When Emiratis come together it’s a force to be reckoned with; a passion for patriotism unleashed. The recording of this year’s official National Day song proves just that.
Not content with just a song, the musical celebration of the 41st National Day has a full-blown recording session and music video.
tabloid! managed to sneak behind the scenes to meet the faces of the UAE who made the vision a reality.
It’s 6am on an early November day at the Abu Dhabi  Heritage Village and while some unload boxes of equipment, others gather the children — some as young as seven — and start arranging costumes.
Although the early start has clearly taken its toll, the excitement of starring in a music video for UAE National Day keeps spirits high.
“Action!” shouts director Abdul Aziz Ahmad and the cameras roll, poet Arif Al Khaja and composer and singer Fayez Al Saeed’s new National Day song, Ya Khalifatna (Oh! Our Khalifa), playing in the background.
As the sun rises and the heat builds up, a new level of patience is required. The youngsters, who maybe expected something more glamorous, feel the strain but soldier on regardless. Mums are on hand with dates and water to keep energy levels high.
Everyone is a mixture of relief and ecstacy when Ahmad finally announces “it’s a wrap” more than 12 hours after it all began.
Commissioned by Abu Dhabi-based twofour54, the 2012 National Day song has been inspired by the much-loved UAE song Zanaha Zayed (Zayed Beautified It or Beautified With Zayed).
Written by renowned Emirati poet Al Khaja and originally recorded in 1996, the song has inspired a generation and is a favourite among people of all ages. This year, Al Khaja was presented with the task of combining the original lyrics of Zanaha Zayed with the lyrics of last year’s National Day song Amrak Al Sami (Your Supreme Order), a song he also wrote, to create a 2012 “wonder song”.
The melody has been composed by prominent Emirati singer and composer Al Saeed and was recorded in Al Saeed’s Dubai studio, performed by a group of six Emirati singers and local musicians.
Ahmad, a Creative Lab Community member, wrote, directed, shot and produced the music video, after going head-to-head with wannabe directors from across the UAE with his proposal. The Creative Lab Community provides grants and development assistance to Arabs to make short films, cartoons or television pilots, and has completed 39 projects. Judges at twofour54 say his idea was chosen because he was “filled with passion for the project”.
“I was honoured to be a part of such a prestigious project,” said Al Khaja, sipping coffee. “It doesn’t really get much better than to be asked to represent your country in this way.”
Al Khaja went to school at Al Azhar before launching a career in the media sector taking on roles at Al Bayan newspaper as a sports reporter, Al Shabab magazine and Dubai Television. But poetry was always in his heart.
“It was a hobby more than anything,” he said. “But it was something which was in my blood. I remember writing down words and lyrics since I was 16 and not really understanding why. I just had an urge to write. Words were beautiful to me.”
Al Khaja is no stranger to the world of music. The Emirati is the power behind many musicals. His work has mesmerised audiences and has had a great impact on the cultural development in the UAE.
“This opportunity has given me a chance to revisit words I wrote a long time ago and combine it with more modern ones. That’s very special because it means we can bridge a gap between old and young.”
Al Khaja says the new combined lyrics for the 2012 song tell the story of how the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan made the UAE a beautiful place and how His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, is following the same path.
“We wanted the song to create harmony through music in the UAE.”
Singer, producer and composer Al Saeed is more than qualified to create a masterpiece.
Now 38, he was discovered in the early ’90s by composer Moussa Mohammad, who helped him find his feet in the industry.
Al Saeed studied literature before finding the strength to stand up to many people around him – including his parents – who didn’t believe a career in music would be beneficial.
“I faced some obstacles from my parents but I overcame them,” he said.
“I started out at the beginning of the 1990s and I started with songs at school like the daily assembly songs we used to sing at school. With support from friends and my brothers and a lot of encouragement I got involved in music.”
