Dana Al Fardan: Made in Qatar

We speak to the homegrown singer ahead of her debut album Discuss this article

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After leaving her job in the family jewellery business to pursue a career in music during pregnancy, Dana Al Fardan is now ready to launch her debut album. Katy Gillett speaks exclusively to her about musicals, nursery rhymes and the complex human spirit.

You could easily say that 28-year-old Qatari Dana Al Fardan is an all-rounder. She’s pretty, eloquent and talented. Ever since she can remember she has been singing, playing piano and performing. She’s always had a keen interest in sport, has a degree in International Relations from the American University of Dubai and did her graduate studies in gemology (that would be the study of gemstones) in London, UK.

It almost makes you sick.

Her father also happens to be a business tycoon in Qatar, working in jewellery retail, and Dana had always felt that her path would be to join the family business here. ‘Jewellery was always part of the family,’ she tells me one afternoon as we meet in The St Regis’ Sarab Lounge. ‘It wasn’t something that I separated from my life – it was something we were always constantly engaged in.’

Straight from the gym and looking well considering she’s only just had a baby, Dana seems very down to earth. She appears in a top and jeans with a loose jacket and throughout the interview she wears her large aviator-style sunglasses. She speaks with an American accent in long well-constructed sentences that flow easily. It’s obvious she is one smart cookie.

Her studies in gemology led her to work briefly with her father but, ‘Eventually,’ she admits, ‘I realised that there was something else I wanted to focus on. If I was going to devote myself to jewellery it was going to be 150 percent. I wasn’t going to do it half way so after I got pregnant a spark went off in my head somewhere and I said I was going to get into music.’

Her new career choice didn’t come out of the blue though. She first starting writing songs years ago when she decided nursery rhymes were far too horrific to sing while her sensitive younger sister was drifting off to sleep. ‘I mean humpty dumpty sat on a wall, that beautiful loveable creature fell and died!’ she shouts animatedly. ‘I don’t want to sing that to my little sister! Seriously, ring a ring o’ roses? Why are we singing about the plague!?’ So she wrote a few of her own and to this day her sister remembers a couple.

It was a small keyboard in her parent’s home, however, that initially sparked her interest in music. She used to tinker on it as often as possible – ‘For my parents it was the most annoying thing in the entire universe but they were very patient because they realised I was finding my sounds’. It wasn’t something that she focused all her attentions on but singing and songwriting was always within the backdrop of her life, throughout her childhood and university years.

Once she got back from studying in London she even decided to write a musical. ‘I was obsessed with the musical Wicked,’ she admits, laughing. ‘My [six] sisters and I were constantly performing musicals at home – it was quite literally the Von Trapp family (from the Sound of Music). We’d just break into song and dance in the middle of the road.

‘They’re all over the world right now and we have this little family group on our phone and we send each other voice notes singing songs. It’s borderline ridiculous but it’s fun,’ she laughs.

It’s obvious that family means a lot to Dana and this is an important part of who she is. She speaks fondly of her sisters and, of course, her daughter and she seems completely content and at ease. It appears to not only to come from the backing of a supportive, loving family but also from a total belief in her new musical path in life. ‘I could bring it down to [pregnancy] hormones,’ she smiles, ‘but at that point I realised that I’m incomplete if I don’t express myself.’

So that’s exactly what she did. With the help of her manager Will Gresford and producer Tim Baxter she set off to London to record her first album. This was in her third trimester of pregnancy and she even gave birth to her daughter Layla while she was there. Two weeks afterwards, however, she was back in the studio recording the final vocals.

On the album she sings on all tracks but plays piano on only one instrumental song that is dedicated to her daughter. Behind her, she has a band of around 20 other musicians from all over the world playing strings, drums, saxophone, brass – to name a few.

‘When I was writing it wasn’t immediately evident to me what the musical style was,’ she explains. ‘I write in English, I’m influenced by many different genres of music – I’ve never been into one at any given point in time – so there was always a melting pot in there but when I met my producer we decided we were not going to dictate up front what the style was going to be. We were going to get in the studio, sit there, work and let the music organically grow.’

And that it did. It grew from the nursery rhymes and musicals she used to write into a mature sounding heartfelt album that combines various instruments, talents and genres to create a sound that is almost indescribable.

‘Paint’, the title track which has been a work in progress for years, is melodic and profound. You can’t help but listen closely to the poetic lyrics – ‘Paint the walls inside of me and everything I long to see… And when the lightning strikes the well of hollowed dreams and make believe, give me your hand and lead the way far beyond serenity’ – while the backdrop of various strings and steady beats leads it to a climax.

‘Girl Don’t You Cry’ is rockier, reminiscent of tunes by English singer-songwriter Beth Orton, with edges of folk. Breakdowns of brass and saxophone really add to the cinematic style of it and you’ll be hard-pressed not to get it stuck in your head.

Then there’s the beautiful melody of ‘Confined’, which echoes songs by artists like Sarah McLachlan and Kathryn Williams, and incorporates the sounds of string and piano with the smooth yet subtle tones of Dana’s voice.

‘The album is very introspective,’ says Dana. ‘It doesn’t seek to outline all the different external elements that pose a hindrance to your own personal growth and development. It’s what is inside you that creates these obstacles, that puts down these road blocks.’

Dana explains, ‘If I were to describe what I was emphasising on writing the album it’s about understanding. It’s acknowledging different responses in you, it’s acknowledging different elements that make up the basis of who you are, acknowledging what you want out of life, how you want to achieve it, what your core principles are and exploring that.’

Now that the album is finished, Dana is preparing for the public launch of her album later this month while juggling motherhood, keeping in shape and writing more songs for her next album.

Her aim within these next few years, she says, is to release at least one more album and then help promote music in Qatar and the Middle East, but give it an international dimension. ‘Music is not defined by the national boundaries,’ she says. ‘It’s a language that speaks to every culture, every nationality, so we’re now looking to what is specifically culturally relevant to Qatar in terms of nationality, in terms of style of music.

That’s what’s so great and that’s what I love about music. It’s international, it’s a universal dimension.’

Dana seems proud of where her country is heading and she says she wants to be a part of it and to interact with other musicians in the future. She says, ‘As long as there’s music in Qatar, taking place in Qatar, growing in Qatar from within and expanding over here, I feel like those are huge developments.’

By Time Out Doha staff
Time Out Doha,

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