Music is like the thread that connects the divine in every soul. It renews, replenishes, placates. Those who have not seen the divine in music, will never know peace or love, or be aware of the rising crescendos of their own hearts. In every note, in every baroque, lies eternity. Music is Life and the universality of existence.
It has been an integral part of human cultural evolution along with art & literature. And yet, in this day and age, you may find it hard to believe that there are still some regions in the world where music in public places is prohibited due to religious/cultural reasons. Saudi Arabia is one of them. Though there is a covert music culture thriving, far from the prying eyes of the authorities, by and large you will rarely see music events in public. There are no schools teaching music as a part of their curriculum nor are there any music-only schools. Social and cultural norms still preach music as something that is forbidden. And yet the region has produced several talented musicians, most of whom are self taught or trained abroad.
With the advent of the Internet and social media networking sites, Saudi Arabia has become home to one of the fastest growing Twitter nations in the world, with 3 million Twitter users and 50 million tweets per month, a million Facebook users and 90 million YouTube views. Businesses, officials, artists, literatis and musicians have taken advantage of this very trend to find their place under the Sun. Alaa Wardi is one such talented musician, who has become the musical poster-boy of the Middle East on YouTube.
Alaa Wardi is an upcoming A Capella artist who has used the medium of internet to reach out to his audience. His videos have gone viral on YouTube. He was born in Iran but resides in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Since there are no music recording studios, Alaa creates music in the confines of his own room. He arranges empty cartons around his room so that sound within does not percolate. It is in the confines of isolation that Alaa creates some of the most amazing music, sometimes famous covers, using his body parts to create background music. Though his audience have been predominantly Arab, he recently did an a Cappella rendition of an Indian song “Pehla Nasha” which received 1.2 lakh (1.2 million) likes on Facebook, and catapulted him as a rising star in the Indian subcontinent. Alaa’s Indian connection is not just through the popularity of “Pehla Nasha”. His maternal grandmother, uncle and his family, though being Iranians have settled in Mumbai for the past 50 years.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Gazette, Alaa speaks about his passion for music and a cappella.
How long have you been doing a cappella ? Did you have a formal training in it?
I started making A cappella videos on YouTube about 2 years back. I don’t have any specific training in Capella except that I studied music for 4 years in Jordan where I received my Bachelor of Arts degree. After that I studied sound engineering for a year. Both these disciplines gave me the ability to make the kind of music that I do on YouTube.
Tell us a bit about your childhood and how your interest in A cappella genre came to be.
My childhood is not related to my A cappella music. My interest in A cappella video began when I noticed a lot of American A cappella musicians creating amazing music on YouTube. It’s a very popular genre of music. It made me think that no one has ever attempted a cappella from my part of the world, and was inspired to venture into it. After my first video gained immense popularity, I was just inspired to keep going at it.
In a Country like Saudi Arabia where public entertainment is banned, how did you find your audience?
My audiences are mostly from Saudi, the Middle East, and even India. They’ve been amazingly supportive, and that’s been my inspiration. YouTube has given me a window of opportunity and world wide coverage. That has been of great advantage. It’s as easy as making a video from the privacy of my room and people from as far as Brazil or South Africa watch it and give immediate feedback about my music. I find it immensely exhilarating and YouTube has been my biggest strength to reach out to my online audience. Most of my viewers and fans are from Saudi Arabia, however.
Who are the musicians who have inspired you? Who is the one figure in your life, who has encouraged the musician in you?
There have been different genres of music and musicians, it’s hard to name anyone specific. But this I can say with total confidence that it is my fans & viewers who have motivate and inspire me. When they request more videos and music from me, there is no greater inspiration.
Was there any resistance, to your pursuit of music as a career?
There was no resistance, at least nothing I can remember, though I had a few financial constraints that most musicians face.
Your videos are extremely popular and have gone viral. Tell us more about how you create them, especially the multiplicity editing
I start by arranging the music to the a cappella and contemplate how I would want it to sound when it’s done. I then record all the parts that I’ve arranged, and then edit and mix all the tracks that I’ve recorded. I modify them to sound their best. I then start shooting the videos for each part and put them together in a video software in sync with the track and voila — it’s done! The entire process might take a month sometimes depending on the complexity of the song.
Shalamonti Fel7al made a huge impact on Arab youth, what is it about the music that made it so popular?
When I make a song, or when it becomes popular, I don’t analyse the reasons. I just follow my heart and the inspiration of the moment. I guess it’s the fun and youthful element of the song that made it popular.
Your recent Hindi cover of Pehla Nasha has found you millions of Indian fans. The video is going viral on all major social networking sites. What made you choose Pehla Nasha as your first foreign music cover?
I wanted to do a Hindi cover so badly but choosing the one song from millions was so difficult. I thought of doing one that was a classic but was still popular. I remembered “Pehla Nasha” by chance really and it sounded like a good idea. And thankfully I have received great reviews.
Our favourite at Arabian Gazette is definitely “Risala Ela.” The soft romantic number is quite unlike what you have done before. You have also used instruments in the recording of the song. Could you tell us how the inspiration to the song came about?
I had that song ready for a while. It’s about this guy who wants to send a message in a moment of desperation, to someone who was an integral part of his life once. Realizing that she is his soul mate, and asking with little hope for another chance. I wanted to do this video as a normal instrumental. It was the first time I was using chroma/green screen.
The Stay cover (Rihanna) once again showcases the versatile artist that you are. Any plans to have an International original in the near future?
I will be making a lot of music and music videos, hopefully until my last breath. I would be attempting eclectic genres, styles and languages. So you can expect anything!
After your concert at Art Medium Amman, will your fans be seeing more of you on Music Tours in the Middle East?
I may be doing a couple of concerts but not too many because I want to focus on video production on YouTube. That in itself is time consuming. At the moment it is difficult for me to multitask with creating music and doing tours and being good at both. So I will take it one step at a time, at my own pace.
Any message for your fans and aspiring A Capella musicians in the Middle East?
Yes. Stop procrastinating and just get moving and working. You need goals and ambitions in life to make it worthwhile. Make music your reality!