Does the name Alaa Wardi ring a bell? If not, this should be fixed quickly. Alaa, 25, is an Iranian who has always lived in Riyadh. He only left the city for his three years of university studies in Jordan, majoring in sound engineering and music.
Alaa is a moving instrument. He produces all of his music with just his voice and his body. Generally, no instruments are used. Only sometimes does he play his guitar while performing, like he did during the last FIKR10 conference in Dubai. He is a creative a cappella artist, one of the first in the Arab world.
But who is he?
It all began when Alaa was looking for a way to share his music with others, without the use of professional material. There aren’t many public spaces in the Kingdom where artists can perform. Hence, it is complicated for young artists to spread their work to the public. But 2011 saw the great growth of YouTube in Saudi Arabia, with the creation of tens of popular shows in the country. These innovative and varied programs include comedies (3al6ayer, La Yekthar, Eysh Elly), animations (Masameer), shows about social and economic issues (Mal3ob 3alena), and short movies (Monopoly). Since the audience already was there, waiting for creative innovations, there was space for more creativity.
When it all started
Because of the great success of YouTube in the country, it was an obvious platform for Alaa to share his music on. He started this journey last year – just to have fun but certainly not with the prospect of making a business out of it. The majority of Arab singers on YouTube make commercial music rather than something original. A cappella videos were popular in Europe and the US, but there was no equivalent in the Arab world, so there was an opportunity for Alaa to do something new, even though he is also a musician, and plays the guitar.
He decided to record his own music, using his voice and various sounds produced using his body. He perfectly imitates the sounds of the guitar, bass line, percussion, trumpet and many other instruments. Even scratching his beard comes in handy in his music. The result is beautifully made songs, sometimes even better than the original versions that he covers.
Alaa Wardi’s first a cappella song.
The most popular video, with 1,7 million viewers
The YouTube prodigy
Alaa’s latest song, posted two weeks ago
The beginning of a success story
Alaa did not expect this kind of success, with his videos gathering more than 5,7 million views in just one year. “Even in my craziest dreams, I wasn’t expecting something like this. You can’t imagine how ecstatic I was, and still am, about the support that I get.”
A lot has changed in Alaa’s life since he became a YouTube sensation. “Only my family and friends knew what I was doing,” he explains. “Now, people know my name without me knowing anything about them. Who would have thought that my songs would be heard by millions? It’s unbelievable! It gives me a motivation to continue”.
Nevertheless, much of his life has stayed the same. The room from which he was speaking to us via Skype is the same one in which he filmed his first video with boxes filling up all the space on the walls; there is the same keyboard and, of course, his microphone, central to all his work. A year ago, Alaa was still searching for a job. Not anymore. “I found my path. I can continue with what I love doing and I could eventually get money from it”. He has yet to start earning a living from his art, instead focusing on making a name for himself first.
Alaa’s writing process
It takes Alaa one month to produce one music video. He chooses a song and works on his interpretation of the melody and the sounds needed to replace the instruments used in it. His only criteria for the songs: “I always choose something I love, to which I can relate to”. Alaa believes that the audience will like his work only if he is able to give his very best.
After working on the changes, he records, edits and mixes the song. Then comes filming the video and editing it. Usually Alaa does the whole thing by himself.
He believes that if he is successful, in the long term this will encourage other artists in his position to pursue this path. “There should be more musical content from Arabs on YouTube. The talent is here, there are people way more talented than I am. So we should show that.”
Becoming a full-time YouTube performer
Alaa’s dream is to become a full-time “YouTuber” and to be able to live from it. “People are now using YouTube and other comparable platforms more than television, so there’s no reason for it not to grow even bigger than it already is now”.
2011 was a great year for YouTube shows in the Arab world, and in particular in Saudi Arabia. According to Alaa, there is more to come. We can’t wait!