From a historic pearling hotspot to a modern day tourist haven, the UAE has cemented its reputation as a burgeoning hub for multifarious trades. This multicultural vigour has ultimately filtered into local culture. With the Emirates’ music, sports, business and artistic industries growing by leaps and bounds, GN Focus caught up with six born and bred Emiratis you are sure to hear much more of in the near future.
Abdullah Ali | Footballer
Ali, an attacking midfielder at five-time UAE Football League champions Al Ahli Club, says his life is pretty “normal”.
“Our lifestyle is nothing special,” he says, “except for the fact that we play football for one of the leading clubs in the country.”
Here’s Ali’s take on what it’s like to be a footballer in the UAE.
What does it take to be a professional footballer?
“As athletes we sleep well and do not stay up too late. We also train hard and eat healthy. Our health and fitness levels are extremely important.
“If we have a game coming up, I focus on training a little extra in order to be fully fit. We stay away from partying and staying out late.”
What is your average day like?
“Our days are similar to most, except that our job is playing football. Our days are normal. When we have training sessions during the day, we concentrate and give it our all. However, when we are not training, we spend time with our families. I usually just hang out with my wife and family or we visit my wife’s parents.
“Our lifestyle is nothing special, except for the fact that we play football for one of the leading clubs in the country.”
How often do you socialise as a team?
“We do go out as a team to enjoy ourselves a little bit. However, that is usually in the case of a victory, or to celebrate a good result in an important match.”
Are you ever recognised by the fans?
“Several fans follow the team, and yes, they do recognise us when we’re out. Being a famous footballer depends on several factors — whether the club is famous, whether the club is having a good season, and whether the player is scoring or playing well game after game.
“I remember this one time when I played for Emirates Club in Ras Al Khaimah, a few fans once stopped me in a mall for a chat.”
Have you ever thought, enough is enough — I’m getting myself a burger?
“No. We stick to a healthy diet. We might grab some fast food once a month, but that is rare.”
Which team does your family and friends support?
“Well, it is obvious that I support my club. If we are looking at football teams from outside the country, I support FC Barcelona. My father and brother are both huge Liverpool FC fans. When it comes to international teams, I love watching Brazil and Spain play, while my dad roots for England. My wife cheers for my team, although she supports Al Wahda FC.”
With the UAE national team recently playing at the Olympic Games in London, do you dream of playing for the first team?
“It is a very big deal to represent your country at an international level. I am doing my best and training every day. I have to prove myself to the coach and to the manager and that is one of my ultimate goals that I hope to achieve one day.”
Bunny J | Rapper
The UAE’s answer to Eminem and Jay Z, Bunny J is the latest vanguard of the UAE’s music scene. Born Mohammad Jaffar, his vibe fuses dance floor anthems with rapped lyrics that reflect situations that resonate with the thoughts of younger generations.
Quiet by nature, Dubai-born Bunny J says music has allowed him a space for personal expression: “I have always listened to hip hop. Since I’ve never been a big talker, hip hop is a good way for me to express myself.”
Bunny J’s Emirati heritage features prominently in his music, especially the accompanying videos and the language. Fly Away, his debut single, opens with scenes of Shaikh Zayed Road and cuts away to surrounding Arabian Desert landscapes.
“I use pretty clean language, since my upbringing is all about respect for other people,” he tells GN Focus. “I think that positive hip hop from the Middle East can really help us share our culture.
“I hope the next generation of Emiratis and young people from the Middle East can think that it’s okay to be an artist, actor or writer. Whatever inspires you, just go for it!”
Amnah Al Haddad | Weightlifter
Al Haddad is one of the UAE’s most exciting, up-and-coming sporting exports. She is the only Emirati woman to compete at the punishing Reebok CrossFit Asia Regionals and wants to represent the UAE at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I always found the weights room at the gym appealing — I stepped in there and never looked back. As for the sport of weightlifting, I love everything about it — the swift movement of the lifts, the power, the speed and the mental aspect of it,” she says.
Al Haddad, a diminutive figure lifting and commanding her own bodyweight on a barbell, hopes to inspire all Emiratis should she fulfil her dream of performing on the biggest sports stage on earth in four years.
“It will be a matter of pride for the nation and highlight the success and empowerment of Emirati women in sports. It is also a huge responsibility for me to spread awareness and educate the public about the sport.”
Mubarak Al Besher | Swimmer
Following in the wake of previous Emirati Olympic wild-card swimmer Obaid Al Jasmi, Al Besher is one of the UAE’s most promising aquatic athletes. Al Besher represented the nation at the Olympic Games in London, narrowly missing out on a place in the finals.
The swimmer says the Olympic experience was unforgettable. “It was amazing to be surrounded by so many great athletes all in one place — and to be one of them, representing my country at the biggest competition of all.
Noura Al No’man | Writer
Al No’man leads a small group of Arabic sci-fi and fantasy writers. The 47-year-old released Ajwan last month, the first in a three-part sci-fi series.
“The novel was inspired by the fact that my kids, young adults, do not have Arabic novels interesting enough to read,” she says. “And none which could ever compete with the English novels they are reading. Therefore, I decided to write an Arabic novel for young Arabs.”
Al No’man says young Emiratis are starting to take up the challenge of writing science fiction. “There is a great movement at this stage where young Emiratis have intuitively started to make up for this great deficit. Amazingly, some books will never be known outside cyberspace, but they still write and they have an audience.
“On the other hand, there are several initiatives by government and other non-governmental entities which are working methodically to promote reading and to encourage and nurture more Emirati writers.”
Lamia Al Hashly | Entrepreneur
Catering to the UAE’s sweet tooth is not an easy occupation, but it’s a role Al Hashly has tackled with gusto resulting in a finely honed aptitude for producing authentic Arabian desserts.
“Our products reflect the true spirit of UAE’s diversity,” says Al Hashly, owner of Blossom Sweets.
While Blossom Sweets caters to everyone’s palate, they are renowned for their “signature fusion Middle Eastern desserts that incorporate Emirati flavours and textures”, she adds.
The Abu Dhabi-born businesswoman set up Blossom Sweets almost a year ago and has seen the business flourish into a leading outlet of personalised, haute couture desserts. She says she has already sold more than 200,000 cakes and pastries. “Our aim is not to be just another cupcake shop in the emirate but to offer a wide range of exquisite and gourmet desserts. Our products reflect Emirati art and creativity.”
Al Hashly says her success was made possible by the vision of the UAE’s founding father. “Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s commitment to support the UAE’s women by allowing us to contribute to the national economy through encouragement, education and support has helped several Emirati women like me to pursue our dreams.”