How the Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi struck oil
One of the most eagerly awaited titles to be premiered at this year's Doha Tribeca Film Festival next month is Black Gold, the adaptation of Hans Ruesch's 1957 novel The Great Thirst. Not only has the epic adventure been billed as the biggest film about the region since Lawrence of Arabia almost 50 years ago, but it has been created with strong regional ties, being partly funded by the Doha Film Institute (DFI) with filming taking place in Tunisia and Qatar.
But aside from helping to plant a sizeable flag in Qatar's emerging film industry, Black Gold is giving the country another reason to celebrate. For when its opening credits roll on the first night of the festival, the first music the audience will hear - the title track - will feature the vocals of a Qatari musician.
Fahad Al Kubaisi, an established singer with several albums under his belt who has been performing across the region for over a decade, was originally introduced to Black Gold by the DFI. The idea was to include his traditional Arabian vocals in the soundtrack and he was flown to London's Abbey Road Studios to record with James Horner, a film composer who needs little introduction, having provided the music for two of the world's highest-grossing films - Titanic and Avatar - plus numerous others. It was here that things took an upwards swing for the 30-year-old Al Kubaisi.
"James said he liked my voice and told me that, rather than just being in the soundtrack, it should go on the opening track," says the Doha-based singer. "I think he liked the fact the song was oriental and in Arabic, and completely different from the other music in the film."
And so Al Kubaisi recorded with Horner what became Black Gold's opening track, a song he says is supposed to reflect the mood of the soldiers in the film as they prepare for war. Another of the film's tracks, a traditional Bedouin song, was recorded by Al Kubaisi with the Qatari composer Abdulla Al Mannai.
"To record with James was a great privilege," says Al Kubaisi. "But the biggest honour for me is the fact that I will be able to introduce the world to the sounds, voices and rhythms from this region. Also it's a matter of great pride for people in Qatar to come together and celebrate a film which will bring our story, art and culture to the world."
Sadly for Al Kubaisi, providing the vocals for the opening song didn't give him enough privileges to get a preview of Black Gold before the premiere. "I've only seen small parts of the film, but what I have seen has looked fantastic."
Set in the 1930s, Black Gold is set to tell the fictional story of two Arabian leaders at the tumultuous time when oil was first discovered in the region, a find that leads to conflicts between traditional and modern values and, ultimately, to war. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates, Seven Years in Tibet), the film sees Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto and Tahar Rahim head up a stellar ensemble, many of whom are expected to make their way to Doha for the red-carpet screening at the Katara Cultural Village.