nasser says they have different types of folk music, like summer songs and sea songs created on the traditional dhow boats, used by the pearl divers who would sing to give them energy to work together,
"They sing it as an harmony, and then the main singers start going loudly and sing. This is very beautiful, and even very complicated rhythm. Back then, nobody studied music, they were focusing on diving for pearls, and on just enjoying the music, just feeling it and putting it into their lives."
Qatari music is steeped in rich tradition. But the challenge with any form of folk music is to keep it alive through the generations. And at the Katara Studios, Euronews met Qatari songstress Anwar, who sings folk music native to the region, a musical style called 'Samri', but she adds a modern touch to her performances,
"Singers perform old-generation songs so that they don’t become extinct and disappear. These old songs can be traced to our ancestors, so we have to modernize and keep singing them because they are definitely beautiful songs."
For the past three years, the music composer, Faisal Al Tamimi, worked on a project to bring the nation’s folk music to a global audience. And he got to share his passion for mixing Gulf music with electronic and jazz sounds at the recent World Cup draw that was broadcast worldwide,
"Music is a common language - I integrated Qatari music, American music, Japanese music, all of it in one language that all people can understand and communicate with. Some people might say that the introduction of electronic music to Qataris will weaken the Qatari identity. I can categorically tell them 'no' - both types complement each other. Music is a human cause, and with human causes, humans intertwine even if they are miles apart."
Al Tamimi believes the legacy of Qatar 2022 will extend far beyond the football pitch,
"For us musicians, the World Cup is the best opportunity to show everyone that we are a country of civilization and history. The best way to present our history is through our traditional art as it tells our story right from the very beginning. That’s why the world has to know that our small nation, Qatar, which was not known before, is now famous and is big on social life and culture - all of which are strongly connected with music."