Saudi Aramco World July/Aug 2014 - page 5

July/August 2014
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catchy Middle Eastern beats into every
song—including his recent cover of
Lorde’s pop hit “Royals.”
“The twelve of us are playing
together, I’m the one in the center
with the baby guitar,” he wrote to
describe “Risala Ela…” (“Letter
to…”), one of his Arabic solo videos
in which he reproduced his image to
appear to be in a room surrounded
by doppelgängers.
His fans love it.
“I’ve listened to this more times
in a row than there are Alaas on
screen,” commented Mark Mangan
on the “Risala Ela…” video.
Like his music, his video back-
drops are often simple. One consists
of Indomie ramen noodle boxes, car-
tons of Kit-Kat chocolate bars and
various cardboard boxes from Panda
Stores, a Saudi supermarket chain.
These boxes, too, are a kind of visual
clue to his influences: He is a patch-
work of eastern and western styles.
This shows also in language. Al-
though Wardi is multilingual, he
makes it a point to sing also in lan-
guages he doesn’t understand, just
to show that good music can trans-
late to any tongue—or even none:
In his soulful “Shalamonti Fel7al,”
he sings a faux-Arabic that he ex-
plains at the beginning is only “gib-
berish.” “Some of my favorite songs
that I’ve listened to a thousand times,
I really don’t know what they’re
about, I just make up words to sing
along! So to me personally, I don’t
always care what the song is about
as long as it’s good,” he explained.
“Either I pick an old song that had
its glory once or a new song that is a hit right now. In both
cases, I choose songs that are musically interesting to me and
have the possibility to turn into an a cappella,” he said.
Other times, he collaborates: For a cover of the A.
R. Rahman hit “Jai Ho,” composed for the Hollywood
blockbuster film
Slumdog Millionaire,
he teamed up with
Eugene, Oregon, a cappella YouTuber Peter Hollens. He
has appeared in videos by fellow Middle Eastern You-
Tubers such as Fahad Albutairi, Hisham Fageeh and Ali
Kalthami, who are all members of Telfaz11, an online
Arabic network that streams some of the most popular
YouTube-created shows in Saudi Arabia. With them earlier
this year, he produced a Saudi-guys cover of Pharrell Wil-
liams’s “Happy” that is up to 1.6 million views, and last
year they put together his only video to step into political
satire, “No Woman, No Drive,”
based on the Bob Marley tune “No
Woman, No Cry,” that has garnered
more than 11 million views.
As much as he enjoys the cam-
era, he also sings lead vocals for
his indie band Hayajan (Outburst),
made up of himself and four friends
from Amman whom he met dur-
ing his university days. Last year,
they released “Ya Bey
,”
an original
Arabic-language album, and, singing
in Arabic, they have covered both
Arabic and English songs, notably a
silky, Arabic cover of Pink Floyd’s
“Comfortably Numb.”
“I have the most unhealthy sched-
ule on the planet,” he admitted. “I
never know what’s happening in
the next day and when. I sleep, eat
and work at any time. And my
sleeping time always changes.” He
added that the pressure to impress
is getting greater, and he constantly
feels the need to execute better
ideas. His fans help: Upon upload-
ing a video, he includes a note ask-
ing for feedback and suggestions of
new covers.
Scrolling down Wardi’s YouTube
comments, one finds viewers from Ja-
pan, Poland, all over the Middle East,
Africa and the Americas earnestly
populating the threads with posi-
tive emoticons and verbal high-fives.
“Good job, from a Mormon in Logan,
Utah,” wrote Riley Warner. “100
times better than original. Hats off,
man,” commented Ankur Saraswat
on Wardi’s Hindi cover of Bollywood
classic “Pehla Nasha.” On one of his
Arabic-language songs, Fonsise Hol-
ani wrote, “I love this, really beautiful. Brings tears.”
“Every kind of support I get from my listeners encour-
ages me,” Wardi wrote. “So yes, that feeling gets stronger.
There are always ways to reach to your dreams.”
But commenter Al Ectic seemed to sum it up, picking
up 47 likes on his eight-word quip: “This guy is an endless
ocean of talent.”
@AlaaWardi
Jasmine Bager
is a Saudi Hispanic multimedia
journalist who grew up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. She
loves exchanging emails at
where she often writes about art, international issues
and singing in gibberish.
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