Sounds of the past and the present sown together, showing off Qatar's other side
In just over a year, the small Persian Gulf nation of Qatar will be at the forefront of everyone’s attention when they host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It could be argued that alongside the World Cup, Fahad Al Kubaisi’s music, something that one might deem more palatable upon Western ears, could be part of a decision to diversify the nation’s economic portfolio away from merely the oil industry, and instead seek to attract both tourists as well as global accolades for its cultural efforts. Yet, though it is easy to be cynical about the intentions behind a country perhaps seeking good press after they have come under global disrepute due to their exploitative kafala system, as well as an awareness that they may need to implement forms of distraction away from the destructive environmental implications of their main source of income, in the case of Al Kubaisi I find myself feeling somewhat more optimistic that his intentions are pure.
“...I hope that people across the world will become more au fait with Al Kubaisi’s work and khaliji music in general, allowing them to see past the material opulence and wealth that the country is renowned for.”
Throughout this process I have been fortunate enough to listen to a wide array of albums that have used the oud as a central part of their sound. The records have ranged from wholly traditional to almost unrecognisable in its origins; yet, what I respect about Al Kubaisi’s eighth album, Anta Eshq, is that it falls right in-between the two styles. Thus, I truly believe that Anta Eshq is an authentic attempt to show of Al Kubaisi’s proud heritage, whilst bringing it firmly into the 21st century, perhaps with the hope that outsiders will gain curiosity about his country’s music culture. The album as a whole can firmly be categorised as khaliji music, a genre that is bound to put a smile on the face of all who listen to it. What Al Kubaisi manages to do is implement a series of ‘Western’ instruments such as clarinet, guitar and saxophone seamlessly alongside more traditional instruments like the qanun, ney and buzuq.
The instrument however which most surprised me on the album was the inclusion of the accordion. Kul Al Zeyadah for example begins with the wheezy sound of the instrument tricking the listener into thinking a French chanson might start to play. Yet somehow, Al Kubaisi’s production just makes it work. Aheb Al Lail, which heavily features the accordion is a brilliant song which due to it being weaved into the sound of the album without too much of a jarring sense, almost gives the record an Algerian Rai feel, reminding me of legend of the game Rachid Taha. Al Kubaisi gained fame for the opening track, which feels the most current due to its blending in of the every-increasingly popular Latin rhythms alongside a rap, however, for my money the song that should have won him greatest favour amongst his fans is the beautiful Eshtaqt Lek. On the track, Al Kubaisi sounds like he is really singing from the depths of his soul and the harmonising on the song is just wonderful.
It is basically impossible for me to give lyrical analysis of the album, though I would be curious to know if any of the tracks fall into the Qatari tradition of singing about the sea or songs connected to the desert. The themes Al Kubaisi chooses to sing about would certainly impact how traditional or modern it would be viewed as in his homeland. Nevertheless, of course, no one can really know the true intent behind the album bar the artist itself, however, for me it seems that Al Kubaisi is merely a man of craft. As the world turn their heads to north-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula for the world’s showpiece sporting event, I hope that people across the world will become more au fait with Al Kubaisi’s work and khaliji music in general, allowing them to see past the material opulence and wealth that the country is renowned for.