‘Oh Ya Mal’: The hidden depths in Qatar’s ‘Dreamers’ World Cup song

Here are some elements from Doha’s waters that you might have missed in the newly-released song.

Fans at the 2022 FIFA World Cup ceremony in Qatar got to celebrate the moment they have all been waiting for with the first ever release of “Dreamers”, the tournament’s latest song.

The song saw the merge of completely different cultures, with the vocals of renowned Qatari artist Fahad Al Kubaisi complementing those of K-Pop superstar Jung Kook.

But the song that captured many hearts and welcomed the world to the Middle East was also an ode to Qatar’s rich waters and pearl diving era—a key foundation of its wealth way before the discovery of oil.

‘Ho ya mal’

If one listens closely, there are chants behind the two artists’ vocals that sent goosebumps all over the stadium and the globe. While it sounded like yet another addition to the song, it is a key cultural reference.

Before the great discovery of oil in the 1940s, pearl diving was the driving force behind the Arabian Peninsula’s wealth in the 19th century. 

Screenshot from music video. Video: FIFA

Pearl diving amounted to 75% of the Gulf’s total exports at the time, with a large number of the jewel being sold to Europeans and royal families around the world.

As the industry was thriving, pearl divers would be singing and chanting “Oh Ya Mal” and similar chants as they embarked on their journeys, which lasted for up to four months.

The chants live on in the World Cup song, highlighting Qatar’s pride in its heritage and culture from long before it became the first ever Arab, Muslim country to host the tournament.

Symbols of the pearl industry have also been present all over Qatar, including the oyster fountain on the Corniche or the Pearl area, which was itself built on an old pearl diving site.

Pearl diving is also reflected in some parts of the clip, where sailors dressed in the wzar, a cloth wrapped around the waist, performed traditional dance moves on the dhow boats.

Those boats were also the main source of transportation for the divers, long before the creation of lavish yachts and ships.

Whale sharks

Diving deeper into Qatar’s wealthy waters, the newly-released music video showed a massive whale shark flying all around the Gulf state, into the waters and up towards the skyscrapers.

The important presence of the whale sharks not only sticks to the theme of Qatar’s sea life, but also highlights the animal’s great number in Qatar.

Screenshot from music video. Video: FIFA

In fact, Qatar has one of the globe’s largest whale shark concentrations, with its waters serving as a safe environment for the sea animal.

The gigantic white-spotted fish had reached 600 in 2020 in Doha alone, a figure that is yet to be documented anywhere else in the world.

Authorities in Qatar have also increased their efforts to maintain the country’s marine environment, especially following the congregation of the large aquatic animal last year.

Qatar launched a study in 2010 of the journey of whale sharks by installing tracking devices on 12 of them. In 2011, Doha’s ministry of environment launched a project on whale sharks to study their behaviour.

Their importance was also highlighted in Doha’s tourism efforts, with Discover Qatar previously launching its ‘Discover the Whale Sharks of Qatar’ tour in May.

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