When the great Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma came to Abu Dhabi in March, he wasn't expecting pop-star treatment from school children. Many knew his work already, having encountered his music and that of Jordanian oud player Kamal Musalam and Mexican percussionist Varela at special music improvisation workshops held in their schools.
"He made a huge impact on our students, and has given them something that they will remember for a long time to come," Jonathan Lyall, Director of Performance at the British School, says in a media release.
Residents say its multi-cultural character is one of the best things about being in the UAE. By introducing children to local and international cultures Abu Dhabi ensures that cultural interaction is not restricted to our working lives.
Last October Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra presented a Young People's concert. In January, the conductor Daniel Barenboim explained Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony to one thousand children. And at the ongoing Abu Dhabi Festival, Bilad Al Khayr or the Land of Blessings focuses on music and the dramatic arts, lectures and hands-on workshops across the emirates as part of year-round community programme aimed at inculcating an early appreciation of culture in the UAE's youth.
"People from diverse backgrounds and cultures have made their home in the UAE," says Hoda Ibrahim Al Khamis Kanoo, Founder and Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival. "Bringing alive our cultural assets is imperative to their long-term survival and we hope that our exciting programme will engage a new generation of arts lovers."
At this weekend's WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival, organisers have laid on a range of children's activities, introducing them to traditional instruments, dance from Africa and India, reggae, African murals and other art forms. Over 2,000 children have been taking part in workshops aimed at enriching their experience of the arts through interaction with the artists. The workshops "a key element that make Womad Abu Dhabi an important tool in our continuing thrust to promote the arts and culture in our society," says Abdullah Salim Al Amiri, Director of Culture and Arts of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which organises the event. "It is the perfect example of the concept of edutainment."
Parents couldn't agree more. Says Hetal Jain, a mum of two, "Entertainment for children need not be dumbed down. They can understand complex arts and enjoy them. When we go to other places we see kids burdened by education with only television for entertainment. But Abu Dhabi allows for other options."