Issa Al Hussein from Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Hijazi from Sudan and Abdullah Al Qasimi from Bahrain were eliminated via audience voting during the semi-final of Munshid Al Sharjah, the annual international show that crowns the Muslim world's next nasheed star. The event was held at Sharjah's Al Majaz Amphitheatre on Saturday and broadcast live on Sharjah TV.
Six contestants will now map out their way to the final closing night, to be held at the same venue on March 31.
They are Mustafa Al Shafei from Egypt, Rahif Al Hajj from Lebanon, Khalid Al Moued from Palestine, Zakaria Al Zirek from Morocco, Aseel Jaber from Algeria and Ahmed Samreen from Jordan.
On Saturday, Munshid Al Sharjah's team said they have received “the most beautiful message from Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah,who praised the show and hailed the performance of its contestants in the "greatest nasheed competition in the world".
Though Ahmed Hijazi from Sudan was eliminated, he vowed to carry on his chanting journey.
“Not reaching the finals will not discourage me,” Hijazi told The National.
"I will definitely continue my journey. But, to be honest, I do not think my country will support me these days. I have faith that God will send someone through for support. In all cases, I have already started giving vocal training on maqams [the Arab system of melodic modes] in Sudan. I was hoping to be the Munshid of the year, which had been my dream for seven years, but having performed twice at Al Majaz Amphitheatre is a great honour and this means the world to me."
Contestant Al Zirek, from Morocco, who made it through to the top six, attributed his success to his vocal trainer, Season 4 finalist Mustafa Hamdo from Syria, and to his supportive country.
“Moroccans are well-versed in maqams. This is why they support this kind of art and follow up with the talented in this field.”
Al Zirek said he is not afraid of the finals but that he has a great responsibility to represent his country, which has a population of almost 40 million people.
Jaber, who hails from Algeria and is coached by Egyptian music producer and composer Sherif Mohsen, also spoke to The National after the event.
“God endowed me with a talent and I will show it to the world. I have inherited my voice from my grandmother. She doesn’t perform in public but she has a beautiful voice," he said.
Mohsen, who was brought up in UAE, said that working on boosting the mental well-being of contestants is a prerequisite and more important than vocal training.
“Working on the mental state of the contestants is our starting point. Honing their skills in music and chanting comes next. This is the first time these contestants mount the stage. They have previously performed in front of only their friends or sang casually in a studio, but performing for 10 minutes in front of an audience at Al Majaz Amphitheatre is like performing in front of the whole world.
"The finalists shared their anxiety with me, saying that when they go through the black door that leads to the theatre, it is like entering the wide-open mouth of a dragon.”
Egyptian finalist Al Shafei said: “I hope Egypt will be crowned champion of Munshid Al Sharjah for the second year in a row [last year’s winner was Mohammed Tarek from Egypt]. My parents, friends and all the Egyptian people are supporting me back home.
"When the competition ends and whether I claim the title of Munshid Al Sharjah or not, I have already set a plan for myself. I will continue releasing and composing my own music tracks. I also need to refine my talent and I hope to find a producer who will support me.”
Najm Al Dine Hashem, executive producer of the Munshid Al Sharjah programme, said: "What drew our attention to the talents participating in the programme are the unique and amazing richness and diversity of the chanting colours and the ability of new generations of young talents to convey a legacy of meaningful art."
Kuwaiti singer and music producer Humood Al Khudher enthralled the crowds with a spectacular musical performance of his most well-known songs Asseer Ahsen and Kun Anta.
Three vocal coaches have been guiding the aspiring nasheed stars on their journey. They include acclaimed Iraqi musician and composer Faris, series four finalist Mustafa Hamdo from Syria and Mohsen.
The judges for this year's contest are Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak, one of the most prominent Arab artists and musicians known for his religious chants; Sufi singer Sheikh Mahmoud El Tohamy, the man behind Madrassat Al Nashad chanting school; and Emirati singer Ahmed Bukhatir, who is considered the UAE's chanting ambassador.
Alongside Munshid Al Sharjah, organiser Sharjah Radio and Television Authority has put together a family-orientated Sharjah Munshid Festival outside Al Majaz Amphitheatre. Offering a wide range of fun activities and competitions, the festival will include children’s entertainment, games, food stalls, daily shows, an outdoor cinema and a screening of past seasons of the competition.
The Sharjah Munshid Festival runs until March 31, 5pm-10pm, at Al Majaz Amphitheatre. Entry is free. Visitors will be required to present a green pass on Al Hosn app to enter. More information is available at munshidsharjah.ae