Dubai influenced my style as a musician, says Nagham Debal

Dubai's first-ever female Qanun player Nagham Debal talks all things music


Husain Rizvi

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Published: Tue 18 Oct 2022, 11:54 AM

Last updated: Wed 19 Oct 2022, 1:19 PM

Dubai's first-ever female Qanun player Nagham Debal cannot imagine going through her day without music. In a way, music is the best outlet for her to alleviate stress, and it channels her happiness in more ways than one.

But more importantly, music is something which Nagham uses to express herself and her feelings, especially since she's not a very "expressive" person. "Beyond just being a means for self-expression, music allows me to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways," she tells City Times. "When I am performing, that is when I feel connected to the crowd, and that is by far the most unmatched feeling out there."

Although she's originally Syrian, Nagham has been based in Dubai for a long time. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Architecture, however, she had other plans later on.

Now, Nagham is a composer and singer, and fondly plays the Qanun, an Arabic musical instrument representing Arabic culture. Nagham is also a popular name in the Arab region for performing a variety of traditional and modern Arabic as well as western music with a wide range of styles.

While she's experienced in performing solo, she's also involved in group performances and bands including the one consisting of her brothers Basel (oud player), and Zaid (piano player). The three formed the trio Debal Band.

Nagham has performed in several festivals in the Middle East and the UAE, including the Dubai Shopping Festival, the JBR Musical Festival, the Sharjah Musical Festival, and a choir festival in Lebanon. Additionally, she has also performed at many private events.

Nagham forayed into the musical scene with her first ever composition that came at the age of nine. Today, she's delivered top compositions including AlShaheed, Ya Emmi, Steps in Louvre Abu Dhabi, among many others.

As of today, Nagham is gearing up for RELM (Recognizing Emerging Local Musicians), a platform launched by The Pointe to support emerging musicians in the region and take their career to the next level. Taking place for three days starting October 21, the festival will see Nagham performing her new single, debuting her fountain show, and collaborate with four other artists including Abri and Sandra Sahi for a mashup of their new songs.

We got in touch with Nagham Debal to know more about her music and what lies ahead for her.

You're the first-ever female Qanun player in Dubai. How do you feel about that?

The title is almost like a double-edged sword; on one end I feel like I have such big shoes to fill, especially since I’m representing women, and on the other end, it’s such an honour and a privilege to be able to pave the way for other women to explore a beautiful instrument like the Qanun.

This instrument is so dear to my heart, and it brings me so much joy every time I hear someone telling me that I’ve inspired them to start taking Qanun lessons. It almost feels like it’s my calling and sense of purpose to ignite this love for this instrument and to use it as an outlet for self-expression.

You composed your first ever number at the age of 9, how did you develop your relationship with music?

I believe that upbringing and family play a big role in nurturing talent at such a young age. I'm very grateful that I had parents that encouraged me to pursue my passion. Being born and raised in a multicultural city like Dubai also gave me this exposure to different music genres, which really influenced my style as a musician.

(From L-R) Musicians Abri, Noel Kharman, Nagham Debal, Lea Makhoul, and Sandra Sahi strike a pose at The Pointe, Dubai.
(From L-R) Musicians Abri, Noel Kharman, Nagham Debal, Lea Makhoul, and Sandra Sahi strike a pose at The Pointe, Dubai.

What is your favourite part about being a Qanun player, or a musician in general?

Music is a universal language that emulates love, peace and hope to whoever listens to it regardless of their background or origin. As a Qanun player, I am proud to be one of few Arabic Qanounists and it gives me pride to be able to preserve this traditional instrument and use it as a source to express its rich Arabian heritage to the world.

You're part of an initiative that aims to tap into the music scene in the region. What is your take on the music scene in the region?

There is a lot of untapped talent in the region and not enough platforms to support emerging musicians. The music scene is evolving in the region and more artists are spreading their craft across social media channels.

RELM (Recognizing Emerging Local Musicians) came at an opportune time as it provided emerging musicians like myself and four others the platform to be spotlighted, supported and championed. Having all our new hits get their own fountain choreography with The Palm Fountain, the world’s largest fountain is extremely surreal and I can’t wait to debut these shows to the world.

You've been on stage often but take us through your first-ever live performance. What was your thought process back then? How is it now?

It was very scary and I was super nervous but luckily this feeling goes away with practice. The more I performed, the more confidence I gained. After many years of performing, I can now say that the stage has been a very comfortable space for me, and I almost feel like I’m in my natural element when I’m on there.

What's your favourite part about performing live?

The joy and intrigue that I see in people’s eyes is my favourite part about performing. I feel deeply connected to the audience because I’m expressing myself and telling my story using a beautiful instrument like the Qanun.

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