Sheikh Zayed Book Award Names Omar Khairat Its Cultural Personality

In News by Porter Anderson

Admired for his music that uses both Western and Oriental instrumentation, Egypt’s Omar Khairat is honored by the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

Omar Khairat, the Egyptian composer and musician, named Cultural Personality of the Year 2023 by the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in Abu Dhabi. Image: SZBA

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Bin Tamim: ‘Deeper Meanings and Emotions’

See also today: Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Readies Its 32nd Edition

Having announced its six category winners for this year on May 2, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award today (May 15) has named the Egyptian composer and musician Omar Khairat the recipient of its Cultural Personality of the Year, in this, the 17th edition of the prize program. Today’s news follows an announcement that Khairat, 74, is to perform at the opulent Cairo Opera House on May 29, and then on June 3 at the foot of Giza’s great sphinx.

Khairat may be best known for his film score compositions, in which he has used both Western orchestral forces and Oriental melodies set for instruments including piano, xylophone, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone, along with instrumentation from the Arab world.

His first soundtrack was released in 1983 for the film The Night Fatima Was Arrested, and others have followed, including The Case of Uncle Ahmed; The Miser and I; The Conscience of Abla Hikmat; and Ghuayish.

The winner of the Cultural Personality of the Year receives 1 million UAE Dirhams (US$272,368) from a total 7-million-dirham purse (US$1.9 million)—the largess of one of the world’s richest prize programs. All winners in the competition receive gold medals.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim

In making the announcement, Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s secretary-general and chair of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, is quoted, saying, “The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is committed to highlighting prominent artistic and intellectual figures whose remarkable contributions to the cultural movement are sure to resonate through the generations.

“Musician Omar Khairat is certainly one of these individuals; his music will always inspire deeper meanings and emotions, carrying within its notes the markers of our culture, which he has been able to brilliantly mix with other cultures, creating timeless masterpieces that will remain engraved in our memory and our identity.”

Border-Crossing Musical Influences

Khairat’s compositions are especially adept in the gravity they achieve in large symphonic string sections. His approach on the keyboard—he’s known to play a Steinway onstage in his retrospective concerts—uses the piano to create a kind of sonic filigree above tidal shifts in his violins. He then introduces instrumentation based on the Egyptian lute, lyre, oud, and harp, and lavish flute work from contemporary descendants of the ney.

The resulting mix of cultural sounds can provide Khairat with both a contemporary urban vibe or the kind of atmospheric Eastern grace that many filmmakers find tonally indispensable in their soundtracks.

Considering the range of his compositions’ orchestrations today, it’s ironic that he began his musical career as drummer to Les Petits Chats, an Egyptian rock band created in the 1960s.

Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani

Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, undersecretary of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, says, “Abu Dhabi has established itself as a thriving center for culture and creativity through its numerous initiatives, such as the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which support and enable the arts and other creative disciplines.

“Each year, the Cultural Personality of the Year award honors a prominent figure who has contributed to the advancement of Arabic culture and promoted peaceful coexistence.

“This year, we’re proud to select Omar Khairat, one of the most renowned and celebrated musicians in the Arab world. His constant striving for excellence and innovation has seen him make an incalculable impact on the music industry and the wider cultural landscape, as well as fostering important cross-cultural dialogue.

“His passion reflects Abu Dhabi’s vision to nurture creativity and harness the power of the arts to build bridges and transcend borders.”

Born in Cairo in 1947, Khairat was lucky to be part of a family fond of the arts. His uncle, Abu Bakr Khairat, founded the Cairo Conservatoire, where Omar Khairat studied piano under Italy’s “Professor Caro.” he went on to study composition at Trinity College London.

Songwriter Mohammed Abdel Wahab said that Khairat’s settings of his music were a gift, and Khairat has won Egyptian and wider Arab-world awards including the Golden Knight Award in 2001 from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union for the song Al Masri, composed for a film by Scott H. Nassour; the Oscar of Egyptian Cinema Award from the Egyptian Cinema Art Association in 2003 for the film Mafia; and the Audience Choice Award for the best soundtrack in 2005 for the series Agent 1001.

This year’s celebration of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners is set for May 23 during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (May 22 to 28). You can find more about the 32nd edition of the fair itself this year at our story on its plans here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is here, more on the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center is here, more on Arabic literature is here, and more on translation is here. More from us on publishing and book awards in the international industry is hereMore from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Publishers Association. Our extended coverage of ADIBF 2023 is supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.