Tala Badri has created a name for herself by applying her entrepreneurial spirit to advance music education in the UAE. As the founder of the Centre for Musical Arts in Dubai, Badri aspires to improve and develop music education whereby the centre's main focus is developing the musical literacy and aspirations of young children.
In this interview, Khaleejesque talks with her about how she paved the way to create the region’s Centre for Musical Arts in Dubai.
Tell us about your background and an achievement that you’re most proud of.
I am an Emirati, born and raised in Dubai. I grew up learning music from the age of 4 and at 17, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the Government of Dubai to study music in the UK. I am currently the only female Emirati Music Graduate.
After a second degree in Management and Languages, I returned back to Dubai and worked for 10 years in the corporate sector as I couldn’t find a job teaching music! I did however remain very much within the arts realm by teaching in my weekends, volunteering to support events, taking part in local amateur dramatics which all eventually lead to me being an integral part of the creation of Dubai’s first community arts centre; DUCTAC – Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre.
In 2005, I founded Centre for Musical Arts and a year later opened the first branch with 5 studios and 5 staff members within DUCTAC at the Mall of the Emirates. Today, we are a team of 28, with 2 fully fledged branches totaling 18 studios and a schools service network I am incredibly proud of. In the last 5 years, we have taught over 4000 students and brought music to countless more in the community of Dubai and beyond.
I want to give back to my country in the best way I know how, and this is through music. My proudest achievement to date is being finally recognized for my contribution to the arts in Dubai in this year’s Patron of the Arts Awards as a Friend of the Arts.
What is your vision for the Centre of Musical Arts? What is at the foundation of the organization and what are your aspirations for it?
My immediate plans this year are very centered on growth through offering new activities and expanding our reach within the community rather than growth in actual size. We had a year of consolidation last year and this has really helped put us in a great position to start some new and exciting projects such as Kindermusik, Music for Little Mozarts and introducing a new Percussion Department. We have also embarked on outreach programmes this year, offering our services, expertise and doing some fundraising for less privileged children in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Cambodia.
My vision longer term is focused on physical expansion, whether within our current location at the Gold and Diamond Park, or my ideal dream of a stand-alone centre. All is financially driven and dependent on a combination of fundraising activities and more innovative ideas to generate additional income within the limits of our current resources as we are a not-for-profit organization.
CMA’s tag line is ‘Bringing Music to Everyone’, and this is the foundation that the organization is built on; whether it is music education or a musical event, CMA will have something for you no matter who you are, how old you are and where you are from. We view music as being a holistic experience.
I am ambitious; in 5 years, I would like to be the owner and executive director of the first purpose built music educational and performance facility in the UAE. I look back and see how far I have come in the last 5 years, and how far CMA has progressed in that time, and I know the potential for the next 5 years is enormous given the right economic climate, plenty of hard work, self belief and a little bit of luck! I hope that perhaps the government or a music loving philanthropist will one day support such a venture!
How has music education grown in Dubai over the last 10 years? Are we seeing a shift in the community mind towards music and in your opinion what needs to be done to make more people involved and become part of the CMA initiative?
There has been a huge growth in music education in Dubai over the last 10 years. However, it has only been within the private schools system. Unfortunately there is no music curriculum in existence within the government/state school system. Private schools are expanding their music offerings within their premises not just through the curriculum itself, but with extra-curricular activities. We support several schools in the Dubai community with both peripatetic teaching and music activities and just from the numbers we are teaching now, this has tripled since we began the programs in 2007.
With private teaching, at CMA we’ve seen our numbers double in a year, not just with all our students but especially with Emirati students, although they currently only form 8% of our student base. This is a start and I hope it is a trend that will continue upwards.
There are so many ways to be involved and exposed to CMA and this is not just as a student or learning an instrument! We get involved in many community initiatives and often give public concerts, the majority of which are free, so even just attending any of those just opens minds up to so many opportunities and possibilities with music! Supporting our outreach projects or events with raising funds and donating time, in kind services or money is also another way to get involved with our musical initiatives.
What are your thoughts on the Middle East’s music industry?
From a more popular music perspective, the music industry in the Middle East has flourished enormously, especially in the last 5 years. There are many popular Arab icons releasing albums and singles, some of which have crossed boundaries collaborating with western artists. This is even occurring a lot with the jazz genre as well. "Arab Idol" or "Arabs Got Talent" have also made popular music more accessible to the masses. Western pop music is also very fashionable with top stars including the Middle East within their tour schedules.
There is not so much exposure for traditional forms of Arabic music in most of the Middle East and I find that quite sad. Although we don’t teach any traditional Arabic instruments at CMA, our students are exposed to Arabic music forms and compositions as I think it is really important to have an awareness of the country where you are residing in as well its traditions.
With western classical music, there is very little in the Gulf countries. Much is imported from abroad in terms of performances and with the exception of Oman, there are no programmes to encourage home-grown talent and music education at grass-roots level. Other Middle Eastern countries have a history of western classical music in their communities and places such as Syria, Egypt and even Iraq have well established music academies and orchestras.
As a musician, are you strictly involved in classical music or do you also participate in “mainstream” and “independent” music? Have you ever licensed your music?
Personally I have incredibly varied musical tastes! Although I am a classically trained musician, I really enjoy playing jazz and contemporary music. I am a true child of the 70’s and absolutely love listening to disco, soul and R&B and when I’m in a more laid back mood, I like listening to more acoustic based music, anything really from Train, Plain White Ts, Bruno Mars and Crowded House to Adele, Katie Melua and Jack Johnson.
To learn more about the Centre for Musical Arts in Dubai, visit www.cmadubai.com
– Plus Aziz