This Is Our Time singer Mayssa Karaa lifts lid on Expo 2020 Dubai anthem

Acclaimed Lebanese-American musician shares her excitement for the event


David Light

Published: Wed 22 Sep 2021, 6:26 PM

With just about a week to go until the world’s gaze descends upon the greatest show Dubai and most likely the globe has ever seen, every corner of the UAE is brimming with anticipation. Finally the curtain will be lifted on the culmination of at least eight years’ supreme effort producing an awe-inspiring spectacle, the ramifications of which will be felt for generations. We can only therefore assume there was absolutely no pressure in coming up with a fitting anthem! Whether stressful or not, thankfully, as with every element the Expo 2020 Dubai crew appears to put its mind to, the song This Is Our Time (released on Tuesday), has already been a resounding success. Perfectly encapsulating the event’s spirit, the uplifting, inclusive and inspiring tune, combined with powerful lyrics in both English and Arabic create a memorable melodic statement.

“We’ve been working on it for quite a long time, so it’s nice to see people’s reaction,” said one of the theme’s stars Mayssa Karaa when we spoke yesterday. “You always need to witness the genuine reaction of the audience.”

The Lebanese-American Berklee College of Music graduate knows a thing or two about feedback. Karaa’s first step into the music industry came after she had just moved to Los Angeles from her university town of Boston where the artist put together an Arabic version of the Jefferson Airplane classic, White Rabbit, which went on to feature on the Grammy-nominated American Hustle (2013) soundtrack.

“It raised a lot of eyebrows in the US,” Karaa said about dropping a track in her native tongue. “But it opened a lot of doors for me in terms of collaboration.”

One giant opportunity it conjured involved teaming up with none other than legendary Indian composer A.R. Rahman. The relationship forged in America led to Karaa working on a couple of his movie scores, most notably that of Tamil gangster flick Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (2018) where the track Hayati went to number one in the Apple Music charts in India.

Just over a year ago Karaa accepted a position with her alma mater’s burgeoning campus in the UAE capital.

“Berklee has always been part of and a home for me, so I always wanted their presence to be felt in this region. We opened in Abu Dhabi and I’m currently the Artistic Director,” she explained.

Upon learning of her relocation, Rahman came forward with yet another prospect: to join Expo’s journey.

“He said he was creating one of the first female orchestras in the region under Expo 2020 and would I like to help him lead it. So, I’m currently the Artistic Director for the Firdaus Orchestra as well. That was the beginning of my association with Expo: the selection of the ladies and starting with the music.”

Fast-forward to spring this year and Karaa began to make her presence felt in the creation of This Is Our Time.

“The writing started over a year ago and I became involved in March or April. We shot the video in July. It was awesome but it was really hot!”

Through its visual montages featuring Dubai’s incredibly diverse population and three distinct artists, namely Karaa, Hussain Al Jassmi and Almas, the work aims to succinctly portray an Expo 2020 guiding principle, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’

“Bridging cultures is really what I’m all about along with highlighting the local culture of the region. I feel the song really does that,” Karaa said. “There was strategic thinking behind the choosing of the artists to be in line with the message. They wanted a male artist as a representation of one aspect of the UAE and then a young female UAE artist to represent the youth. Then they wanted an Arab female to represent the bridge between cultures. I am from Lebanon but also I’ve been living in the US for 14 years. My life is about introducing Arabic music to Western countries.”

A frequent performer in the Emirates, appearing at the occasions such as the Dubai Film Festival even when based in The States, Karaa recognises Expo’s magnitude having witnessed its evolution firsthand.

“It embodies the magic that happens when you bring different people together from all walks of life,” she said. “When you put your heart and soul into everything you’re doing, the song and Expo feels aligned with everything I’ve been dreaming of since I was a young girl. Whether I’m centre stage or not, even behind the work with the orchestra, I’m hoping people will react well.

“I think the world is ready for this. It’s about time we cross that bridge and highlight the rich culture and beauty that we have. I feel like people are more open to it and this is the time to introduce people to us.”

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