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(English) H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis: A Cultural Dialogue from the Music of the Heart

(English) H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis: A Cultural Dialogue from the Music of the Heart

Esta entrevista se puede leer en español en la revista Scherzo:

Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis: “La música abre los corazones, las mentes y el alma”

You can read the original version in English HERE.

La versión original en inglés se puede leer en este blog AQUÍ.

Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov
H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
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For most people the name of H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis may not mean anything at all. And it may be a good thing her name does not really ring a bell to you, because her work as a philanthropist should go unnoticed. It is others —specially young people— this incredible woman helps to shine. Huda is the Founder of ADMAF, the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, and the Artistic Director of Abu Dhabi Festival, which each year honours a different country —being Korea the Country of Honour in 2019— and welcomes young artists from all over the world, among many others, the Spanish pianist Juan Pérez Floristán. Huda’s dedication to the arts and music as a philanthropist for almost 25 years now is really praiseworthy. She has received numerous awards and commendations from all over the world. Her voice is sweet and calm, her eyes look with kindness and compassion. But when you speak with her face to face, you can tell that behind her aura inviting you to meditation, behind that face with a serene and gentle smile, there is a woman of determination and iron will. Huda was in Madrid and I had the chance and privilege to talk to her at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía.

Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov
H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov

I need to be honest with you and I must admit that I hadn’t heard of you before your visit to Madrid. And the few things I know about you now it is because I read it on the Internet. You were born in Beirut…

My mother is Syrian. I was brought up in Lebanon until the beginning of the civil war and then we left. My father is Saudi Arabian. Of course, I come from the UAE. So, my origin is Saudi.

Since you always say you want to use music as a dialogue, I’d like to have a true dialogue now with you even if it means I have to ask some tricky questions.

Please, do.

Your work with the foundation has to do with music culture. What’s your perspective when you look, for instance, at Lebanon, a country at war. Isn’t that a conflict for you, I mean, to speak about music and culture while people are dying?

Not at all. I’ll tell you. Of course, I left Lebanon long ago when I was a child… War and peace, peace and war, they’ll always be there. In every country, in every place, in different ways we had the cold war and so on. But I feel our role, we as individuals, we have a choice. What do we support? Do we support peace? Do we support a conversation? Do we support to find ways for understanding? To find ways to counter the decisions of war? I wish from my heart that, at a very high level, war will be abolished. Slavery abolished! War abolished! It’s not a choice. [Huda takes a deep breath and there is a little silence; then she smiles and continues] Until this happens, me and you, we make the choice that the way to counter that is finding ways of understanding culture. Culture is the arts, it’s the music, it’s the story of humanity, it’s what you are doing through your writing, documenting our story, through what I’m trying to do: to invest in the youth, invest in every individual. I believe in the message that we can build something together, benefit the humanity. That’s culture. And that’s when music comes in. And that’s why I’m here. Many people do not know what it stands for. And now today we met. So, there’s a curiosity. And from this curiosity we open doors. Where will they take us? I don’t know. But I know one thing: if there is a will, a true will, a true will to build up on civilizations, to build up on the future, to converse and to work together for the embetterment of the humanity using the arts, the music as our tools to bring up a society of happy youth. Let them decide, let them take us. This is what I stand for.

Maestro Péter Eötvös, Paloma O'Shea & Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo at Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía. Photo by Kirill Bashkirov
Maestro Péter Eötvös, Paloma O'Shea & Huda I. Alkhamis at Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía. Photo by Kirill Bashkirov

In your speech at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía for the final concert of the academic year with the Freixenet Orchestra conducted by Péter Eötvös, you said your presence in Madrid was due to two women you admire: Queen Sofia and Paloma O’Shea. From Mrs O’Shea you said you had learnt that in order to become a leader, you have to have a vision, a dream and the will. To me it’s quite clear you have willpower, I can tell, but what’s your vision? What’s your dream? Precisely, now.

[There is a little silence again. Huda closes her eyes and lets her inner voice speak]
My dream is to give the youth the future, the chance for a better life in every single aspect, the chance to be happy through creative thinking, free creative thinking, open the doors for them. Let them feel that they can dream themselves, that they can move forward themselves, that they can get every strength they have, they can find every strength they have and be free, be free! When we have no fear, we are free. My dream is to have a youth with no fear and free in their minds, in their spirits to think and to move forward in every aspect. My currency, my tool is the arts. Music is at the heart. And why music? Because music opens the hearts, it opens the minds, opens the souls and has no boundaries. Get them these tools and let them discover. So, my dream is to have the youth with no fear and with freedom. Freedom of spirit and freedom of the mind.

What would you say, for instance, to young people who feel disappointed? How can they overcome that disappointment with life?

I would tell them one thing: you will need to be disappointed to be appointed in the future! Learn from it, learn from your failure and take it as an advantage and not as a disadvantage.

