By Giorgio Ungania
In recent years, Dubai has become one of the main production centres for Khaleeji music. Giorgio Ungania talks to Ahmed Rahman Alali, who runs Rabsha Art Production Studio, an audio house specialising in Khaleeji music.
Khaleeji music is so popular in the Arab world that there are radio stations devoted to playing music only from this genre. In fact, most Arabic singers, regardless of the style or genre in which they normally sing, make it a point to record some of their tracks in the Khaleeji style to cater to this niche audience.
Dubai has become one of the main production centres for Khaleeji music in recent years. One studio in the emirate that specialises in Khaleeji music is Rabsha Art Production Studio, run by Ahmed Rahman Alali, a 27-year-old UAE national. Alali is also the senior audio post engineer for the promotion department of Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), and has been involved in some of the most successful promotional campaigns DMI has undertaken for its various channels.
When you walk into Rabsha Art Production Studio, you feel like you have entered a special space just for musicians. You can almost breathe music here. A beautiful Oud lies on the couch in the main lobby and the facility is peopled with musicians carrying their respective instruments and sometimes, strumming a tune.
Rabsha may be producing Khaleeji music but it is also equipped with a ProTools HD3 Accell that includes full interfaces. Pretty much all of the most popular plug-ins and music software applications are available here as are some top-quality condenser microphones to ensure that the quality of the acoustic recordings meets international standards.
“Khaleeji music is predominantly based on very peculiar rhythmic patterns, and is usually accompanied by hand clapping,” explains Alali. “This is because this genre of music has always been linked to dancing, including belly dancing. In the rhythmic section, various traditional acoustic instruments are played together to create harmony while at the same time, leaving room for a couple of instrument solos.”
Apart from percussions, the Khaleeji sound is created with traditional acoustic instruments like the Oud, which is the Arabic version of the lute; the Qanoon, which is like the plucked harp; and the Rababa, a bowed fiddle.
“The Khaleeji style has not changed dramatically in time, as people from the Gulf are very proud of their cultural heritage. In fact, the rhythmic layers are still pretty much traditional in both sound as well as style. In recent times, all we have seen is the addition of some modern instruments to give the Khaleeji style a contemporary flavour,” explains Alali.
Although young, Alali has had extensive experience in music production for the Gulf market. He is not just a well-known sound engineer but also a prolific music composer, and the electric bass, guitars, sax and horns as well as strings are a given in his compositions.
As a result, Rabsha has found a huge customer base not just in the UAE market but also in Saudi, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Lebanon market as well.
His studio is a fine example of how digital technologies and virtual instruments running on digital workstations are changing the way music is produced. No doubt, production studios today work with software applications and other technology to get the final result.
However, Alali maintains that no plug-in is available so far to replace the natural sound of the cello or the real Oud player. “My own trademark sound is the result of using real instruments whenever possible. Only after the leading acoustic tracks are recorded do I use midi-driven samples to spice up the mix,” he adds.
Alali works with a team of well-known Khaleeji artistes including the famous Qanoon player, Hassan Faleh; Oud maestro, Saadek Jaafar; and lead violinist, Haytham Sadoon.
In the meantime, Alali’s work with DMI’s Dubai TV has helped him to alter the way he approaches music composition. “Working for pictures has dramatically changed my approach to composition, and scoring for visuals has improved my songwriting and mixing skills,” he claims.
As a result, Alali is now adding a video editing room to his studio so that clients can also shoot and edit their own music videos. “This is a huge advantage for them as they will be able to package the music track and video combo under one roof. Final Cut Studio will be coupled soon with an Avid DS workstation,” he adds.
According to Alali, Khaleeji music is destined to become more important in the coming years as it is increasingly gaining popularity among non-Arabic audiences. Although steeped in tradition, the fact that Alali is comfortable with digital production means that he will now be able to produce traditional Khaleeji music but give it a modern touch to widen its appeal.