Saudi Aramco World July/Aug 2014 - page 4

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Saudi Aramco World
Alaa Wardi marches to the beat of his own drum, both figura-
tively and literally: Among other talents, he’s a body percus-
sionist. Dubbed in March as “Saudi Arabia’s King of You-
Tube” by
The Atlantic
, he prefers a simpler introduction. “My
name is Alaa Wardi, and I am a musician and a YouTuber.”
The 27-year-old has been captivating a global online au-
dience for nearly three years from his bedroom studio in his
family home in Riyadh. Singing covers and original songs
in Arabic, English, French, Urdu, Hindi and gibberish (his
word), he is nothing if not one of the most creative among
the musicians who claim YouTube as their primary stage.
Taking the idea of a one-man band into the digital era, he
taps, snaps, claps, rubs and smacks his hands, chest, cheeks
and fingers to create percussive textures, and mixes them
with vocal pops, ticks, clicks, warbles, coos and bubbles (his
word, again) as well as lyrics. Some choral or multi-vocal
parts he records multiple times, overdubbing his own sounds
with what then appear to be digital clones who together
produce all of the bass, tenor, alto and soprano parts, ac-
companied by more vocal imitations of guitars, bass, strings,
brass and snap, beat, kick and snare percussion. At the same
time, his self-mounted camera catches him, usually with
headphones on, shaking his shoulder-length, tousled curls,
playfully flashing his magnetic smile—all in snappy edits that
give his songs as many visual delights as aural ones.
Among his influences, he credits the polyphonic vocal-per-
cussion style of Bobby McFerrin, whose 1988 “Don’t Worry,
Be Happy” was the first a cappella arrangement to reach
number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But Wardi brings
both a 21st-century technical edge and a Middle Eastern vibe
that comes off cool in the international venue of YouTube.
His playful humor mixes melody, technology and culture to
create memorable, feel-good mashups.
At last count, Wardi had 36 videos that give front-row
seats to a global YouTube audience of some 36 million. There
is something for everyone, from Bollywood in Hindi to Rihan-
na in English, Amr Diab in Arabic and Wardi’s originals. Each
one is a distinctive, complex musical and visual collage.
Growing up in an Iranian family in the Saudi capital,
Wardi—who speaks five languages—is one of three children.
His grandfather and cousins play music as a hobby, and his
brother is an animator. Wardi, however, set out to make
the arts his career. He studied music at Jordan University in
Amman, and after graduation in 2008, he returned home.
“Living in Riyadh is actually good for me because I get
to have more time in my studio to work and less things to
distract me. And since my work is online, it is not limited
to any country or city,” he wrote by email.
Many of his compositions are entirely solo efforts, from
concept to finished upload. It can take a month to record and
edit a single four-minute video. True to his online medium,
Wardi relies on social media and user feedback to brainstorm,
distribute and promote. He records, mixes and edits all of the
separate parts, and then pieces them together into a linear ka-
leidoscope of sight and sound. In some of the videos, he actu-
ally plays piano or guitar, but most of the time, it is just him, a
cappella. By himself. His “clones” often look contemplative
and patiently “wait” to perform, or they wink or grin. While
this multi-panel style of video editing is common among a
cappella YouTubers, Wardi does it masterfully, and he injects
“AlaaWardi is my name, makingmusic is my trade, bringing happiness is my desire.”
W R I T T E N B Y J A S M I N E B A G E R
alaa wardi
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Alaa Wardi
Goes Viral
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