UAE National Day comes with its own soundtrack.
The holiday is a time for celebration as much as it is for reflection, and, over the years, Emirati artists have built a growing body of work to underscore the occasion.
“It is almost like its own genre,” says Ihab Darwish.
The Emirati composer, who penned a National Day piece to be performed on Wednesday, December 2, at Dubai's Palm Fountain, says patriotic Emirati songs stand apart from local popular music.
"A lot of it is down to the subjects discussed," he tells The National. "There are a lot of messages here, such as having faith in the leadership and pride in the military."
Some songs feature the country’s finest artists singing lyrics based on poetry penned by UAE leaders such as the country’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
"The became popular because they are really well made and produced," Darwish says. "They have become part of National Day celebrations and can be really moving."
To further breakdown this fascinating music form, Darwish discusses six key patriotic songs and their enduring power.
1. ‘Hay bil Shahama’ by Hussain Al Jassmi (2018)
An emotional piece with lyrics written by the late Sheikh Zayed, It was initially a poem that was repurposed into a song.
Lyrically, this is a piece dedicated to the people of the military. It talks about the pride we take in them and salutes their courage and honour. This is a track you will regularly hear during National Day celebrations and it has an emotional effect on many Emiratis.
Nearly all patriotic songs, and I would argue most Emirati popular songs, feature strings and choirs. It's quite rare to hear brass and wood wind instruments in a composition. This song is a good example of this style. It's beautifully put together and the strings sounds lovely.
2. ‘Nahnu Bilad Al Itihad’ by Fayez Al Saeed (2019)
This song was commissioned by Etisalat for their National Day celebrations, but it stands on its own as a superb song.
The lyrics talk about unity and how we should stand together behind the flag. The video, featuring a variety of Emirati leaders and popular figures, drives that message home. It's an uplifting song that instils pride in Emiratis.
3. ‘Majd Al Watan’ by Eida Menhali and Hussain Al Jassmi (2019)
This poetic and emotional song has singers from two generations, Menhali and Al Jassmi, to appeal to everyone.
Both are dynamic vocalists and they do a wonderful job in touching on various emotions of the song. Lyrically, the song is dedicated to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, discussing how he is the symbol of our pride and his courageous leadership.
4. ‘EIla Dar Zayed’ by Hussain Al Jassmi (2016)
I am using a lot of Al Jassmi songs here, but he really is the best when it comes to composing and singing patriotic songs.
Translating to "To the Land of Zayed", the song is based on the poetry of Sheikha Khawla bint Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidi. While the song talks about our pride in the military, the message here is about unity and tolerance. The lyrics talk about how our diversity is strength and that we all have a duty to play in keeping our country, the land of Zayed, peaceful and thriving.
5. ‘Allah, thum Al Watan, thum Raees Al Dawlah’ by Nujoom TV (2012)
A staple of National Day celebrations, the title translates to "First is God, then Our Land and third is our President." The patriotic song is composed in a military marching arrangement.
There are a lot of strings and choirs here and you hear the soldiers' oath to protect the land and country in this powerful song.
6 ‘Rijal’ by Ashbal Al Watan (2018)
Based on a poem by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, this piece talks about men and the bravery of soldiers serving their country.
There are actually two versions of this song, one sung by a youth choir and another by a men's choir. This is because the song talks about how the country's youth will eventually carry on the message of the elderly and protect the nation.
The lyrics are essentially a message from our leadership to all soldiers protecting the country and that is to keep standing strong against difficulties and during challenging times.
Musically too, it is interesting. There are full harmonic strings and the melodic lines match the vocals of the choir. It is a proud and powerful song.