Lisa Morgan –
Two weeks back, I woke up to devastating news, that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has passed away. Only Omanis or expats who have lived in Oman will truly understand how devastating/significant a loss this really is.
Sultan Qaboos or Baba Qaboos as we all fondly called him, was the longest serving leader in the Arab world — he reigned supreme for nearly 50 years. He was truly loved and respected because he was the epitome of what a great leader should be, with incredible vision for his country.
As a singer, composer and music educator, I respected and appreciated the value he placed on music, the arts and education. I worked proudly as Head of Music at the first private national school he established for Omani children — The Sultan’s School.
HM Sultan Qaboos built the first opera house in Al Khaleej, the Royal Opera House Muscat, a world-class performance venue that has hosted some of the finest musicians in the world, such as Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo, Renee Flemming, Joshua Bell, Diana Krall and Al Jarreau, to name just a few. I, like so many others, have had the privilege to attend the opening season and many consequent seasons of the Opera House; HM Sultan Qaboos made sure that tickets for these concerts were heavily subsidised so that these opportunities were accessible to everyone.
HM Sultan Qaboos loved music, particularly classical music and established an incredible musical legacy that includes the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, the Muscat Philharmonic Orchestra and countless choirs, concert bands, jazz bands, bagpipe tattoos, steel drum bands and much much more. We have watched these ensembles grow and develop and are proud that all the members of these ensembles are Omani citizens. Sultan Qaboos actually built the specialist music school from the grounds of his palace at Al Baraka, with a state-of-the-art recording studio, educational facilities and ensured that Omani music students were educated by the finest musicians and practitioners the world has to offer.
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos was known as a humanitarian, a peaceful man who ensured that Oman remained neutral while the rest of the Khaleej fought and argued and blockaded each other.
He brokered peace talks with Israel when no one else dared to and held talks with Iran. Sultan Qaboos also ensured that medical aid was provided to Yemen while other Khaleej nations nastily and relentlessly bombed and fought Yemen.
HM Sultan Qaboos leaves behind a nation that was poor when he took the throne, and had the incredible vision and love for his people to see it develop into a thriving independent country with roads, infrastructure, ministries, international airports, museums, maintained heritage buildings… yet wisely made sure Oman didn’t make the mistake of over-westernising or losing the unique Omani culture the way others did. You only have to look over Muttrah, the old capital where you can see the coast and the town beautifully cradled by the mountain range; this vista can still be enjoyed by us today because His Majesty made a decree that all buildings in Oman should be relatively low lying, to ensure that the beautiful natural landscape would not be was not blocked or marred by skyscrapers, therefore putting the beauty of his land before money.
Omani ladies proudly wear their abayas or jelabiyas, the men in their dishdasha and mussar, the traditional dress that is so unique to Oman — as they proudly work in banks, schools, offices, ministries, hospitals, farms, shops and businesses both big and small. They are his people, who loved their wise leader so fervently. Expats like me who were so fortunate to live in Oman loved him too.
A few years ago, I composed the first English language National song about Oman, Oman is Home to Me, because I wanted to express the beauty of the Omani people, the culture, the unique landscape and of course our love for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. This song became a community project that gave me the honour of collaborating with both the best Omani and expat/non-Omani musicians to create a recording that fuses Omani and Western music influences, richly accompanying an anthem of love for His Majesty, his land and people. The words of the last verse are more poignant than ever:
Born into a royal line he shows the strength to lead
And commands we fulfil the promises of all this can can be.
We celebrate a nation great; our home, his beloved country
We give thanks and praise to Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Yaeesh A’Sultan and Oman, blessed land of thee
I dedicated my song to Baba Qaboos, and I only hope that he felt the love we all had for him and his beautiful land that inspired me so.
The writer is an Australian music teacher, composer and singer, who worked extensively with children’s choral groups, young Omanis, local musicians and expatriate and international artists during her seven years in the Sultanate.