Emirati composer Ihab Darwish on why historic vote at Grammys is win for Mena music

Darwish is the first from the UAE to join the Recording Academy, the body in charge of the US ceremony

Emirati composer Ihab Darwish will make history in the UAE by joining the voting process for the Grammy Awards 2023. Photo: Ali Arbes
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Meet Ihab Darwish, the UAE’s man at the Grammy Awards.

The composer is the first Emirati to become a voting member of the Recording Academy, the administering body of the annual music awards show. The distinction means the Abu Dhabi musician will be able to cast his vote for a number of categories as part of the US ceremony next year, which will take place in Las Vegas.

The news was announced on Thursday by the Recording Academy, with Darwish part of 2,000 music professionals invited to become a voting member.

The move also comes as the organisation strives to diversify its membership in the wake of growing criticism regarding its racial and professional composition and voting practices.

In an accompanying video released on its social media channels, the Recording Academy's director of member and outreach systems, Ashley Thomas, said 56 per cent of the 2,700 invitees (700 of whom are non-voting members) come from "underrepresented communities".

“I think this is a very important move and I applaud the academy for what they are doing,” Darwish tells The National.

“We do need more representation from the Arab world and to be the first Emirati to be part of it is an honour but also a responsibility at the same time.

“I do hope I can use my position to shed more light on some of the great artists and works coming from the region.”

How did it happen?

Darwish joins a number of existing members from Mena, including Moroccan and Egyptian producers Nadir “RedOne” Khayat and Fathy Salama.

While those two were automatically eligible for a membership having been nominated (and in both cases winning a Grammy), Darwish received his initial invite in February through the recommendation from an anonymous member.

“It was really surprising because the invite just arrived in my email,” Darwish recalled.

That being said, the official offer was the beginning of an intensive application process.

Darwish had to send a dossier documenting his career achievements and output, including the release of 2018 debut album Waves of My Life and a gala performance at the Abu Dhabi Festival that same year, in addition to recording with international groups such as Poland's Beethoven Academy Orchestra.

He will also collaborate with US composers David Shire and John Debney for the Abrahamic Symphony: Unity of Three, an Abu Dhabi Festival commissioned performance that will feature four movements, three choirs, 10 soloists and three vocalists from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds.

The concert will be part of the planned opening of Abu Dhabi's interfaith complex, the Abrahamic Family House, on Saadiyat Island. Darwish confirms the piece will be released later in the year or early next year.

He will also be the first one to make a case for its Grammy consideration in the appropriate categories.

A voice in the room

In the meantime, he plans to take part in many of the music and industry workshops afforded to Recording Academy members.

“By being involved in these things and sharing your view point, it will help open people’s mind to music from the region,” he says.

"And it is very important to do that now because Arabic music is becoming increasingly well recognised within classical music and curriculums so I feel more Arab artists have to be part of this and share our perspectives.”

Darwish says his career achievements of blending Arabic instruments and melodies with western classical music arrangements will bolster his case when arguing for the importance of Arabic music within the Recording Academy.

"We need to have a bigger voice to direct attention to our music world," he says.

"For some people, we will have to introduce them and for others we can show the deep impact it has within many genres. It is a challenge that I really plan to embrace."

Darwish says he plans to listen closely, and widely, to the rich creative work coming from the region’s musicians.

As with the great composers and industry figures now accessible because of his membership, it may not be too long until fellow members one day cast Darwish's name on the Grammy winner’s ballet.

If that moment ever comes, he already has parts of his speech ready.

“It will have to include Abu Dhabi Festival artistic director Huda AlKhamis-Kanoo for her support, my manager Zosia Jeziorna and brother Gehad Darwish,” he says.

“No matter what happens, they are all my solid pillars behind any success and achievements I attained.”

Scroll the gallery below for images of winners of the 2022 Grammy Awards.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 2:40 PM