So what did you learn from your failures?

Perseverance. My failures drove me to the right path. If I fail at something, I know it was not the right way for many reasons. Where are the reasons? 1, 2 3… So, Huda, the right way is to avoid these 1, 2, 3 and go to 4 and 5. But never give up! Never! You know, I celebrate my failure.

Being a woman has it been an advantage or a disadvantage for you in the path towards achieving your dream?

It’s like a diamond with different facets for this question. As a woman, being from the United Arab Emirates, I was lucky. Why? Because the leadership in my country gives equal opportunities for women and men. Prove yourself and we will support you! Talk to us, convince us and we will support you! So, here I am almost 25 years ago going to the leadership and to my supporter one of my major sponsors was here today, who came specially from Abu Dhabi to Madrid for the press conference and the concert. Going to them and tell them «I would like to invest in the youth and everything we were talking about just one minute ago, my currency will be the performing arts at the heart of ii is music, and I’m saying classical music, opera, and I need your money to do that». At that time there was no music conservatoire, the facilities we have today, we played under the stars. But they understood me. Do you know why they understood me? Because this was their vision. They wanted a better future, they wanted to invest in the youth, they wanted a youth with an open mind… But how do we do it? It’s the individual. It’s for us to move and to help the leadership to move forward. I come from a very young country… So, they saw that and they supported me. And I was lucky in here. I had many obstacles, of course, difficulties? Of course. Challenges? Loads until today. But I took it. So, as a woman I was lucky, because I am from the United Arab Emirates. As a woman with children and husband and babies —my husband comes from a pioneering business family; we have the house open and receive their guests—, I love to be with my children… Family for me is the essence of my life. They are very important. So, to balance that was not easy. But, again, I was privileged to come from a family that we support each other. So, I have my mother, I have the neighbors coming there. So, I took advantage of all that and they help! And we need to help each other. And I am grateful! But a woman today can do everything once she decides and I think in every business, I believe that. It’s only for her to decide and to manage. I think it is so simple.

You have been talking about youth, what would you say to a Western woman who is in her twenties and who is feeling in her own flesh the lack of employment and opportunities?

The first thing I’d say is «Don’t lose hope». As you said, lack of opportunities and unemployment is very high. I agree with you. But I say: don’t lose hope. Always find a way! Keep your determination. Think of what you want to do and if you have the conviction, then you will do it. Keep your focus. And what I see for the young ladies today… You know, we live in the age of technology, but don’t forget the values. Believe in yourself and keep at it. Never compromise! If you do your job, do it well, from your heart and don’t just do it halfway. Do it perfect!

And why did you decide to go for music and not painting or writing or any other kind of arts?

I really don’t know. They asked me this question many times. Music is so powerful! Music is the ultimate power of the art forms. It’s so abstract yet it so powerful! It’s so reachable! I just love it. I don’t know, I’ve been born this way. My path was followed with music. You know, we are surrounded by magnetic fields, we are surrounded by sounds, we are surrounded by vibes… From the beginning, I must have had these vibes of music that elevate the soul and elevate the person.

You’ve travelled the world, you’ve met lots of people and had lots of interviews, I guess, so what’s the question you’ve never been asked?

There will always be a question that has not been asked, but I don’t know. When it comes, I will answer.

That’s a good answer. Maybe this one is that question. What will happen with all your projects, with your vision, when Huda is no longer there, when you die?

[Huda closes her eyes, gently smiles and starts speaking]
I believe that this vision of conversation, of understanding, of culture, of tolerance, of music from the heart will survive Huda for ever long. It will have to survive. This is what I feel.

What are your musical projects for this year and for the future?

We’ll continue to invest in the youth and the educational programs. These projects of creating new opportunities not only take efforts but continuous funding, continuous work with the students and they come from everywhere in the world. The Abu Dhabi Festival will continue to flourish in the classical music, in the performing arts, in the jazz.

When you look back in life and see the twenty year old Huda, what would you tell her?

Huda, when she was twenty, was studying Arts History in Paris and part of her studies was history of classical music. I went to my dean and I told him «I’m gonna drop this course, I can’t take it, I don’t understand music, I don’t feel music, you’re taking me to the opera Garnier and I’m the only Arab in the class, I feel like a stranger.» And he said: «Huda you don’t drop; please, just be patient. If anyone else told me, I’d say, ok, do so, but you are very sensitive for the music, so please don’t drop.» So I did not. And I say to Huda of the age of twenty: «Thank you Huda for not dropping the history of music! Thank you for working hard, because, Huda, look what you are doing today!»

And what would the twenty year old Huda say to you now?

Oh my god, Huda, Bravo! You made it!

We have been speaking about the youth but what would you tell those people we call elderly, who have a life and think there is nothing left to do?

Talk to me, please. Tell me your story. Tell me how I can keep on. Help me! I need you!

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
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You can also find me and connect with me on:

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