Bokra the Film by Ahmed Abdulqader follows up on Quincy Jones’s Arab charity project
In 1985, Quincy Jones produced and conducted We Are the World, a rousing charity single written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, to raise funds for African famine relief.
Inspired by the United Kingdom’s Band Aid effort, Do They Know It’s Christmas a few months earlier, the USA for Africa supergroup brought together dozens of superstars, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
A quarter of a century later and Jones decided to revisit the charity single concept – this time in the Arab world. A joint effort with the Emirati social entrepreneur Badr Jafar, Tomorrow/Bokra was unveiled on 11/11/11, a contemporary take on a Jones production reimagined to feature the voices of 24 of the Arab world’s biggest singing stars, drawn from 18 nations, including Majida El Roumi, Marwan Khoury and Tamer Hosny.
US rapper Akon also got on board, while Shakira, who is of Lebanese descent, recorded a special introduction for the music video.
The production went on to become one of the fastest-downloaded Arabic songs in history, clocking more than 11 million plays on YouTube alone.
Fast forward to this year and the project’s next stage was launched: Bokra the Film.
Making its world premiere at Diff last week, the documentary was screened as a special closing-night gala presentation.
While Jones couldn’t make it to the premiere, the music legend sent a touching introductory video, referencing the song’s original English lyrics by promising “a better me, a better you, a better tomorrow.”
The film tells the story of the song, starting with We Are the World and Jafar’s fortuitous meeting with Jones in his youth, and the pair’s joint venture in founding the philanthropic Global Gumbo Group.
It charts the summer 2011 recording sessions in Rabat and Qatar, showcasing the roster of stars who turned out, which also included Saber Rebaï, Latifa and Fayez Al Saeed and Sherine Abdel Wahab.
Bokra the Film then moves forward from the song’s launch to look at the good it has done. Jafar estimates the single has indirectly raised more than US$1 million (Dh3.67 m) in donations – money that has gone to a variety of charity initiatives including the World Food Programme, Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and Save the Children’s innovative HEART initiative. The programme has supported 33 schools, 90 teachers and 4,000 children in Jordan and Palestine.
The film is by first-time Emirati director Ahmed Abdulqader, who took cameras inside impoverished schools to highlight the brave and worthy work the project is helping to fund.
Seeing the positive effect the programme was having on children who had very little else in their lives, Abdulqader was quickly moved and inspired.
Working entirely for free, completing the project became a labour of love – originally signed up for a four-month project, the 33-year-old ended up devoting 18 months to it.
“Because it was a charity project that wasn’t going to pay, it had to be something I loved,” says the director, whose background is in TV commercials and music videos.
Abdulqader landed the job thanks to school friend Ali F Mostafa, the renowned Emirati director of City of Life and From A to B, who co-produced the project alongside Jafar.
Now the team is taking the film to festivals across the world, and hoping to secure distribution. But in many ways, Bokra the Film’s real mission is simply to keep the project on people’s minds.
“As a director, it’s what it is,” says Abdulqader, “but it’s not about me, or Quincy Jones, or any of us. It’s about the children and this charity, which should continue to go on. The problem is only getting worse.”
The next stage, he says, will be a crowdfunding drive, due to launch next year, with more famous faces tipped to be involved.
“This film is about showcasing the power of the arts,” said Jafar, 35. “There are millions of children and young people out there who we believe could benefit from programmes of this nature. We hope this film shows what can happen, and inspire people to get involved in this or similar projects.
“We have a powerful story to tell, and this film is a powerful example of what can be done – with crowdfunding, the sky is the limit.”
• Find out more on www.tomorrowbokra.org