'Music is the lens through which I see the world': Dana Al Fardan's transcendental compositions break down barriers and borders

Dana Al Fardan
6 min read
21 October, 2022
The New Arab Meets: Qatari composer Dana Al Fardan, who has earned and cemented her place in the long lineage of border-crossing artists making their name in MENA's musical repertoire.

Born and raised in Doha, Qatar, Dana Al Fardan is a self-taught artist.

She told The New Arab that her childhood was simple during the 90s, a simplicity that brought about a connection with what mattered to her.

“There were no distractions or deviations away from the one space that moved my entire being and characterised my relationship with the world: music," she begins.

"My earliest memories revolved around two main settings: the tennis club and our local CD and DVD store. Both venues gave birth to my personal growth with music. I used to play tennis at the federation almost on a daily basis after spending at least two hours on the grand piano in the lobby of the club. This was my regular after-school pastime.”

"Music is the lens through which I see the world. It is the extra dose of energy when I’m depleted, its the transcendental force when I feel confined, and it's the magic when I want to escape. It is the beauty in everything I see around me"

Dana hits a nostalgic cord by reminding us of days when we used to listen to music actively and consciously as an activity of its own instead of adding music to the background of other activities, for her, the CD store was the pillar around which everything revolved during weekends.

“Do you remember when people actually listened to albums? It wasn’t just something that played in the background while we did other things; listening to albums is what I used to do; that was the activity,” she says.

Music is the lens through which I see the world

Dana’s melodic signature is demarcated by an intricately delicate mixture of traditional music and western one, a mixture that transcendentally dissolves all borders.

Each composition has a malleable sonic sensation that is interpreted and shaped by each listener. Constantly reinvented through appreciation and immersion in a musical trance.

Dana Al Fardan
Dana Al Fardan in motion [photo credit: Jiliane Meriouch]

Dana openly spoke to The New Arab about her intimate relationship with music. She evokes music as a lifeline and a core companion to precious “moments of being,” to use Virginia Wolfe’s term.

Music is the lens through which I see the world. It is the extra dose of energy when I’m depleted, it's the transcendental force when I feel confined, and it's the magic when I want to escape," Dana explains.

"It is the beauty in everything I see around me. It is the spirit that my daughter solidified in me when I was pregnant with her. That was the moment I realised that this passion wasn’t just a hobby; it was my true path, and it was going to be the love language between my daughter and me. This was my journey towards myself, and this is the self I want my daughter to get to know,” the artist emotionally added.

When we asked Dana about the influence she might have received from Arab composers, the answer did not fail to render homage to one of the Arab world’s greatest composers.

“Abdul Wahab is a composer who wrote a lot of popular Um Kolthum music. He was often criticised for being too Western in his composition or for borrowing Western Ines or melodies, but in reality, what he did was create a fusion that was going to leave a lasting resonance way beyond his or her time. Pieces like 1001 Nights are played globally and received international acclaim from Western listeners and Arabs alike.”

Dana has climbed many high mountains and even broke into uncharted territory of success.

If you have flown to or from Qatar onboard Qatar airways, you probably have listened to her music on the flight. Her finely soothing, yet fiercely expressive music of imperturbable tranquillity is the gateway to Qatar.

The artist commented on this collaboration: “Qatar Airways represents a banner for growth and infinite possibilities. It is one of the fastest-growing airlines in the world, and as such was an incredibly inspiring project to write for. The music is literally supposed to capture flight, elevation, dreams and magic. Those are all the ingredients that any composer would love to write with. Qatar Airways always held the arts in high regard and have always sponsored and supported local initiatives to push the performing arts to greater heights, so I was very grateful to have been given that opportunity to showcase my work to two million passengers a month.”

Music that dissolves borders

The artist enthusiastically talked about her passion for the local Qatari folk music and showcased the versatility of the multiple disciplines in that area.

Her upcoming projects will be a fusion between the traditional Qatari chanting namely in the pearl diving tradition of “Fiji” (music of the sea) with more universal/current sounds. Dana would be making local music available to a wider audience.

The artist is no stranger to bringing Arab cultural heritage to a Western audience. The artist has brought the east and west together in a spectacular musical about the life of Jalal Eddine Rumi, which premiered in London.

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She also had a successful adaptation of Jibran Khalil Jibran’s Broken Wings, which was also in theatres in London. 

Broken Wings was my first exercise in introducing this prolific figure of Arab origin to a West End audience," she tells The New Arab. "This became my general mandate in my music career; to promote the rich art forms and literature derived from Arab heritage. Particularly figures of exceptional universal appeal such as Gibran Khalil Gibran and Rumi. Although Gibran is widely renowned for his book The Prophet, little is known about the man. And that’s when we came across his book Broken Wings. In this novel, we understand all the components that shape his thoughts and views in The Prophet and provide almost an origin story for it.”

Dana Al Fardan's Indigo

Dana’s new show consists of a live performance featuring a chamber orchestra, and a light designer projecting colour lights curated to transform the setting.

The artist spoke to The New Arab about her vision for this project: “The idea is to raise your vibrational frequencies, so each of the 12 traces has its own colour scheme and mood, and the live show will be a multi-sensory experience with a light show, performed by six musicians.

"All the songs will feature a corresponding video. These videos are designed in a conceptual and abstract in order to allow the lister and view space to interpret and make that journey their own. I chose Indigo because of the colour and what that term represents. The human eye is relatively insensitive to Indigo’s frequencies. That is because Indigo resides in a space outside your peripheral vision. It is widely believed to be the colour of wisdom and represents a comprehension of your higher self.”

The anguished, yet enlivened, eloquence of Indigo will have the listeners sent on an imaginative journey to lands of illicit romance and untameable excitement, a pure delight.

The artist hopes the audience would leave with a greater sense of connectivity within themselves and develop more meaningful relationships in their surroundings after listening to her compositions.  

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Finally, The New Arab wished to know about what makes an artist who became the first Qatari woman to ever perform in English proud. The artist candidly replied: “I am most proud of persevering when challenges would arise. It is not easy being the first woman to do what I do and therefore I had to cultivate the space for it and the infrastructure as I went along.

"I could have given up many times when that seemed impossible, and I still face seemingly impossible challenges, but I am most proud of my propensity to never give up. It was never an option, and it never will be.”

Ouissal Harize is a UK-based researcher, cultural essayist, and freelance journalist.

Follow her on Twitter: @OuissalHarize