Like mother, like daughters: Saudi family share a passion for music

Nada and Carine Hamzah with their mother Dania Gazzaz. The latter believes that learning music and playing instruments enhance children’s academic skills. (Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Like mother, like daughters: Saudi family share a passion for music

  • Parents of Nada and Carine strike a chord with message of harmony in the home

JEDDAH: Nada and Carine Hamzah grew up in a family that appreciates music and beauty. Their parents exposed them to music at a young age and were keen to provide them with music education from professionals.
Their mother, Dania Gazzaz, an art instructor, told Arab News: “All my family members played some music instrument somehow; we’ve always been around music somewhere.”
Music is essential because it helps children “develop all areas of the brain, and also expresses mood and the personality of the individual,” she said.
“I remember when I was younger that if I was upset, I used to release those emotions through the piano,” she added.
Gazzaz believes that learning music and playing musical instruments enhance children’s cognitive and academic skills.
“Music made my three children mindful, alert and focused on what they put their minds to. Music is a plus for kids.”
Studies have shown that music can significantly improve a child’s pattern recognition and mental representation scores, which means that children with musical backgrounds excel in school.
Nada, 25, enjoys playing Arabic music on the piano “because I really like the tunes.”
“My family, in general, enjoyed music. My dad really enjoyed it, and my mom played the piano well,” she said.
Nada did her undergraduate studies in neuroscience in the US and is a co-host of Direction Podcast. She views music as a hobby that she enjoys with friends and family.
“I think it is important to learn music — it requires another level of concentration and it works on the different parts of your brain.”
Nada’s musical journey began at Jeddah private school. “I used to enjoy singing along with the teacher, who used to play the piano, and then I began learning the piano,” she said.
Her journey has had some ups and downs. “I used to take classes, but I stopped many times, and I had a few issues with instructors,” she said.
“It was frustrating because I had to learn the basics all over again, and that made me not take the tests. I do take classes from time to time.”
Carine, 15, is a high school student who plays piano and guitar, takes theory lessons, and is a talented singer, too. She has been performing in plays at her school for the past three years and has also performed at public events.
“When it comes to singing, I enjoy musical theater and modern pop songs,” she said. “I like the classical and romantic periods the most, and I appreciate 20th century composers much more now because before I didn’t really understand them.”
Carine’s parents are eager to develop her talent and provide her with the best musical education.
She joined the renowned Juilliard School summer camp in Switzerland last year, and has been invited to join the school again because of her impressive performance.
However, her parents struggle to find professional music tutors for their daughters in the Kingdom. “One of the obstacles we have is it is always difficult to find teachers in the first place. When we find them, they are usually teachers from abroad. It is so hard to find local professional or Middle Eastern teachers,” Gazzaz said.
She said the family had tried for years to find professional tutors to teach their daughters Arabic music and singing. “For the past two years, we have been searching for teachers to teach her professional Arabic singing, and couldn’t find anybody. Now we have found two teachers — one in Lebanon and the other in Egypt.
“Imagine, to learn professional Arabic singing, we have to go next vacation to Egypt in April for two weeks,” she said.
With the new changes in Saudi Arabia, the family hope to see more professional music education institutions opening “where we can learn our old songs and authentic language.”
“We need to learn music in a proper and educational manner, rather than the current randomness. We have seen super-talented people, but they do not have the teacher’s attitude. I’ve also seen so many talented girls who are trying to learn musical instruments and finding it hard to get professional teachers.”
Nada said: “Because music wasn’t regulated in any sense, often you would find yourself mixing with an unregulated crowd that could be dangerous. One thing that I’m hopeful for is that now that music is regulated, you feel kind of safe for getting involved.”
Gazzaz believes music can be an agent for positive change if it is properly appreciated because “it brings charm and happiness to people.”
The government is aiming to encourage young talent in the Saudi entertainment industry as part of the Vision 2030 program.


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”