Inspired by poets Gassan Al Hassan and Moussa Mohammad, Al Saeed set about writing his first songs in the early ’90s. It wasn’t long before the government picked up on his talent and sent him to perform a song called Yahya Al Insan at the Carthage Festival in Tunisia.
“For this song I used words by Arif Al Khaja,” he said. “It was the first time I had represented my country and I was still quite young. It was a new experience and it was the first time I had ever sung in front of a large audience. I think there were more than 10,000 people. I was performing with big stars like Kathim Al Sahir, Lutfi Bushnak and Angham. They were already famous and I was just starting out. The whole experience created a very emotional bond for me with my music.”
When Al Saeed was asked to be a part of this new project he jumped at the chance.
“It was always something I would agree to. This is our country and the song means a lot to people. It is something to be extremely proud of.”
With plans to be a leading director one day, Ahmad has a different focus than most. “It’s the job of someone who delivers a message. That’s how I see it,” he says, taking a five-minute breather from the set.
“I don’t have a role model director because it would restrict me. I think it would limit me to follow in someone else’s footsteps so instead I just keep treading mine.”
Ahmad was selected by twofour54 for his passion and determination — something which is very apparent when face-to-face with the 23-year-old.
“My earliest memories are creative ones,” he said. “Singing, dancing, artwork. And then came the cameras. I want to make people see what I see, which actually carries a lot of responsibility.”
Ahmad chose seven actors to represent the seven emirates of the UAE. The script took just minutes to write as Ahmad says he had a very clear vision. He hired the help of his friends, many of them also involved in the Creative Lab Community, and set about casting and pre-production ahead of the big shoot.
“It’s been about two weeks in the making, I guess. We haven’t had long to bring all the elements together. It is supposed to show unity. The coming together of the UAE. But I would like to stress that it’s not fact. What happens in the video isn’t historical fact, it’s a creative way of showing unity through the years. The creation of something very special. It can be interpreted in many different ways, which I think is important.”
Meet the second assistant director: Abdullah Al Junaibi
The Emirati has high hopes of being a filmmaker and video editor. At just 23, Junaibi says he was grateful to be given the opportunity to work on such a great project.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been on a set, and I am learning so much. Just to be around the cameras and the action is very good for me. The way Abdul [director] is speaking to the cast is inspirational and I am taking as many notes as I can.”
Meet the casting director: Salama Yousuf
A media student at Zayed University, 20-year-old Salama says she’s has learnt more in two weeks making the music video than in three years of studying. “It’s just natural that you learn more when you are on the ground actually experiencing how it all works,” said the Emirati from Abu Dhabi. “It was my job to cast each role, which was very exciting. I looked through CVs and pictures and had to pick people who had the right look and personality for each role. The most challenging thing was having a backup for each because some people got cold feet and pulled out. We have people from seven up to 60, which is tough as you are catering to such different needs. It was quite hard to get some of the older people involved because they were shy. Some needed a lot of reassurance.” Salama says the biggest learning curve was trying to squeeze everything into one day. “I have never known 12 hours to go so quickly in all my life.”
Meet the designer: Mariam Al Shamsi
Presented with the task of creating the cover for this year’s National Day song CD cover, Mariam was full of ideas.
The 21-year-old from Abu Dhabi studies graphic design at Zayed University and says she is “privileged” to be the designer for such a great project.
“I was so happy to be selected for my design concept. It is an honour for me. I am so proud and have enjoyed designing something which means so much to people in the UAE. The concept of the cover is to bring the past and the present together. I was inspired by a newspaper article from 1996 where people were just talking about an airline for Abu Dhabi. Etihad was just a dream back then and now it’s a reality. I wanted to show that vision.”
Mariam designed the cover in just one day and took a further two days to perfect her work.
Don’t miss it
Ya Khalifatna will be played in malls, coffee shops, exhibition centres and across the UAE from this weekend. Copies of the CD will be distributed through Abu Dhabi Media Company and the song will be available to download from twofour54.com.