The day the UAE's national anthem was heard for the first time

Ishi Biladi made its debut on National Day in 1972 at a concert also featuring Egyptian star Najat Al Sagheera

Egyptian singer Najat Al Saghira performs in Abu Dhabi for 1972 National Day celebrations where she sang the UAE national anthem (Eds note ** karen**this caption info needs confirmation)

Courtesy Al Ittihad
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Fifty years ago in Abu Dhabi, the national anthem of the UAE was heard for the first time.

It was at a concert to mark the first anniversary of the formation of the UAE and marked the beginning of National Day celebrations that continue to this day.

The previous year, the capital had welcomed Umm Kulthum, the legendary “Star of the East”, who had performed for UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at a specially-built concert hall on the eve of December 2, 1971.

With Umm Kulthum now in her 70s and virtually retired due to health problems, the guest for 1972 was another giant from the golden age of Arab song, Nagat Al Sagheera.

The visit of Cairo-born Al Sagheera, then in her mid-30s, was another triumph for the newly formed country.

Egyptian singer Nagat Al Sagheera performs on December 2, 1972, in celebration of UAE National Day in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Alittihad

Her songs were hits across the Arab world, while she also starred in over a dozen Egyptian films.

Before she could sing in Abu Dhabi, though, there was that first performance of Ishi Biladi, the national anthem.

It was the melody only, for the words were not added until 1986, but the music still held power.

There is some confusion over who composed the anthem, between Mohammed Abdel Wahab and his nephew Saad Abdel Wahab, who is better known as an actor and singer.

Of the two, Mohammed may be the more likely. Born in Cairo in 1902, he wrote popular music, but also many Egyptian patriotic and revolutionary songs. He was presented with the Medal of Honour, Egypt’s highest civil award, by president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1964.

Egyptian composer and singer Mohammed Abdel Wahab plays the oud in Cairo in the 1980s. AFP

His services were also much in demand by other Arab governments. He composed national anthems for Oman, Libya and Tunisia in a distinctive style sometimes called “Arab fanfare”. He died in 1991 and was given a funeral with full military honours.

His nephew, Saad, who died in 2004, was best known as an actor, appearing in many films from the 1940s onwards. Although not known as composer, he was also a popular singer.

The Abu Dhabi concert may also have featured songs Mohammed wrote for Al Sagheera, including some of her biggest hits. He also composed Enta Omri (“You Are My Life”) for Umm Kulthum in 1964. It became one of her most popular songs and was performed at the 1971 concert in Abu Dhabi.

Al Sagheera retired from music in 2002, but the purity of her voice captured a new generation of young fans when several of her songs appeared in the soundtrack of the Disney Arab-themed superhero film Moon Knight earlier this year.

With two of her songs now having over a million plays on the streaming platform Spotify, she announced a comeback in June at the age of 84.

How National Day was celebrated in the early years after the UAE was formed — in pictures

Updated: December 02, 2022, 2:00 PM