The Cairo-trained violinist who wants Saudis to pursue their musical ambitions

Born and raised in Yanbu, Elyas Yaseen attended his local university before realizing his true calling lay in music. (Supplied)
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Born and raised in Yanbu, Elyas Yaseen attended his local university before realizing his true calling lay in music. (Supplied)
A violin in the making by French luthier Benedicte Friedmann is pictured at her workshop in Cremona on June 9, 2020. Stradivarius' homeland, the Italian city of Cremona, has become a laboratory for luthiers from all over the world. (AFP/File Photo)
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A violin in the making by French luthier Benedicte Friedmann is pictured at her workshop in Cremona on June 9, 2020. Stradivarius' homeland, the Italian city of Cremona, has become a laboratory for luthiers from all over the world. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 30 January 2021

The Cairo-trained violinist who wants Saudis to pursue their musical ambitions

Born and raised in Yanbu, Elyas Yaseen attended his local university before realizing his true calling lay in music. (Supplied)
  • Saudi violinist Elyas Yaseen dreams of his own music academy in his beloved Red Sea port city of Yanbu 
  • The Ministry of Culture began issuing licenses in December for the Kingdom’s first musical training institutes

DUBAI: Elyas Yaseen is unlike other men his age from Yanbu, a small port city on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. He is a gifted musician, known for his proficiency at playing the violin, the oud and the qanun. The young Saudi talent also has an aspiration: to establish, with the government’s help, a music school in his coastal hometown so he can teach others to play and allow more young Saudis like him to realize their potential.

In the absence of specialist academies and music in the Kingdom’s national curriculum, most Saudi musicians are self-taught, relying on platforms like YouTube to pick up the basics. Others look to friends or family for private lessons, limiting their scope for development. But with the country’s social-reforms programs taking hold, this is beginning to change.

Yaseen, the youngest of six, has been interested in music since the age of eight when he first fell in love with string instruments. “I was raised among musicians,” Yaseen told Arab News. “My older brother, who played the qanun, and my father, who was one of the musical pioneers here and played Yanbu’s local instrument — the simsimiyya — are musicians and both of them gave me the passion to play. This is how I started.”




Following a few rudimentary lessons from his father and brother, Yaseen spent the next decade mastering the instrument at home. (Supplied)

Born and raised in Yanbu, Yaseen attended his local university before realizing his true calling lay in music. After learning to play the simsimiyya, a traditional lyre instrument, he discovered his passion for the violin.

Following a few rudimentary lessons from his father and brother, Yaseen spent the next decade mastering the instrument at home. He was largely self-taught — until an unmissable opportunity to study abroad presented itself.

“I went to Egypt and met a very famous violinist called Abdo Dagher and I took many classes with him at the Cairo Opera House to improve my skills on the violin,” he said. “I knew by then that I wanted to play the violin professionally and that I wanted to be a professional musician in Saudi Arabia.”

Opportunities to study and perform music in Saudi Arabia were limited until fairly recently. Now the Ministry of Culture has started issuing licenses for the Kingdom’s first musical training institutes. Once it begins accepting online applications in the coming months, a vibrant domestic music industry is sure to follow.

The liberalization of music culture is part of a broader effort to promote the entertainment and leisure sectors in Saudi Arabia, aimed at creating jobs and weaning the country off its economic dependence on oil, while also sharing its homegrown talents with the world.




Yaseen is seeking support from the Saudi government to establish his own music academy in Yanbu. (Supplied)

Now Yaseen is seeking support from the Saudi government to establish his own music academy in Yanbu, offering classes in the gamut of instruments to students of all ages.

“We don’t have that yet, but I really hope we will achieve it,” he said. “For now, I provide private classes to my friends, the youth and children who are interested in learning the violin and the oud.”

As a Saudi whose training in Egypt enabled him to reach standards of musicianship that most people can only aspire to, Yaseen hopes the Ministry of Culture will heed his call.

“We have to go through many processes. There’s a lot of bureaucracy. But there’s a lot of demand from young Saudis who want to play instruments, and I receive many requests daily from both men and women,” he said.

“It’s a passion for them too and they want me to teach them, but I don’t have a place that is large enough to teach everyone. I just want to help others in their musical journey because it’s enjoyable for me.”

FASTFACTS

Music in the Kingdom

* Saudi Arabia granted licenses for two music colleges in Dec. 2020.

* The institutes will offer cultural and artistic training programs.

* Licenses to be granted for theater, music, literature, publishing, translation and museums.

* Licenses for music practitioners will cover musicians, acoustics and production.

Some of Yaseen’s earliest musical inspiration came from Egyptian singer and actress Umm Kulthum, one of the best-selling Middle Eastern artists of all time, whose songs he set to the violin. “They’re not easy to play by a young person like myself,” Yaseen said.

However, it was Yanbu’s distinctive culture that truly captured his imagination.

“We have traditional music here, which includes special songs for locals, describing their life, from the old generation to the young generation. And from that, I created a new genre on my own,” he said.

Even as his musical proficiency grew under Dagher’s mentorship, Yaseen never lost sight of these early influences. Progressing in leaps and bounds, he soon graduated from Helwan University’s Faculty of Music Education in Cairo with an outstanding grade.

He still feels a deep debt of gratitude to his teacher. “I feel very grateful to him,” Yaseen said. “He is the main reason I am where I am today. We are still in touch. We talk regularly and we still have a strong friendship.”




