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Qatari Artist and VCUarts Qatar Alumnus Evokes the Past Through Vinyl

June 7, 2023
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MFA in Design graduate Abdulrahman Al Muftah has produced and released the third in a series of records dedicated to something very close to his heart – preserving the musical heritage of Qatar and the region

Vinyl records are not something you would immediately associate with someone who straddles the Generation Z and Millennials categories.

Hence, it comes as a surprise that Abdulrahman Al Muftah has already produced and released the third in a series of vinyls dedicated to something very close to his heart – preserving the musical heritage of Qatar and the region.

The record, named “Gnawa”, was produced by Al Muftah’s vinyl record start-up Al Wakrah Vinyl Records and casts the spotlight on the indigenous sounds of Moroccan music.

A highlight of the album’s release at Embrace Doha, a cultural house situated in Souq Al Wakrah, was a live performance by the Moroccan band Nass El Hal whose music features in the album “Gnawa”.

Al Muftah, who holds an MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar, and a BFA in Interior Design from Parsons School of Design in New York, started Al Wakrah Vinyl Records just after his post-graduate studies.

“You could say my generation is born into a ‘digitized’ world,” says Al Muftah. “For the same reason, when I first came across vinyl records during my high school days, it was a challenge accepting that each disc held a limited number of tracks. Plus, I couldn’t flick through the songs to the one I wanted. At first, these features annoyed the impatient teenager that I was.”

So, what changed his impression?

“After high school, I chose to study design,” he says. “Somehow vinyl records, and the behavior those records required of you to be able to appreciate them, ran in parallel to the approach required of me to be able to design and create. Both require me to be reflective and patient, observe, and keep an open mind.

“I realized that much like appreciating the style and creative process of a renowned designer or artist, you couldn’t appreciate the tracks in a vinyl record without understanding the singer or performer’s perspective. It was a mental shift.”

During his time abroad, Al Muftah began collecting records that reflect soundtracks or music from various cultures, all of which are either on display or for sale in his store: Moroccan drums, Georgian theatre, Russian folklore, contemporary Thai, Bollywood Hindi, Vietnamese, Heavy Rock, German and much more.

That he loves music is evident. But as one keeps talking to him something else surfaces.

“Distance does make you look at things differently,” he muses. “I have always loved music; I still remember the joy I had listening to music on my grandfather’s gramophone. But it was when I was abroad and started collecting records in various languages that the musical heritage of this region took on a whole new meaning. The urge to understand it more and share it with fellow music lovers grew,” he says.

One of the first things Al Muftah did on his return to Qatar was to research the country’s musical tradition. And that’s when, in his own words, he stumbled on something that he refers to as “a piece of history”.

“In the 1970s, the Ministry of Information published a vinyl record titled ‘Our Folklore’,” says Al Muftah. “It contains music from renowned Qatari singers and performers of the day. I first came upon an edition owned by another avid collector in Doha. The moment I saw it, I knew it was a piece of history, something valuable for the memories it evokes.

“I shared an image of the record cover with other vinyl dealers and collectors in the hope that they would be able to get me one. As luck would have it, two weeks later, I got a record from the first edition.”

Keen to share his collection with fellow music lovers, he set up a pop-up store in the Fereej Al Najda neighborhood near Souq Waqif, during the football World Cup. Currently, he has an outlet at the Pearl.

Occupying pride of place among his vinyl collection is the first album he produced himself. Titled “Smicha”, the record contains the soundtrack composed by Qatari composer Hamda Al Emadi for a documentary of the same name, created by Al Muftah’s sister in memory of their grandfather.

Soon after, he produced and released a second album titled “Sounds of Al Wakrah”. Naming that second record, and his venture, “Al Wakrah” was a personal choice.

“It’s a gesture of love and appreciation for the town I grew up in, and have cherished memories of – Al Wakrah,” he says. “That neighborhood, and the memories of listening to Arabic music on my grandfather’s gramophone, hold a special place in my heart.”