Music exerts a powerful influence on human beings. It has the power to boost memory, build task endurance, and lighten the mood. It also helps to reduce anxiety and depression, eases pain, and improves mental and physical health. An avid entrepreneur, Tala Badri combined her passion for music and creativity to establish an award-winning company, the Centre for Musical Arts (CMA). CMA is a non-profit community center catering to the young and young at heart.
Tala is a proud Emirati who started playing piano at a very young age and soon after, the guitar and flute. At the age of 17, she was awarded a full scholarship from the government of Dubai to study music in the UK and to date still is the only female Emirati music graduate. Armed with a second degree in Management and Languages, Tala returned to the UAE and worked in the banking and FMCG industries. Working for 10 years in the corporate world, she realized that these roles weren’t creative enough and decided to pursue her real passion.
“Although music is my passion, it was my daughter that inspired and drove me to take the path to venture into the world of entrepreneurship,” says Tala. “Diagnosed at age 3 with Autism, my daughter struggled in her first few years until she started a music therapy class.” This experience was an eye-opener and reminded her that music can contribute and help develop not just technical skills but so many soft skills as well. With a small business loan of $150,000 in 2006, she decided to open a music centre, CMA, and offer music to anyone who wanted to experience music holistically and educationally. Suitably, the company’s tagline is ‘Bringing Music to Everyone’.
Inspiring Vision and Mission of the Company
CMA opened in 2006 at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre with a staff of 5 and a student body of 150. By 2008, the company had grown to a staff of 25 and a student body of more than 1000 students. Tala says, “We are committed to providing high quality and affordable musicianship to the young and the young at heart.” She aims to provide quality private music instruction tailored to each individual and encourage ensemble participation in every student’s musical journey. In this regard, as a company, CMA aspires to become the first-class provider of broad-based musical education and activities in the UAE and play an important part in a thriving musical culture in the UAE. While providing a positive atmosphere and a good environment for musicians to develop their skills, it also aims to offer excellent opportunities for the community to show their commitment to developing arts and culture in the UAE.
“Our student body is predominantly the youth of Dubai. With CMA, not only do they experience learning a musical instrument but also performing in orchestras, ensembles, competitions, taking master classes with famous musicians, playing alongside well-known international orchestras and performing for royalty and dignitaries,” affirms Tala. “We also involve our older students in the outreach projects we take part in abroad. All amazing experiences that help shape their lives.”
Primal Challenges and Roadblocks
Being an entrepreneur often comes with several roadblocks and challenges, and Tala’s journey was no different. One of the greatest challenges Tala faced primarily was financing, as she had no support in terms of government subsidies or grants. While the rents and overheads are expensive in Dubai, she faced difficulties in licensing and associated fees. Pre-pandemic, CMA had a staff of 30 and over 1500 students at the center and through running a music service to 19 schools in Dubai. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the team had to be very creative and flexible considering the social distancing and health restrictions in place. Although the company lost many students whose families moved back home, CMA always kept its doors open and remained a functioning facility.
“We did have to reduce salaries in the short term and request both rent and loan relief, but I managed to keep every single one of my staff members in a job,” shares Tala. The pandemic has also created new challenges with the KHDA and government restrictions that were and still remain in place – working within those parameters is very difficult in the music and performing arts industry as a whole. “My first and foremost goal is to rebuild our student base and trust amongst our partner schools and the general public that music lessons and performances are safe and important for mental health especially during these challenging times,” says Tala.
Advising the Aspirant Entrepreneurs
Tala believes in empowering people to fulfill their responsibilities rather than micromanaging them. Her advice to the aspiring entrepreneurs – “You will never understand your business really unless you get your hands dirty too. This will allow for making better, faster, and more efficient decisions, as well as more flexibility. I don’t believe that managing from the top, especially in a small entrepreneurial business, really works.”