How Emirati composer Ihab Darwish used Zoom to conduct National Day anthem for the Palm Fountain

The piece is set to become the official song of the world’s biggest fountain

The Pointe in Dubai is gearing up for big National Day celebrations. The Pointe
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When The Palm Fountain plays the latest composition by Ihab Darwish on National Day, it will be a triumph of technology and will.

On the evening of Wednesday, December 2, all 128 super shooters of the fountain – officially classified as the world's biggest by the Guinness Book of World Records – will dance along to the latest piece by the Emirati composer.

Created especially for the occasion, Darwish said the three-and-a-half-minute song, Aim for the Sky, will pay homage to the UAE's culture as well as capture Dubai's cosmopolitanism.

The task, Darwish says, was no easy feat. With the project commissioned three months ago, he describes the compositional process as painstaking and intensive owing to what was at stake.

"This was a different way of creating music as there were a lot things to consider," he says. "The first thing I needed to do was be familiar with the fountain and understand its capabilities. I also had to look at the location in general and see how it could all work together with the music."

A fusion of cultures

With the fountain located in the picturesque leisure hub of The Pointe, Darwish felt the music had to be both vibrant and aspirational.

“The UAE has so many cultures and nationalities and is always looking ahead,” he says. “I wanted the piece to really drive that message home but do it in a way that is musically universal.”

To achieve that, Darwish used a host of instruments from the region and beyond. Aim for the Sky fuses classical elements such as string sections and soprano vocals with Emirati rhythms, such as the flutters of the oud and wistful sounds of the ney – an instrument known as the Arabic flute.

When it comes to contemporary influences, Darwish says the piece uses electric guitars, keyboards and an attitude straight out of the pop music songbook.

"This is not just a song, but a sonic brand for the fountain," he says. "This song will be played frequently so it needs to be catchy. I wanted the opening four or five notes of the song to not just trigger people's imagination, but to also have them remembering the fountain whenever they hum it."

A new way of conducting

Such a piece would be challenging to produce under normal circumstances.

With Darwish unable to travel to Poland to work with his preferred ensemble, the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, he had to be resourceful when it came to rehearsals and recording.

"I conducted the orchestra on Zoom," he says, with a laugh. "I would be with them in the rehearsals and give them notes and advice. Then another conductor on the ground with the orchestra would carry out the suggestions."

The same process was followed when it came to seeing the technical rehearsals at the fountains. Since he lives in Abu Dhabi, Darwish would receive dozens of videos of the fountains gliding along to his notes, leaving him to fire back suggestions via video conference.

“To be honest, I didn’t need to provide too many notes because the people working on the fountain are absolute professionals,” he says. “They practically nailed the choreography from the first time and it just looks so beautiful.”

Emirati composer Ihab Darwish
Emirati composer Ihab Darwish

It may have not been the usual way of doing things, but Darwish says the whole experience has been creatively fulfilling. He is now using that energy to complete his new album, which will be out next year.

Darwish says the release will continue the themes first explored in his debut record, Waves of My Life, which he premiered during an Abu Dhabi Festival performance in 2017.

"It will be cinematic, expressive and symphonic," he says. "Some of the genres I am playing with include opera and even hip-hop. I think it will be a bolder release and I am looking forward to people hearing it."

‘Aim for the Sky’ by Ihab Darwish will be performed regularly at The Palm Fountain at The Pointe, Dubai, from Wednesday, December 2.