For Emirati singer Alira, music is a universal language

The talented countertenor reveals the challenges and rewards of singing in different languages and not limiting himself to one genre

by Enid Grace Parker

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Wed 18 Jan 2023, 3:54 PM

Last updated: Wed 18 Jan 2023, 5:11 PM

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” British author and philosopher Aldous Huxley once said.

While music can prove cathartic for a listener, wielding the power to evoke emotions that otherwise stay hidden, those expressing themselves through songs are also moved, often in unique ways.

Emirati artist Alira, a countertenor with a six octave vocal range, told City Times that “it was difficult to explain in words” how he first developed a love for music, but the feeling has its roots in cartoons…

“When I heard music, it just moved me and I could connect with it on a different level. It’s like how some people could listen to a song and instantly connect with it. It started when I was listening to songs from Arabic cartoons I used to watch as a kid. Today it brings a nostalgic feeling to people when I sing those kind of songs.

"Also, we had channels like MTV playing in the household; I would really listen to a song - not just to the beat and jam - but actually feel the music. And it moved me in a way that I felt like it was something I wanted to do when I grew up - express myself in that kind of tone. The way it made me feel, I wanted to do the same when I created my own songs, which I thankfully managed to do - write my own songs and share them with the world.”

Music has always had a “good, positive impact” on Alira, who initially honed his vocal abilities through YouTube tutorials. When most kids his age were busy going out with friends, he would sit in the house and warm up his voice. “For the longest time, I taught myself,” he said. Eventually he sought formal training from a teacher who helped him with his breathing. His fanbase in the UAE continues to grow, thanks not only to his engaging vocals but also the ability to sing in various languages.

‘I don’t want to be put in one box’

Growing up, there was a host of musical influences that Alira drew inspiration from.

“I really love Celine Dion; she was one of my idols. She’s one of the reasons I’m singing today. I even learned French because of her. I grew up listening to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston… and then I also jumped into some Bollywood… I listen to Lata Mangeshkar, Shreya Ghoshal…”

A fan of Andrea Bocelli, Alira revealed that he sings in opera as well. He also admires Pink, Italian singer Laura Pausini (“I like her voice very much”) and Arabic singer Assala Nasri “is one of the artists I really admire from the Arabic world.”

He mused, “I guess all these genres are diverse but I feel like I want to take part in everything; I don’t want to be put in one box.”

That goes for his nature too, said Alira. “People say ‘he’s just good for that’; I think we can do anything if we have the strength. We can make it happen. And so my taste in music has diversified from English and Arabic to opera, a little bit of rock - not metal, I can’t do metal - just light rock I would say!"

Creating original music

Alira released his debut single Take Flight, a club track that blends 90s pop and RnB, in October 2021 and followed that up with We Are One, which he performed at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Reminiscing about how he mingled with different nationalities right from his school days, he said, “I wrote We Are One specifically for that event. I’m all about unity; I love connecting with people. It’s such a heartfelt song where we come together, support each other, launch ourselves to the world.”

He expressed hopes of releasing more original content in the near future but said he was also focusing on delivering unique renditions of classic songs and much-loved hits. Alira’s takes on popular Filipino tracks have gone viral and are a huge hit with the community.

“I’ve been singing some songs in Tagalog and people are going crazy about it. It’s always a challenge when you do something new, but because I love singing and I’m also drawn to the Filipino people, their energy, and they are some of the warmest and kindest people, I’ll do whatever it takes just to see them happy.”

He also gave a shout out to the Indian community in the UAE. “I feel because I grew up with them, I want to give back something even if it is in the form of a song. But to me it’s a form of love, a gift. And usually people connect with you on a different level when you attempt to sing or speak in their language. I’m a people’s person and I want to do something to connect people. We are all one at the end of the day.”

He usually does straightforward covers but sometimes improvises. “If the track is on a steady note, I will probably make it a little higher or do a little riff or run there. I’ve sung some songs in Hindi, like Lag Ja Gale, Tujh Main Rab Dikhta Hai… because it’s a new thing for me, I would try not to mess it up because people already have an idea of it. If I have enough time to prepare before performing I’ll definitely look into giving it my own twist!”

The thrills of performing live

Alira’s most recent live performance was with Filipino singer-songwriter KZ Tandingan. He’s opened for international acts like Boyce Avenue and MLTR in the past. Being on stage seems to come naturally to the talented singer and he took us through the emotions that precede a performance.

“It’s such a thrilling experience. I get this rush, and butterflies in my stomach (it’s like when you go on a date and are like ‘hmm what are they going to think of me’). When it’s the day of the performance, I try to stay calm. I try not to overthink. My legs will shake a bit or my hands will be shaking just for an instant, but as soon as I stand on stage and perform for the people, I think it just goes away.

“I’ve done performances as a kid, one at the Police Stadium here in Dubai; I performed in the Dubai Mall Fountain area twice, and I used to do acting, I was part of a drama production school. So I definitely had my fair share of being on stage. But I always say there is room to improve yourself, (whether) it’s the way you interact with people, on stage or off the stage, or even in musical terms. My voice is still growing. I try my best to keep on learning more and adding more value to the content I present to people.”

As a local artist who has released original music as well as performed live on many occasions, what are his thoughts on the music scene in the UAE?

“I would say the music scene here is still young. We have a lot of imported talents - we bring celebrities and artists from all around the world to perform here. However, we do have inherent talents within our country. The Emiratis have so much talent in them. I hope to be part of the pioneers who set the stage for other Emiratis to learn and grow from, and not be afraid to share their talents. I think we should not hold back if we have something, whether it be in terms of singing or arts or anything for that matter. We are capable of doing it and I think our leaders helped shape that nothing’s impossible for us. So we embed that in our heads and we walk a straight path. Just go for it!”

What message does he hope to convey through his music?

“My motto ‘born to exist’ basically talks about how we are here for a purpose. We have to make the most of it. And once you do find your way in this life it will be nice to help someone else and to just connect with one another.

"I really value peace - peace of mind, peace at heart and I hope to see more of that around the world. If can do anything, whether it’s through music or a foundation which I hope to create in the future, I’m definitely going to push for it, and spread kindness all around the world.”

Enid Grace Parker

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