The Cairo-trained violinist who wants the Saudis to pursue their musical ambitions
DUBAI: Elyas Yaseen is different from other men his age in Yanbu, a small port town on the Saudi Red Sea coast. He is a gifted musician, known for his mastery of the violin, oud and qanun. The young Saudi talent also has an aspiration: to create, with the help of the government, a music school in his coastal hometown so that he can teach others to play and enable more young Saudis like him to realize their potential. .
With no specialist academies and music in the Kingdom’s national curriculum, most Saudi musicians are self-taught, relying on platforms like YouTube to learn the basics. Others turn to friends or family for private lessons, which limits their development potential. But with the implementation of the country’s social reform programs, that is starting to change.
Yaseen, the youngest of six, has been interested in music since the age of eight when he fell in love with stringed instruments. “I was raised among musicians,” Yaseen told Arab News. “My older brother, who played qanun, and my father, who was one of the pioneers of music here and played Yanbu’s local instrument – the simsimiyya – are musicians and both gave me passion. to play. This is how I started.
Born and raised in Yanbu, Yaseen attended his local college before realizing that his true calling lay in music. After learning to play the simsimiyya, a traditional lyre instrument, he discovered his passion for the violin.
After 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 a unmissable opportunity to study abroad presented itself.
“I went to Egypt and met a very famous violinist called Abdo Dagher and took many lessons with him at the Cairo Opera House to improve my violin skills,” he said. “I knew 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 play music in Saudi Arabia were limited until fairly recently. Today, the Ministry of Culture has started issuing licenses for the Kingdom’s first musical training institutes. Once it starts accepting applications online in the coming months, a vibrant national music industry is sure to follow.
The liberalization of music culture is part of a larger effort to promote the entertainment and leisure sectors in Saudi Arabia, aimed at creating jobs and weaning the country from its economic dependence on oil, while also sharing its talents. local with the world.
Now, Yaseen is seeking support from the Saudi government to establish his own music academy in Yanbu, offering lessons in the full range of instruments to students of all ages.
“We don’t have it yet, but I really hope we get there,” he said. “For now, I give private lessons to my friends, young people and children who are interested in learning the violin and the oud.
As a Saudi whose training in Egypt has enabled him to achieve levels of musicality that most people can only aspire to, Yaseen hopes the Ministry of Culture will heed his call.
“We have to go through a lot of processes. There is a lot of bureaucracy. But there are many requests from young Saudis who want to play instruments, and I receive many requests daily from men and women, ”he said.
“It’s also a passion for them and they want me to teach them, but I don’t have a place big enough to teach everyone. I just want to help other people on their musical journey because it’s nice for me.
One of Yaseen’s earliest musical inspirations came from Egyptian singer and actress Umm Kulthum, one of the best-selling Middle Eastern artists of all time, whose songs he fiddled with. “They’re not easy for a kid like me to play,” Yaseen said.
However, it was Yanbu’s distinctive culture that really captured his imagination.
“We have traditional music here, which includes special songs for the locals, describing their lives, from the older generation to the younger generation. And from there I created a new genre on my own, ”he said.
Even though his musical skills developed under Dagher’s mentorship, Yaseen never lost sight of these early influences. Progressing in leaps and bounds, he quickly graduated from the Faculty of Music Education at Helwan University in Cairo with an outstanding grade.
He still feels a deep debt of gratitude to his teacher. “I am very grateful to him,” Yaseen said. “He’s the main reason I’m where I am today. We are still in touch. We speak regularly and we still have a strong friendship.
Back in his hometown three years ago, Yaseen quickly made a name for himself. Agencies contacted him with requests to appear in Jeddah and Riyadh. In a short time, he gained some notoriety thanks to clips of his performances shared on social networks.
In 2019, Yaseen received an award from famous Saudi singer and songwriter Abadi Al-Johar for outstanding solo performance in Dammam. A year later, he received an award from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh for his performance of the Saudi national anthem.
“Music is like therapy for me,” Yaseen said. “My favorite moments were spent playing music. It relaxes me. Music is my soul mate and I feel great when I play the violin or any other instrument. I spend most of my day playing it.
So when the coronavirus pandemic forced concert halls in the region to close last year, Yaseen was grateful for the free time to train at home.
“The containment has been great for me because I haven’t felt it,” he said. “Music gives me a feeling of freedom that no confinement can ever take away from me. “
Yaseen still hopes to perform internationally one day. “I want to be the first Saudi to represent Saudi Arabia as a violinist in the world,” he said. “I fell in love with the instrument, that’s why I dedicated my life to it.”
He hopes other young Saudis will pursue their musical ambitions no matter how big the challenges.
“I encourage them to learn music and continue because there is no music academy yet. We need to help each other as much as possible, ”Yaseen told Arab News.
“To all the young Saudis who want to pursue their passion for music or playing an instrument, I would tell them not to give up because I have already seen a lot of my friends give up. Keep chasing your goals and your passion, and always expect good things. It is important not to put yourself down when you are on this journey and to believe that 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 arts and culture. The importance of the ongoing social and cultural changes became particularly evident to him during the pandemic.
“Everything is changing in the new Saudi Arabia. It’s not like we’ve known it before. It’s changing for the better and I’m happy to see all of these changes, ”he said.
“I just hope the government responds to my call to support a great, dedicated music education center and the teachers people need to learn.
“I have so many ideas ready to be implemented. I want to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. “