UAE Portrait of a Nation: Chance encounter turns electrical engineer to Flamenco

Firas Kiftaro taught himself to play guitar on a Dh60 instrument using YouTube videos but now is in an 18-piece band and is hoping to open a recording studio.

Firas Kiftaro, a Syrian electrical engineer, who learned to play the guitar through YouTube, is photographed on campus at the American University of Sharjah. Sarah Dea / The National
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Firas Kiftaro’s curiosity for the guitar has grown from a spark in his teenage years to a great fire that encompasses Flamenco.

AJMAN // A chance encounter with a group of musicians on a beach led 18-year-old Firas Kiftaro to add guitar playing to his list of passions, alongside electrical engineering.

The Syrian expatriate used to play accordion and piano at school when he was 10 but he never had it in his head that he would take playing musical instruments seriously as his dream was to be an engineer.

However, after the beach encounter, YouTube became his instructor and now he has gone as far as having his own 18-piece band.

“One day, I was walking on the beach and saw guys playing guitar. I asked if I could sit and they welcomed me. One of them allowed me to hold his guitar and I started strumming the strings,” he said.

“Even though the sound was bad as a beginner, I liked how the six strings made sound, not just one, as I used to think.

“I asked them when they came here, and they said every Thursday. At that time, I used to skip everything and go there just waiting for them and to sit with them and use their guitars because I did not have one.”

During that time, Kiftaro, now 25, would watch videos online.

“I found a performance of Classical Gas, which was too hard, but I liked it and wanted to learn it. And because I did not have a guitar, I got paper and drew a guitar to learn how to play the strings,” he said.

“Then, when I met the guys, I put the sheet in front of me and started strumming the strings [in time].”

His lack of money at the time meant that when he bought a guitar, it was one that cost just Dh60.

“That guitar was just for hanging on the wall and its strings, made with harsh iron, were so bad and too difficult to strum. But due to my passion and eagerness, I endured the hardship and learnt how to hold the guitar and play.”

After being gifted a proper guitar from his aunt, he started learning Spanish recital Flamenco, spending all his spare time during university practising.

After graduating he started earning an income and he upgraded his instrument again, to a professional Flamenco guitar built in Spain.

“Until now, I don’t play according to notes, I just use my ears and I can know each string. But because of that I cannot teach anyone who wants to learn because I don’t know [how to read music] and teaching someone has to be based on the basic theories.”

After participating in several concerts, Kiftaro decided to establish his own band. He called the 18-strong band Angham Al Sham and they have seven singers and play 11 instruments. They play concerts at his old university, American University of Sharjah, and create their own music.

Within the next year Kiftaro hopes to open his own studio for his own benefit and for anyone wishing to record their own music.

Firas Kiftaro plays guitar during a practice session at American University of Sharjah. Source: Angham Al Sham instagram