As a Saudi whose training in Egypt enabled him to reach standards of musicianship that most people can only aspire to, Yaseen hopes the Ministry of Culture will help others follow in his footsteps. (Supplied)

Returning to his home city three years ago, Yaseen quickly made a name for himself. Agencies were getting in touch with him with requests for appearances in Jeddah and Riyadh. Before long, he had a certain amount of name recognition thanks to clips of his performances shared on social media.

In 2019, Yaseen received a reward from famed Saudi singer and composer Abadi Al-Johar for an outstanding solo performance in Dammam. A year later, he received an award from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh for his rendition of the Saudi national anthem.

“Music is like therapy for me,” Yaseen said. “My favorite moments are spent playing music. It relaxes me. Music is my soulmate and I feel well when I play the violin or any other instruments. I spend most of my day playing it.”

Thus, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of concert venues across the region last year, Yaseen was grateful for the free time to practice at home.

“The lockdown was great for me because I didn’t feel it,” he said. “Music gives me a sense of freedom that no lockdown can ever take away.”




Cairo Opera House's National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) performing at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in Riyadh in 2018, the first event of its kind in the Saudi capital. (AFP/Saudi General Culture Authority/File Photo)

Yaseen nevertheless hopes someday to perform internationally. “I want to be the first Saudi who represents Saudi Arabia as a violinist in the world,” he said. “I fell in love with the instrument, which is why I dedicated my life to it.”

He hopes other young Saudis will pursue their musical ambitions, no matter how daunting the challenges.

“I encourage them to learn music and to keep going because there are no music academies so far. We need to help each other as much as we can,” Yaseen told Arab News.

“For all young Saudis who want to pursue their passion in music or play an instrument, I would tell them to not give up because I’ve already seen many of my friends give up. Keep pursuing your goals and passion, and always expect good things. It’s important not to put yourself down when you’re on this journey and believe you will move forward.”




Yaseen is especially grateful for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which has made it a national priority to support the Kingdom’s youth and promote the arts and culture. (Shutterstock)

Yaseen is especially grateful for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which has made it a national priority to support the Kingdom’s youth and promote the arts and culture. The importance of the ongoing social and cultural changes became especially obvious to him during the pandemic.

“Everything is changing in the new Saudi Arabia. It’s not as we have known it before. It’s changing for the better and I’m happy to see all these shifts,” he said.

“I just hope the government will answer my call to support a large, dedicated music education center and the teachers needed for people to learn.

“I have so many ideas that are ready to be implemented. I want to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead
Updated 4 sec ago

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead
  • Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbing, car-ramming and occasional shooting attacks in recent years
  • Most have been carried out by lone attackers with no known connection to militant groups
JERUSALEM: A 16-year-old Palestinian rammed a vehicle into an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank overnight, wounding a security guard before being shot and “neutralized” at the scene, the Israeli Defense Ministry said Monday.
Israeli media reported that the alleged attacker was killed, while a ministry official declined to comment further.
The attack came two days after a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank stabbed and wounded an Israeli man just outside Jerusalem’s Old City and tried to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and killed. Video taken by bystanders showed the police continuing to shoot the attacker after he had dropped to the ground and preventing medics from approaching him.
The shooting drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. The soldier was imprisoned for several months in a case that divided the country.
The Israeli Justice Ministry said the two officers involved in Saturday’s shooting were brought in for questioning before being released without conditions. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other top officials have praised the officers’ response to the attack.
Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbing, car-ramming and occasional shooting attacks in recent years. Most have been carried out by lone attackers with no known connection to militant groups, which have praised the attacks without claiming responsibility for them.
Rights groups say Israel sometimes uses excessive force, killing suspected attackers who could have been arrested and did not pose an immediate threat. Israeli officials say forces must make split-second decisions in dangerous situations and that all such incidents are investigated.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state. The territory’s 2.5 million Palestinian residents live under Israeli military rule, with the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority administering cities and towns.

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
Updated 06 December 2021

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
  • The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world

MANAMA: Nigeria has been added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’ as part of a new update announced on Sunday by the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the country’s Civil Aviation Affairs. 
According to Bahraini authorities, the list also includes South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Zambia.
Passengers from red list countries are prohibited from entering Bahrain, including those who have transited through the mentioned countries; however, this does not apply to citizens and residents of Bahrain.

The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world, which was first detected in southern African nations. 

Several countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including the UAE, US, Britain, Brazil, Indonesia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.


Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
Updated 06 December 2021

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
  • It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation

BETHLEHEM: Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping that a new coronavirus variant does not ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

"It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation," said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.


Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Updated 05 December 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
  • Blinken thanked the UAE for hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan
  • UAE foreign minister held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka

LONDON: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday to discuss “important regional matters,” the US State Department said.
Sheikh Mohammed and Blinken “reaffirmed their countries’ strong partnership and discussed ways to broaden and deepen their wide-ranging cooperation,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“Blinken also thanked the crown prince for the UAE’s generous support in hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan to third countries, and commended the UAE for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” Price added.
Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Indian Ocean Conference, which kicked off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
During the meetings, Sheikh Abdullah discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance prospects for joint cooperation in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and stressed the depth of the relations between the UAE and the sultanate.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar praised the strong friendship between the UAE and his country, and their strategic partnership which is witnessing continuous growth and development.
Sheikh Abdullah also welcomed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Pierce to Abu Dhabi and the two sides discussed bilateral relations and ways to support them in various fields, including tourism.