A Q&A with Dubai-Based Composer and Vocalist Layal Watfeh

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  1. Layal, tell us about your journey with music. Was music always what you desired to pursue?

    “God may not have given me the best verbal communication skills, but he certainly gave me the gift of speaking through music.” A phrase that I often use, when my words can’t express what I really want to say, so I hope my music can speak louder than my words in this application. I come from the Middle East, where I have managed to build a musical career for myself in the past 20 years; going against all odds and becoming the first female film composer in the Arab world to work on major projects in the film and TV industry in a male dominated environment and gain 13 international awards while doing so.

    Ever since I was a toddler in Syria, I was always visually, not audibly, drawn to emotional films that were playing on TV, as I was too young to understand a story line. I used to cry every time a piece of emotional music played on TV, and that’s when my mother knew that I had the gift of music. I pretty much knew all along that this is my path and my passion in life. And so, my journey began, in all its ups and downs. And I am proud to be where I am today, after all the hard work and perseverance.

  2. You are an accomplished singer, sound engineer, and composer. How did you balance each endeavor in the industry? How do your different talents contribute to your unique sound?

    Having the talents and skills to perform within those different tasks plays a big role in opening more doors for me when taking on a project. I feel confident and free while working on a job knowing that, should I need a vocalist, I can perform the task myself, and not have to wait until I find another vocalist to record them for me. Additionally, having the skill of sound design helps integrate that style into my scores, should the scene need it. It also gave me the ability to direct vocalists and voice over artists throughout the years to enhance their performance in a way that best serves the job.

  3. You have collaborated with countless talents all over the world, how do you maintain and build relationships on an international stage?

    One of the beauties of working as a composer is the ability to do the work remotely with anyone around the world, whether it’s with the director or the musicians. Of course, the internet has made this extremely easy and accessible.

    Building a network with fellow composers in my opinion comes first. Besides the beauty of connecting with like-minded creatives, it also gives you access to musicians, studios and sound and mixing engineers. So far, my experience with everyone that I have connected with has been positive. I am always willing to share my resources with them too, because the way I see it is that we are facilitating more work for the musicians that way.

    This helps keep your relationships with people stronger as they will also benefit from networking with other composers who came from your side too.

    As some may see that as a threat, I honestly see it as a beautiful act that connects people together to form a supportive community in the film and music industry, which is much needed especially during these current times.

  4. What would you highlight as a major milestone in your career? How did it help you get where you are today?

    I believe there were many along the road, and every single one of them elevated my career higher.

    I am sad to say so but leaving Syria and moving to Dubai at an early age definitely gave me more opportunities to work with the companies I worked with, and meet the people that I did, which in turnplayed a bigger role in where I am today.

    Another one would be getting a job with the Middle East Broadcasting Channel (MBC), which is the biggest TV network in the Arab world and the Middle East region.

    Of course, there is the tremendously courageous and scary step that I took in 2009 when I left my very secure job with MBC, to begin my journey as a freelance film score composer. Ever since then I have managed to work on 24 TV series, and 3 feature films, and countless other projects such as events, documentaries and channel’s identity and sonics…etc.

  5. Music has been a major part of your life; did you have any role models or influences that helped shape your journey? What advice would you give to your younger self?

    I believe role models evolve and change throughout our lives at every step of the way, because we simply evolve and grow too as composers.

    Many big Hollywood composers have influenced my journey of course, such as Philip Glass, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Clint Mansell, to mention a few, as well as some classical composers like Beethoven, and Chopin. Coming from the Middle East also gave me the privilege of being exposed to different genres of music such as the Middle Eastern music, Indian, Armenian, and so on. I believe this has played a major role in forming my own sound and musical identity.

    My advice to my younger self and any young composer who may be starting their journey, is open to learning from every single opportunity you get. Every encounter you have with someone who may know a little more than you do, is a lesson for you. Keep writing music, experiment and work on discovering your own sound, as this is what will make you stand out from the crowd. Don’t ever be cocky, as we are just vessels bringing this already existing beauty to life. One last piece of advice would be, always be kind and willing to help anyone around you who may need it, because doing so will never take away from your talent or power as a composer and will certainly not take away any jobs that are meant for you. There is plenty of work out there for every single one of us, just think with abundance and you shall receive exactly that.

    Interview by Michael Van Bodegom Smith

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