Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Portrait of a Nation: Self-taught Emirati pianist juggles oil career with love of music

Ibrahim Al Junaibi creates original scores without formal classical training, in between working as an engineer full-time

Ibrahim Al Junaibi has known since he was a child that he wanted to be a composer. The accomplished Emirati pianist, 39, who has a full-time job in the oil industry, said rhythms and scales constantly glide through his mind.

A self-taught musician, Mr Al Junaibi is determined to pursue his passion of creating original scores that blend western classical and Arabic musical genres.

“I see everything in my life through music. The environment, nature, my love of my family is in my compositions,” Mr Al Junaibi told The National.

His job as a public relations officer with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company takes him to oilfields off the coast of the capital for two weeks each month but music is what brings him personal joy.

I compose from my feelings and not by writing the notes

Ibrahim Al Junaibi

“I’m sure I was born with a love for music. I started playing the keyboard on my own and then the piano.

“In my compositions I try to match my feelings to music. That’s why there is the texture of Arabic music even in my classical compositions, because of the land that I live in.”

As a child, he would replay films and television shows to listen to the soundtracks. Then he would recreate the melodies on his keyboard.

Mr Al Junaibi was drawn to classical composers and has a particular affinity for Bach. He graduated to playing the acoustic piano at the age of 18.

Growing up, his family, like many others in the Middle East, did not see a future for him in music. There were fewer opportunities to study music at the time than exist in the region today.

In 2009, he enrolled in a piano school managed by the Ministry of Culture and Youth.

After winning a Chopin competition the following year, he went on to study classical music as part of a summer programme in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Back in the UAE, a teacher at the piano centre, Martin Hrsel, noticed him and helped him create his first complete orchestra piece the following year.

When not working, he dedicates all his time to learning to compose music.

Using software on his computer, he now plays and records the score for each instrument. The music is converted digitally to notes or sheet music.

Emirati musician Ibrahim Al Junaibi. Victor Besa / The National 
Emirati musician Ibrahim Al Junaibi is a self-taught pianist. Victor Besa / The National

“I compose from my feelings and not by writing the notes,” he said.

“I love classical music but I did not study its theory and the rules. I can play from my mind without notes.

“The short classes I went to were not enough. To really understand classical music, you need to study for years and I could not do that.”

In the past, he has performed solo and as part of an orchestra in several local and international concerts.

He has also conducted performances of the UAE National Symphony Orchestra and the state chamber orchestra of Belarus.

His wife, an artist and poet, supports him and accompanies him to all his performances, and even inspired a haunting piece, Serenity.

Video recordings of his composition Waltz Fantasy are popular on YouTube.

Fatima Al Hashmi, head of music at the Ministry of Culture, hoped the first generation of Emirati musicians such as Mr Al Junaibi would be an example to young people.

“He is so talented,” she said.

“He did not have the chance to do this as a profession, to study for a degree in music. But his knowledge of music and the amount of classical music he listened to is what helped him.”

Mr Al Junaibi hopes young Emiratis will be encouraged to take up a career in music.

During the pandemic, work has taken him out to the oilfields for longer spells.

When back at home, he logs in to online concerts and spends time learning more about mixing and recording his own compositions.

“Whenever I stopped playing the piano, I never stopped listening to music. Music is a part of my life and that will never change. It makes my life flexible and gives me freedom and peace.”

Updated: September 17, 2020 05:56 PM

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