Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, crowned Zakaria Al Zirek from Morocco as the star of season 13 of Munshid Al Sharjah on Thursday at Al Majaz Amphitheatre.
The nasheed, Islamic chanting, talent competition was organised by Sharjah TV, an affiliate of Sharjah Radio and Television Authority.
“We witnessed a special closing night of Munshid Al Sharjah season 13 contest, which is greatly supported by HH the Ruler of Sharjah. We enjoyed the welcoming ambience of Ramadan at Al Majaz Amphitheatre. We congratulate the representative of the Kingdom of Morocco for winning the title. We also would like to thank Sharjah Radio and Television Authority for their renewed creativity," Sheikh Sultan tweeted.
Moroccan nasheed singer Al Zirek emerged victorious after a gruelling battle, while Ahmed Samreen from Jordan came in second place and Aseel Jaber from Algeria took third.
Six nasheed vocalists from different Arab countries qualified for the final evening, but only three won Munshid Al Sharjah awards after amassing the highest percentage of votes from the audience and judging panel.
The jubilant star, who was awarded Dh100,000, was elated when he was announced as the winner.
"At the moment the third and second place winners were announced, I trusted that God will not fail me and that He will make my dream come true," Al Zirek, 25, told The National.
"When they announced my name in the first place, it was like I embraced my dream with my own hands. This is God's blessing."
The singer is now looking forward to future opportunities.
“I have many ideas and plans in mind that I need to implement upon my return to my home country,” he said.
“In addition to pursuing my Master’s degree in Islamic Studies, I shall pursue purposeful art and implement the ideas that I have set out for myself one at a time. Making random choices is not fruitful. One ought to be patient and organise his thoughts for a rewarding outcome.”
Speaking of the near future, Al Zirek said he could be signing contracts with production companies.
“I need to spend the money that I won wisely or else it won’t bring value to my life. I could be signing contracts with production companies. Projects will be a good investment therefore I need to start working harder. More effort and continuity are needed post-Munshid Al Sharjah. The talent show was only a station.”
Al Zirek has been chasing the dream of joining the talent show for many years. He thanks his mother, who kept encouraging him not to give up despite not making it past Munshid Al Sharjah’s auditions stage for more than four years.
“My mother prayed for me with all the love in her heart and kept on encouraging me until I got selected this year,” he said.
Al Zirek discovered his talent when he was very young.
“I used to read the Quran at the age of 5 then I moved to the next stage, which is to practice Islamic chants. Later, my dream got bigger. This is when I discovered that I have a talent. I therefore started to improve it and show it to the world.”
Not wanting to waste any time after his victory, Al Zirek is looking forward to getting into the act immediately.
"With Ramadan starting soon, I will be having interviews and participate in TV shows during Ramadan. In Morocco, Ramadan has its own powerful presence characterised by artistic heritage and an audience keen to hear Islamic chants. Events in Ramadan most commonly include Islamic chants."
The vocal coach, season four finalist Mustafa Hamdo from Syria, also expressed his joy when two of his vocal trainees won second and first place.
"I expected Zakaria Al Zirek from Morocco and Ahmed Samreen from Jordan to be among the top three winners. We used to stay up all night, worked hard and laid down plans. I once was a contestant just like them in Munshid Al Sharjah in season 4 and I won first place. This has honed my experience as a vocal trainer."
Hamdo worked also on his trainees' mental state of mind. "I made sure they are comfortable and confident. I didn't feel that fear, boredom or depression took over them. This usually happens in the early stages and the final stage when tension is at its peak. I worked on alleviating their fear especially tonight after Ahmed Samreen suffered shortly before his performance on stage from low blood pressure, so I helped him regain his confidence before facing the audience."
Crowned in second place, Samreen, 23, from Jordan said he was hoping to come first, but that he is nevertheless happy with the outcome.
"Since I was 18 years old, I applied to become part of the competition, but luck wasn't by my side. Thank God, I aced it this time," he said.
"I was hoping to be crowned in the first place, but I am extremely happy that this is a divine destiny and I am utterly content with the result. I would like to thank God, all my family, relatives and friends who supported me all the way."
Samreen said that a week before the competition started he completed his BA in physics.
"I am planning to work in both fields, the physics field, which I love, and chanting. I will prioritise these two. Munshid Al Sharjah is the beginning of my journey in chanting. Through this contest, people got to know me, see me and consequently look forward to my projects. I will start from tomorrow to work on new projects and be seen by the public. As soon as I fly back to Jordan, I will start working on Ramadan projects if God wills."
For five seasons now, the evening also featured the Lebanese-Swedish singer, songwriter and music producer Maher Zain who sang eight songs, including the audience's favourite, Ya Nabi Salam Alayka (Peace Be Upon You, Prophet) and ended his performance with Ramadan Ghana (Ramadan Has Come To Us.
"I picked Ramadan Ghana to end the show because Ramadan is coming in two days and it would be nice with the kids and everyone."
Zain said that he is planning to release new music this Ramadan.
"If God wills, two songs will be released in Ramadan. They are No One But You and Rahmaton Lil Alameen (Mercy To The World)," he said.
The show was judged by Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak, who is viewed as a legend in the Arab entertainment industry, referred to as Tunisia’s Pavarotti and known for his religious chants, as well as Sufi singer Sheikh Mahmoud El Tohamy, the man behind Madrassat Al Inshad (School of Chanting) in Egypt.
They were joined by Ahmed Bukhatir, who hails from Sharjah, and is considered the UAE's chanting ambassador. Bukhatir began his chanting career in 1989 and released his first album at the age of 20, titled Entasaf Al Layl, in 2000.
The annual Munshid Al Sharjah competition is one of the most important aimed at discovering chanting talents. The first series was launched in 2006.
After strong contests held in six Arab countries and online, in which 1,240 applicants of different nationalities and age groups participated, 12 contestants from 12 Arab countries qualified for this year's programme.
The preliminary rounds to select outstanding talents began on December 18 and lasted until January 1, in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria, in addition to the online tests during the same period.
A family-orientated Munshid Al Sharjah Festival, outside Al Majaz Amphitheatre also came to a close on Thursday.