From Ahlam to Balqees, five Emirati women winning music fans by singing with purpose

Some of the most prolific artists in the UAE have albums spanning Arabic and English as well as folk, pop and R&B

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The UAE’s cultural scene is characterised by Emirati artists who bring something fresh and vital to their respective crafts.

This is especially true of music, with local singers recording and performing across a broad spectrum of genres, including pop, folk and R&B, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the country.

And, as Sunday marks Emirati Women's Day, The National is celebrating five Emirati artists whose musical identity continues to win fans across the nation and beyond.

1. Ahlam

Not only is she one of the region's biggest pop stars, Ahlam has also carved out a successful television career with stints as a discerning judge on Arab Idol, from 2011 to 2014, and an exacting mentor on The Voice: Ahla Sawt in 2018.

While some of her comments and antics may have generated unwanted headlines, Ahlam (full name Ahlam Alshamsi) is renowned as a skilled singer and performer, with a deep appreciation for traditional and modern sounds.

This explains her wide repertoire, ranging from folk tracks sung in classical Arabic to the modern pop stylings of Expo 2020 Dubai anthem Fi Dubai.

"I believe the Gulf song is the master of the Arab music world," she told The National in a previous interview.

"Many of the great Arab singers love Gulf songs. Examples are legends like Umm Kuthum and Mohammed Abdul Wahab.

“They performed Gulf songs as well. I believe when an artist performs such music, they cannot help but be affected by it."

Ahlam released her latest album Fedwat Oyounak last year.

2. Balqees

Pop singer and soprano, the Emirati-Yemeni singer — full name Balqees Fathi — is one of the region's most dynamic artists.

For example, she sang with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli as part of his 2016 concert, as well performing as part of the AFC Asian Cup opening ceremony in 2019.

Balqees made her music debut in 2013 with the record-breaking Khaleeji pop album Majnoun.

Her follow-up release, Zai Ma Ana, was even more successful, becoming the Middle East's most downloaded album on iTunes in 2015.

With her last project Arahenkom released in 2017, Balqees has since been performing regularly and releasing singles.

3. Shamma Hamdan

Not many singers can be called a pioneer within the first few years of their career.

This is what Hamdan achieved when she became the first and only Emirati to make it to the final round of the major television talent quest Arabs Got Talent.

The challenge wasn't only limited to the stage, however.

Dressed in casual attire through her television performances — including baggy trousers and suede purple jacket — and performing Arabic tracks in a western folk music arrangement, she was criticised on social media for her image and musical interpretation.

Hamdan shrugged it off and went on to build a steady career, releasing the 2013 album Wash Kunt Aba Aqoul and performing regularly across the Gulf.

4. Fafa

This Emirati singer-songwriter has been making her presence known on, and beyond, the stage.

In addition to amassing a growing number of well-received R&B and soul songs, Fafa — full name Fatima Bin Safwan — is associated with BarCoe Studio in Abu Dhabi and collaborated with the recording space to encourage more UAE singers to express themselves.

Her career highlights include supporting Bruno Mars during his 2019 New Year's Eve concert at Etihad Park and her single Anta Batal amassing more than 2.9 million views on YouTube.

5. Alya

Alya was close to being a member of the popular super-sized group Now United, however losing out in the final stages of the audition didn't dim her ambition.

The teenage singer, who is British-Emirati, subsequently launched a solo career and released a number of tracks, including last year's Hung Up, a winning slice of 1990's era R&B.

“I don’t want to be viewed as some kind of Disney act,” she told The National.

“While I do act my age and talk about things we relate to, I want the song to be enjoyed by everyone.”

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Updated: August 28, 2022, 7:48 AM
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