x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Charity music video helmed by Syrian horror filmmaker nears launch

Malek Akkad shares his vision of how to appeal to the region's hearts and minds with the Tomorrow-Bokra Project, benefitting the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.

Fayez Al Saeed recording the song 'Tomorrow' for the Bokra Project.
Fayez Al Saeed recording the song 'Tomorrow' for the Bokra Project.

When you are looking for someone to direct a pan-Arab video for an awareness-raising single, a producer of horror films is not the obvious first choice.

But then again the music mogul Quincy Jones has made a career of sourcing talent from unexpected places. Such was the case when he first met the Syrian-American filmmaker Malek Akkad in Los Angeles last year.

At the time Akkad was busy producing the successful Halloween franchise, including last year's The Violent Kind and Halloween III, due out next year, as well as directing commercials for the likes of Nike, McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

However when Jones offered him the chance to direct Tomorrow-Bokra, a single featuring the cream of the Arabic music world, Akkad immediately accepted.

"Quincy Jones is such an inspiring person," he says. "If he asks me to climb Mt Everest, well at least I will try."

Since it was announced in May, the Tomorrow-Bokra project has become the most eagerly awaited Arabic music release of the year. The song and video aim to inspire people to donate to the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, where it would then go towards educational programmes in music, arts and culture through various global humanitarian organisations, including the United Nations World Food Programme, as well as the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.

Tomorrow-Bokra, the song, will then be released later in the year as part of a compilation, also titled Bokra, featuring the work of other leading Arab artists.

The music video will have its world premiere on MBC and selected partners on Friday, November 11 at 11.11pm. Akkad, Jones and the Moroccan producer RedOne, who partnered Jones on the project, are due in Dubai this week for several events to promote Tomorrow-Bokra, including a press conference tomorrow and a launch party on Friday night at the One and Only The Palm.

The project was initiated after Jones and the Emirati social entrepreneur Badr Jafar joined forces to benefit children in the Middle East and north Africa through scholarships and programmes focusing on the arts. To draw attention to the venture, the duo decided to record an Arabic version of Jones's 1990 hit Tomorrow (A Better You and Me) during the 10th anniversary of the Mawazine Festival Rhythms of the World music festival in Morocco.

The high-profile project - not to mention Jones's pulling power - immediately attracted Arabic pop stars such as Lebanon's Marwan Khoury, Egypt's Sherine Abdel Wahab and Tamer Hosny. The Emirati singer Fayez Al Saeed is also featured and the R&B star Akon was also drafted in as the only western performer to appear in the project.

Akkad says he was tapped by Jones and Badr because of his film connections within the region.

"I am familiar with the Middle East, I have a lot of resources there and connections I can use," he says. That, coupled with his experience as a Hollywood insider, made it "a good cross-cultural connection".

Once he was on board, Akkad says he immediately suggested veering away from shooting the sort of stock-standard "charity" music videos seen in the West. And so instead of headphone-wearing singers packed in a studio singing around one microphone, Akkad elected for a cinematic feel with panoramic shots of exteriors taken in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Akkad, who has directed videos for artists including Seal, Lauryn Hill and INXS, says a project such as Bokra carries its own challenges.

His crew travelled extensively to film artists who couldn't make it to Morocco, such as the Lebanese pop singer Ahmed Chawky and Akon, who recorded their parts in Paris and New York respectively.

"It's not like a normal music video where you are very scheduled and very budgeted," he says. "You have to really act on your feet and be flexible."

Back in May, in Rabat, there was only a rough version of the song available and none of the artists had recorded their parts. But the real stars of the video, he says, are the global array of children who mix with the stars.

"The song is about the hope for the future and it's for the children. The magic really comes when you put them with the kids because when that happens it really strips them away of any pretence that they might have and it's just a really natural effect."

Akkad hopes Tomorrow-Bokra will trigger similar musical projects across the Middle East; a region where the charity single medium is not as common as in the western music world.

"This is just the first step," he says.

Tomorrow-Bokra will premiere regionally on MBC, online with YouTube and globally on CNN on Friday at 11.11pm