x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The man who was instrumental in creation of police band

Brigadier General Ishaq Suleiman recounts his role in the creation of Abu Dhabi's police orchestra with 30 bagpipes, 30 brass instruments and 60 men who couldn't play a note.

Brig Gen Ishaq Suleiman with the original Abu Dhabi police band, sixth from left on front row.
Brig Gen Ishaq Suleiman with the original Abu Dhabi police band, sixth from left on front row.

Nearly five decades have passed but Brigadier General Ishaq Suleiman still has the letter that brought him to Abu Dhabi to create the first police band in the Emirates.

In 1963, he was a sergeant in Jordan's army orchestra when a chance meeting with the niece of a British officer turned into a life-changing encounter.

Ishaq Suleiman was in Britain on tour with King Hussein when he met the young woman. Her uncle worked for Sheikh Shakhbut, the then ruler of Abu Dhabi, who wanted to start a police band.

"Sheikh Shakhbut once saw the Omani band playing and liked their outfit," Brig Gen Suleiman recalled. "They wore a red chequered kaffiyeh on their heads, similar to the Jordanian army's outfit.

"So he asked a British officer who worked for him to bring someone from the Jordanian army to start a police band in Abu Dhabi."

The girl told her uncle about the sergeant she had met.

"He sent me a letter about the job and then sent me a two-way ticket to Abu Dhabi to meet Sheikh Shakhbut," he said.

He accepted the offer and began to recruit members for his 60-strong band, although none were Emiratis.

"There was no Emirati that would agree to play music - they considered it shameful," he said. "The police at the time were mostly Baluchis from Pakistan and other countries."

He ordered 30 bagpipes and 30 brass instruments from Britain but one big problem presented itself - none of his musicians could play a note or read music.

However, within six months the Abu Dhabi police band was ready.

"Sheikh Shakhbut was in a hurry, so in the beginning we only taught them to play the military march," he said. "Every evening at 5.30pm, Sheikh Shakhbut would sit outside his Hosn Palace [now the Cultural Foundation] and we would go out and play for him.

"He would look at us happily as we marched around the Hosn area and all of Abu Dhabi's residents followed us. There was no other form of entertainment at the time.

"As time went by, I started teaching them famous symphonies by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart."

The band played a role in the development of the UAE by performing during the talks that preceded the unification of the Emirates.

"When the rulers of the other emirates came to meet Sheikh Zayed to discuss the unification, we would go out to Maqta Bridge and play for each ruler the anthem of his emirate when he arrived. Those who did not have an anthem, we played the Abu Dhabi one for them," Brig Gen Suleiman recalled.

The band also played at the coronation of the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, after he overthrew his father, Sa'id ibn Taimur.

"He asked for a music band from Abu Dhabi, so we went," he said as he took out a clipping of an article that was published in UAE News, a defunct English-language newspaper.

After the UAE was formed, the rulers wanted to start a band for the Armed Forces. "They sent me the members to train them at the Abu Dhabi Police College. I taught them from zero, they did not have any music background either."

Brig Gen Suleiman, who left the band in the 1980s and retired in 1991, also designed the ranking insignia still worn by the police today.

"I chose the falcon to go with the stars, because the UAE people love falcons, so it was also representing their culture," he said.

hdajani@thenational.ae