Led by Emirati musician and composer Ali Obaid Rashed, Takht El Emarat, an eight-piece band playing traditional and modern regional music, took the stage at the UK’s Womad Festival on July 24 in their first European performance. Since he began putting together the band two years ago, Rashed’s goal has been to spread Emirati music across the globe. ‘My plan for this band is to take our music to different countries. European countries, Arab countries, wherever, but we have to take our music outside,’ he says.
As well as playing the music of his forefathers, Rashed, himself an accomplished oud player, has written a number of pieces that expand on the UAE’s musical heritage – something he claims is largely restricted to drums – by introducing new instruments from neighbouring Gulf and African countries, as well as some from further afield. ‘I changed this [drum beating] to music by playing with different instruments, such as the oud, the guitar and the clarinet, to play a new kind of music in, and for, our country,’ he explains.
Their take on the Emirati chaabi, an ancient acoustic music style inspired by the walking patterns of animals – notably, the camel – caught the attention of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), and they soon found themselves playing their debut performance at Womad Abu Dhabi 2010. ‘I created Takht El Emarat. I had to,’ he explains. ‘We have everything here in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and all the emirates – money, everything – but we don’t have a good, real local band.
In Turkey they have good music, Egypt has maybe 100 bands playing Egyptian music, so I had to create this band to take UAE music to different countries. I want people around the world to know the UAE has wonderful music, so I had to create good pieces so people outside would hear it and like it.’
The band’s gig at Womad in the UK marked their third stage performance, following Womad Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and a small concert in Seoul, Korea at the UAE embassy. Of the eight band members, three – Fahed Omar Abdulla, Mubarak Khamis and Obaid Rashed (not the conductor, but another member with almost the same name) – play drums, while Omar Abdul Qader and Ali Saif Bakheet play qanoon, Hamad Mubarak plays oud and Masood Hassan Masood is a violinist.
‘All the musicians are from this country, and they were all just playing at home before joining the band. They learned how to play instruments, but they didn’t have any opportunities to play outside their homes,’ he continues. Among them are policemen, bank and hospital workers aged between 20 and 35, yet they share a dedication to their art and meet after work to rehearse, often until 10.30pm at night.
With ADACH among their supporters, the odds of the band’s hard work paying off are better than most. It bodes well for Rashed’s plans for a CD featuring original music composed and performed by his band, and future concerts both within and outside the UAE. ‘All the big musicians in the world start locally, then they take their music to the international stage,’ he says. ‘My plan, my future, Insha’Allah, is to take all of this music and make it internationally recognised.’
Know your oud from your qanoon?
Similar to the European lute, both share a common ancestor. The oud is a pear-shaped string instrument, roughly the size of the average acoustic guitar, played with a wooden plectrum from which it is believed to have derived its name.
As with many Arabic-to-English translations, this instrument is referred to by a number of different spellings: kanun, qanun, qanoun… However you want to pronounce it, this is essentially a flat string instrument, much like the zither but with a trapezoidal soundboard, and usually with 26 strings that are plucked by hand.