DUBAI: They had gathered in the desert in the pre-dawn hours of a Friday morning for a rendezvous with history. Accompanied by their proud parents, they had all woken up at unfamiliar hours and set off for the location.
As they waited in the cool stillness of the desert, dawn gradually shedding its light on the surroundings, the cameras were set up, the technical issues finessed and then, it was time. The days and hours of practice all led to this unforgettable moment.
Dressed in traditional finery, the 20 children stood together on the soft, warming sands and on cue, in a breathtaking flight of harmony, the young voices merged into one as the rising, soaring fervour of Ishy Biladi filled the luminous sky.
The young singers, all from the Emirates Children’s Choir at the Raffles World Academy Dubai, were part of the Expo 2020 Dubai’s 48th National Day video, and their rendition of the national anthem will take its place alongside seven other renditions by musicians from around the world in a special video made by Nahla Al Fahad, the well-known Emirati film-maker.
The children’s journey towards this momentous occasion began with their solo renditions being sent for selection, says Natalie Bath, Head of Arts and music teacher at Raffles World Academy. “We have a sizeable community of Emirati students at RWA and we chose the voices best suited for this project,” she says.
The final composition of national anthem choir comprised 20 students, between nine-13 years of age, of which 14 students are Emiratis and the rest, nationalities from the Middle East whose native tongue is Arabic, says Bath.
As a professional opera singer who has performed on stage in many languages, including Mandarin, Bath says she was finely attuned to each student’s singing capabilities and nuance, even if the national anthem was in Arabic. A South African with British parents, Bath, who has been in the UAE for four years now, says the length of her experience as a professional singer has given her a good ear for picking up [anything that goes off-key].
“I know their strengths and quality of singing,” she says. She has high praise for their talent. “They are very good.”
In getting them to this point, Bath picked the route of self- and group empowerment. At every step of the project, as they prepared for the video, the students were encouraged to help and correct each other. “I supervised them but also let them lead the process,” she says.
They were also given exacting instructions. The shoot was outdoors, where the elements could play truant. “Even if the wind blew and the sand rose while they were rendering the anthem, they were not to blink or lose concentration,” says Bath. Nothing, she told them, should come between them and the perfect rendition.
The children made sure nothing did.
Other countries coming together for the Expo 2020 Dubai 48th National Day video:
China: Piano rendition by artist Corsak on a Shanghai rooftop.
India: Slide guitar by Niki Mukhi with the backdrop of Taj Mahal.
Saudi Arabia: Oud, Qanoon, in the Jeddah fountains.
Norway: Violin by Norway State Orchestra player in Trondheim fjords.
Philippines: Harp by Philippines State Orchestra player in Manila’s Rizal Park.
Russia: Balalaika rendition by Minski Theatre player in Red Square Moscow.
UK: Brass trumpet by Paul Spong.
Last year, Expo 2020 Dubai marked the UAE’s 47th National Day by connecting more than 180 countries through the universal language of music, right here in the UAE in a video called ‘Orchestra of the World’ .