Qatar is fast gaining a reputation for its diverse and dynamic music scene, from local rising stars to international artists and award-winning producers attracted by the state of the art music facilities. And as the FIFA World CUP Qatar 2022 fast approaches Qatari singer Aisha, has recorded the lead single Hayya Hayya, (Better Together) for the official Qatar 2022 soundtrack.
The influence of Katara Studios
Matt Howe is a Qatar-based British sound engineer, who won a Grammy in 1999 for his work on Lauryn Hill’s massive selling and hugely influential album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Matt was attracted to Qatar because he says he was interested in and wanted to learn more about Middle-Eastern music.
“Coming here was good for me because I wanted to know a little bit more about Middle- Eastern music, such as Khaleeji, we’re in the Gulf region. Something I can learn from, for myself… that I can then… may be when I go back home I can make recommendations. This is a word-of-mouth industry and if you play your A game and if you can connect with others, that’s really good.”
Matt is the Chief Sound Engineer, at Katara Studios, that is set to be an audio-visual leader in the Middle East an it's here that the uplifting lead single, Hayya Hayya, (Better Together)__, was produced. But it doesn’t end there for them, because for the first time the tournament’s soundtrack will feature multiple songs, bringing together international artists and sounds, in-keeping with the global nature of the tournament itself.
Mazen Murad, is Director of Music at Katara Studios.
“This has been very interesting, bringing in all sorts of people to work together – and they love it! The Western artists are excited by the percussion players and the Qatari singers – and vice versa.”
Mazen is also a mastering engineer, which means that after the music is recorded and mixed, it comes to him for the finishing touches. And with the very latest recording equipment ready to be put to use, Katara Studios has also launched a boutique record label. Mazen describes the difference these facilities have made.
“We’ve got more artists, more singers, and more musicians because they’re able to hone in on their craft by having a place like this, for recording and releasing music. If they didn’t have this place, they’d have to wait until they went to Europe or something like that. So I think definitely it’s made a huge difference.”
World Cup opening ceremony
With everything you’d need for music, film and television under one roof, the first of its kind in the region, Katara Studios has also been tasked with producing the opening and closing ceremonies for Qatar 2022.
American filmmaker Luca Bercovici, who made his directorial debut in 1984 with the hit comedy horror film Ghoulies, is Director of Film, at Katara Studios. He says he wants to make the best opening ceremony the tournament has ever seen. So no pressure then?
“No, no pressure at all! (laughs) I think I can speak for everybody when I say that we are completely motivated to make this dream a reality and make it the best. Our intention is to make it the best opening ceremony anybody has ever seen ever, you know what I mean… So we’re going into it with that attitude and we feel pretty good about it.”
No doubt playing a big part of that opening ceremony will be the song Hayya Hayya, (Better Together), sung by Qatari singer Aisha which brings different cultures together, but still sounds quintessentially Qatari, as Aisha explains.
“Well, the most Qatari element to it, I would say, was the instruments. If you could hear the drums in the back, it's very Qatari. Also, ‘Hayya Hayya’ is the Arabic word like telling people to, you know, ‘Hey, let's go and move’. Also, I would say I would add a little bit of, you know, Qatari and Arabic like element to it. I don't think people are used to seeing a hijab in a World Cup song, so that was pretty new. So yeah, it's like little elements here and there that still make it like international and easy to digest for, like the whole world, but also still unique to the region.”
As well as the excitement surrounding the impending World Cup jamboree heading to the region, Aisha is also excited about the changing music industry in the country.
“I definitely think more Qatari artists are going to come out and just be more involved. And I would think there would be much more diversity in like the Qatari music industry. And I really can't wait for that because I do know a lot of Qatari artists that are really great and amazing. It's just that they need to, like, bring themselves up to the surface because actually the country really encourages people like young people to come out and, you know, share their talent. It's just that not everybody dares to do it.”
International artists making their home in Doha
With so many different nationalities now calling Qatar home, it’s no surprise that a diverse music scene is developing in the capital Doha. One those musicians is Martin Farragher who goes by the name, Faraway Martin
Irish-born and Doha-based, Martin has been playing regular gigs here since 2015. By day, he works as a music teacher, a job he loves because he says he can easily identify with his pupils.
“I teach from Grade 2 to Grade 6 so you’re talking like 6 to 12 year olds. And we have a lot of fun. I used to teach older kids but I definitely have more in common with the younger ones because I’m a bit of a kid myself.”
But when school’s out, as Alice Cooper once famously sang, Martin, often accompanied by his bandmates, can be found playing in unique locations all over the city. Which, as Martin describes, has led to some very pleasing and surprising requests.
“During lockdown there were no gigs, we weren’t allowed to play anywhere. But me and the guys decided to like… just take videos in different places. So we were like on paddleboards in the ocean, we were in the cave out in the middle of the desert, and we were putting them up on tiktok and youtube and it just kind of snowballed from there. And then Formula One reached out and asked us to play main stage on the Saturday night and I nearly fell off the chair when I got the email. It was amazing, a great experience.”
Martin says that Doha’s multicultural nature suits him very well.
“In my band there’s a couple of Irish lads, an English lad, an American lad and a Cuban lad. The music scene in Qatar is always changing because people are coming and going. So that keeps you on your toes. And it’s also a great way to make friends and learn more about different types of music and different cultures.”
Sammany Hajo is another international artist to make Doha his home, arriving there 16 years ago. As a musician, he says he likes to blend R&B and hip hop influences with his Sudanese heritage.
“It just made sense once I developed the confidence to experiment with music it made sense to kind of incorporate Sudanese rhythms and Sudanese melodies onto the music that I grew up listening to.”
Sammany has used his music to speak out on political issues and to raise awareness about the Sudan Revolution.
“I’ve had several conversations with people who were in the fields, in the protest, and they were telling me about the importance of art and revolution. So I think it plays an important role and it helps people who aren’t very aware of what’s going on in the world see things in a better way.”
After 16 years in Doha, Sammany is enthused about the dynamic music scene developing there.
“I’ve met a lot of people who share the passion for music. People that are really talented. And I’ve had the pleasure to you know, play music with them every once in a while. I think it’s only a matter of time before we have a big platform that combines all of the musicians and artists in Qatar and I look forward to that.”
The country’s music scene may still be in its relative infancy, but with the World Cup just around the corner, the opportunities for talented musicians here seem better and brighter than ever.