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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

For a musician like me, Sheikh Zayed was the maestro

In my compositions, I try to convey his vision for the nation through melody

Faisal Al Saari with his oud in front of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority
Faisal Al Saari with his oud in front of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority

This is the Year of Zayed, a year dedicated to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sheikh Zayed, and despite his death 14 years ago, he is with us Emiratis every year, every day, every minute, every second of our lives. He is the Founding Father of the UAE – but he also feels like our own father. He worked incredibly hard throughout his life to provide for us and to make us happy, just as a father does for his own children.

I was born in 1973, two years after union. For me, like other Emiratis of my generation, Sheikh Zayed was a constant presence in our everyday lives. We saw his image everywhere, even in our school textbooks. We felt like he was with us when we needed support. It is the same now, even though I am no longer a child; he is often in my thoughts. I will never forget him or his values.

Although I never met him, Sheikh Zayed forms an integral part of Emiratis' psyche. We are acutely aware that he was responsible for everything we see around us.

I remember seeing him for the first time, about 40 years ago, on television. My father, my mother, my older brothers and I would gather around our one television in the living room and watch it together.

Our families would frequently tell us what he did and how we had to respect his efforts. "He makes the hospitals, the schools, the streets – he makes our lives easy. He is building a nation for us,” my parents would say. Even when we went to the hospital, my father would say: “Sheikh Zayed built this hospital and it is free. Many countries don’t provide this but he did this for you, so you have to respect him and feel like he is your father.”

Sheikh Zayed created a sense of national identity. In just two or three decades, he took a 200-year leap and we jumped with him. That wasn’t easy. Many people thought it was impossible. In Arabic, we say: "Mthal aala", meaning high example. What he did was like a miracle.

When I embark on any new project, I remember how he made this country great. He wanted to make Sir Bani Yas green in the middle of a desert. Everyone said it was impossible but he made it happen. I remember the challenges he faced and how he believed nothing was impossible. He taught us that you just have to believe in what you are doing, work hard for it, be patient and it will be done.

November 2, 2004, was a very sad day. I remember it well. I walked out of my apartment and looked at the trees, the birds. The street was empty and everything had a melancholic tinge. It was awful.

Today is a time to be reminded of that sadness but also to celebrate his life. We still miss him but we feel he is with us still.

To use an example from the world of music – my world, as I am a composer and an oud soloist – Ludwig van Beethoven died nearly three centuries ago but his work is still with us. It continues to amaze us. For us, Sheikh Zayed was the maestro. He gave birth to the idea of this country.

Now I have children myself and although they are too young to have known him when he was alive, we teach them who he was. We sit with them and tell them what he did for us and what he means to us; how he dedicated his life to making us happy.

Every year I do several things on this day. I sit with my children, talk about Sheikh Zayed and watch programmes about him on television. I also perform to celebrate his life through music.

In 2016, I composed an oud concerto called Zayed’s Dream for the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi. I tried to convey his vision for the nation through melody. That was encapsulated in the museum's opening last year – a huge event in UAE history, which Sheikh Zayed would have been proud of.

This year I will be out of the country performing but Sheikh Zayed and the nation he built for us will be in my heart and my soul.

Faisal Al Saari is an oud player