From Diamonds to Musical Gems

OHLALA caught up with Qatar’s first female contemporary composer, singer and songwriter, Dana Al Fardan, to talk about early memories, musical passions and her recent performance at the Cannes International Film Festival.

“Music is a fundamental facet in establishing a robust, passionate, vibrant society.”

– Dana Al Fardan

OHLALA – When did your passion for music first emerge?
Dana Al Fardan – As a child, I tinkered on the piano constantly and randomly came up with melodies. I caught a performance of a symphony orchestra on TV when I was around 10 and it was like pure and utter magic for me. I was obsessed with it. I couldn’t believe the breadth and depth of sound that came out of the musicians. I used to love breaking down the instrumentation, memorising what was going to happen. Then a bit later my mother took me to see a musical in the West End [London] which had a profound effect on me, this method of storytelling, it’s so transcendental, it incorporates everything… it’s the most guttural experience.

OHLALA – What made you decide to study international relations and then gemmology before returning to your first love, music and musicals?
Dana –
My higher education in international relations not only taught me the art of diplomacy and communication but, through the course of the four years, I connected with my roots through classes in Arabic literature, philosophy and history. So, my pursuit of music was not only a vehicle to project myself and my truth on a personal level, but also to communicate my story in the context of my rich cultural heritage. The transition was seamless and not as much of an extreme shift in the opposite direction as it may initially appear. My engagement in the jewellery sector of my family’s business was also a great training period. All the skills I had picked up helped me develop the capacity to navigate through new challenges and frameworks. And I was definitely launched into a whole new ecosystem that I knew nothing about when I one day woke up and decided to become a musician.

OHLALA – You’ve said that your life was transformed by the birth of your daughter, Layla. Please tell us about that and how it affected your path?
Dana –
I was still working in the family business and found out I was expecting a child. I felt that something was missing in my life, that I was not making an impact. Then, one day I get pregnant, and I find out it’s a girl. I was going to be bringing life into this world and this child was not going to know a very fundamental truth about me. I understood that for me to lead by example, I had to live my most authentic life, I had to be true to myself. I couldn’t imagine cultivating an honest relationship with my daughter if I was denying this huge part of who I was: a musician.

OHLALA – Amongst a raft of firsts, you’ve recently become the first artist from the Gulf region to appear at the renowned Cannes Film Festival. How did this come about and how did you feel to make history on that famous stage?
Dana –
I was truly honoured to have the opportunity to be a part of this incredible event. As an artist, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have an impact on such a high profile and culturally important platform and, as Cultural Ambassador of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO), I proudly represented this role, including members of the QPO, to a global stage.

OHLALA – You performed music from your latest release, Indigo. What was the inspiration for the album and how has it been received so far?
Dana –
When COVID-19 hit, I spent the lockdown listening to music and reading prolifically. It was a time of study and that’s how I approach all that I do. One of the books I read during this time was Goethe’s The Theory of Colour, which delves into the physiological effects of colour. It helped me to reflect and cultivated a stillness that was once missing in my life – allowing me to identify and reconnect with my inner self. That was what sparked the idea for my album Indigo. The album seeks to reimagine the meeting points between sound and colour in order to reconstruct our human relation to these senses. Each track has its own colour scheme and mood and corresponding videos. The album is very conceptual and abstract, allowing the listener the space to interpret. The live show is a multi-sensory experience with a light show, performed by piano, chamber orchestra and electronics. So far the album has been very well received and performed for a sold-out audience around the globe.

OHLALA – Alongside your musical career, you’re involved in social responsibility initiatives; how, as an artist, does your passion contribute to society?
Dana –
Music is integrative, it is a toolkit for children and adults as well to engage into something beyond them, to activate their passions. Music is a fundamental facet in establishing a robust, passionate, vibrant society. I am the Cultural Ambassador of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra as well the ambassador of the Qatar Primary School Choir of the Year. I’ve also supported Nagam 2023, through the Music Affairs Centre, the first contest aimed to discover talent in the field of performing arts in music and singing. It aims to achieve the objectives of the Ministry of Culture, especially the department of culture and arts with the hope of sustaining and giving the opportunity to talented people to discover their capacities and determine their paths.

@danaalfardan.dna

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