Emara: The superhero who dons a headscarf

The caped crusader.
Updated 06 September 2018
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Emara: The superhero who dons a headscarf

  • Emara is the superhero alter ego of a young Emirati girl called Moza
  • Fatma Almheiri would like to see more Arab and Muslim representation from Hollywood

DUBAI: Picture your average female superhero, and she is probably dressed in spandex with long bouncy hair and an illogically tiny waist. 

But Emara dons a navy blue headscarf, a green, white and gold costume, a cape lined with red, and golden specs inspired by the burqa. 

Born and raised in Dubai, Fatma Almheiri was just 21 when she created the mini-series on YouTube in 2016. She now aims to put Arab female superheroes on the map.

“I’ve been doodling since I can remember. I grew up watching my mum draw and paint, as well as my cousins, so it’s always been part of my life. But I didn’t decide to take drawing more seriously until high school,” recalled the Emirati.

It was then that she transformed her hobby into a career and enrolled at the Cartoon Network Animation Academy in Abu Dhabi. 

From there, she interned at the UAE’s Cartoon Network Studios Arabia before working fulltime on her personal project, the five-episode cartoon “Emara: Emirates Hero,” which boasts more than 75,000 subscribers.

“Emara is the superhero alter ego of a young Emirati girl called Moza, who harnesses a special power to fight crime in the bustling streets of the UAE,” said Almheiri.

Why create her own show with a strong female lead? “Representation,” she said. “I tried to create the kind of character I wanted growing up but never got.”

In comics and other areas of pop culture, said Almheiri, representation matters because fictional characters are a mirror to society. 

Like Latifa, Saudi Arabia’s first female comic superhero, and Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, Almheiri said she wants Emara to give a sense of identity to children who, like her, could not relate to traditional superheroes. 

The reaction to her YouTube series has been “overwhelming,” Almheiri added. “I didn’t expect so much support, especially not internationally.”

She said: “The female main character is in a hijab. You don’t really see that often in cartoons… It’s the characters that make the show great.”

While Emara is currently discontinued unless it gets commissioned — “animation isn’t cheap and it takes a lot of time” — its creator has her sights set on the big screen.

“I’d like to create my own animated feature film one day,” said Almheiri. “I’d like to see more Arab and Muslim representation from Hollywood.” 


‘Khusouf Al-Ard’ — The long-awaited return of Hayajan

‘Khusouf Al-Ard’ — The long-awaited return of Hayajan. (Supplied)
Updated 17 January 2019
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‘Khusouf Al-Ard’ — The long-awaited return of Hayajan

  • Jordan-based indie-pop band 'Hayajan' has released a new album
  • The majority of tracks on “Khusouf Al-Ard” fall into one of two categories: Upbeat funky pop or slower synth-led ballads

DUBAI: It’s been more than five years since “Ya Bay,” the debut album from Jordan-based indie-pop band Hayajan, was released. Frontman Alaa Wardi was already hugely popular for his online videos of layered a capella covers, but in the years since he has become a genuine online phenomenon with almost a million YouTube subscribers and two solo albums to his name.
Wardi, and his voice, naturally, loom large over Hayajan’s recently released sophomore album “Khusouf Al-Ard.” But it would be a mistake to see this record as ‘Alaa Wardi plus musicians.’ Guitarists Odai Shawagfeh (who also plays with El Morabba3) and Mohammed Idrei, bassist Amjad Shahrouh, and drummer Hakam Abu Soud are equally responsible for Hayajan’s impressive sonic soundscapes.
The majority of tracks on “Khusouf Al-Ard” fall into one of two categories: Upbeat funky pop or slower synth-led ballads. Often, though, those pop tracks have pessimistic lyrics at odds with the bouncy, foot-tapping feel of the instrumentation.
In “Zubalah,” for example, Wardi warns a Martian newly arrived on earth to leave again ASAP because the planet is “trash” and “There is no hope for a better future.” On “Al-Ghabah,” he tells a tale of a bullying animal who becomes king of the jungle and burns it to the ground to quell an uprising, leaving himself ruler of nothing. A fable that could be relevant to any of the world’s ‘strongmen’ rulers.
Throughout the record Wardi shows his vocal chops not just on the top-line melodies, but with great choices of harmonies. The rhythm section is super-tight and the crystalline, angular guitar riffs are often instant earworms. Many of the tracks use the old ‘slow build to crescendo’ trick to great effect. “Kbirna” — a nostalgic ballad that employs Imogen Heap-style Vocoder effects — in particular culminates in the kind of soaring soundtrack-friendly climax that Sigur Ros seemed to have made their own in the Noughties.
The one bum note on the record is “Jibna Al-Eid,” in which Wardi’s requests for us all to come together cross the line into saccharine simplicity (as does the music). The result being a track that sounds like the kind of bad festive charity single usually accompanied by a video of the assembled vocalists grinning unconvincingly at each other.
Still, the rest of the album makes up for that misstep. Along with “Kbirna,” opening track “Yalla Bina” is a high point — driving, funky rhythms interspersed with staccato guitar stabs and a vibe reminiscent of French band Phoenix.
“Khusouf Al-Ard” is a confident, bold record that rewards the patience of the band’s fans.

Listen to the full album here: