Saeed Al Salem, one of the most renowned musical performers in the United Arab Emirates, renewed his collaboration with Jordi Savall, the Catalonian superstar, in a special musical performance at Emirates Palace on Jan. 14. The performance marks a unique blending of musical traditions and lived experiences, with Savall being a Grammy Award-winner from Spain while Al Salem is a self-taught performer who developed a distinctive style on instruments indigenous to the Emirates.
Collaboration Born From Abu Dhabi Classics
Saeed Al Salem boasts a beautiful story of encountering music on his path to becoming a well-regarded composer, singer and oud player. Al Salem, who has never been formally taught but loved traditional Arabian Gulf music from an early age. After asking for an oud at the age of 14, Al Salem’s musical journey accelerated rapidly. He told the press:
“I learned to play the oud on my own, just tinkering on the instrument and basically becoming inseparable from it. I used to listen to a song I liked, tape it and then practice on my own, working at it bit by bit until I got it.”
In the interview, he described a childhood and adolescence filled with musical practice, reading books about music, and a network filled with musicians and composers. Al Salem says that he still relies on those mentors for advice and support today.
Gradually shifting from playing the oud to composing his own songs, Al Salem developed a distinctive style that borrows heavily from traditional folk performers in the United Arab Emirates.
Al Salem’s music is very dependent on the lyrics of the poet he is channeling in his work. For instance, emotional poetry leads to evocative music, while more patriotic poems lead to grander, louder songs and performances. After a first cut at the music, Al Salem frequently performs it for his mentors to refine it.
With his distinctive style gaining attention, Al Salem caught the attention of Savall when the Catalonian maestro was planning for the first installment of his epic Ibn Battuta series. The series is designed to emulate the music that the legendary explorer Ibn Battuta would have encountered on his journeys around the world.
Saeed Al Salem performed with Savall’s troupe in 2015 in Ibn Battuta: Voyager of Islam I: From Morocco to Afghanistan (1314-1336) at several different locations during the Abu Dhabi Classics festival.
This year, Al Salem is again participating with Savall in an Ibn Battuta performance at the Abu Dhabi Classics. This one is Ibn Battuta: Voyager of Islam II: From Afghanistan to China (1336-1346). While the subject matter may be the same, it is still an opportunity Al Salem relishes. During an interview, the oud master declared:
“I am so humbled to be asked to take part in this continuation, especially since I feel this music has a soulfulness and a delicacy that is really so beautiful.”
He continued by saying that he is thankful for the fact that he, as an Emirati artist, received the support and appreciation of an entire world. Al Salem declared himself honored to have his music valued outside the UAE.
Al Salem Has Burgeoning Career Options
In addition to his collaboration with Savall, Al Salem also released a single to celebrate the start of 2017. The artist describes the single, Kul ‘Am Wa Anta Al ‘Am, as
“a hope that the year is filled with blessings for us all, with lyrics by Sultan Mjalli and my own music and singing.”
Al Salem is also planning a collaborative song with the poet Juma’a Bin Eid Al Muhairy that is based on traditional Emirati folklore, called Thaak Al Waqt. With so many opportunities, Al Salem’s career prospects seem very bright.
Image Source: Flickr