Habiba Alkhatib has always loved music, having started singing since before she can remember. The student, 18, who is from Egypt but has lived in the UAE her whole life, also plays the piano and flute, but her real passion lies in conducting, leading her to be part of numerous Dubai choirs over the years.
However, as the pandemic made it impossible for large gatherings, she decided to launch a project close to her heart – Dubai Virtual Choir. “I was definitely missing the aspect of singing in my choirs, nothing brings me closer to people,” she says. “Since we’re all social distancing and self-isolating, I wanted to bring people together with music.”
At the end of April, she set up a website for Dubai Virtual Choir with the aim to “harness the power of music to overcome the distance between us”. While this is not the first virtual music performance put together in the UAE, it is the first online city-wide choir in Dubai, which invited singers of all ages and levels to be a part of it.
The choir's aim is to release music put together through entirely virtual means. In order to harmonise the vocals, the initiative divided participants into sopranos, altos, tenors and bass on the basis of their voices. Those interested in being a part of the project were asked to record their video while listening to the music of their respective voice type and submit it online. As the website specifies, the recording doesn’t need to be perfect - it’s a project that’s designed to be fun.
“I thought I would only hear back from professionals or from other people in choirs,” says Alkhatib, who put out the call looking for singers through social media. Little did she know that close to 100 people, from all walks of life, would send in videos. “We have five-year-olds and adults who just liked to sing for fun. It’s amazing how many different people you can connect with through social media these days.”
The song she chose for the piece was Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python, with some verses swapped out to include a "stay safe and stay home message" with regard to the pandemic. "It's a message of hope; the ultimate pick-me-up song," she says.
After spending more than five days editing the music and 10 hours on the video, the result is the upbeat rendition that can be seen above. To Alkhatib, the best part has been knowing that she has brought people together. “I had parents asking about sending videos of their kids and a lot of people excited to take part. I think, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s so easy to for people to distance themselves emotionally from others at the moment and that can be dangerous. You can feel lonely [and] upset. I’ve had many people come and tell me that they were feeling isolated and this helped them. That made me really happy.”
While this is the initiative’s first project, it might not be its last. Even though the UAE is gradually easing restrictions, Alkhatib says that it might be a while before people gather choirs again. In the meantime, she hopes this initiative can bring some cheer to all.