Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (2): Egypt

Many years (31) after his death, Abdel Halim Hafez’s fame did not lessen. According to daily Al-Hayat , the “Brown nightingale” still smashes the sales records.

Along the old fashion music, a new style has been adopted by the new generation long ago. Since the 90’, the new generation has its own music, precisely called jeel music (jeel meaning generation in Arabic).

Deeply entangled with globalisation and consumption, Arab pop music has been adopted by large and popular audiences, a trend which is not easily accepted by conservative circles.

Nonetheless, pop singers –men and women – do pay their tribute and make “pious recording” when necessary (see previous post). Even religious music comes closer to the new global musical standards (see previous post).

But since a few years, more and more artists gave up the commercial rules of the game. Today, a rich and fertile alternative music has made a real break-out in the musical landscape.

Follow the links to get more information, and musical excerpts : they deserve it!

Wust el Balad (وسط البلد – Center City) and Massar Egbari (مسار إجباري – One Way Street) gather together musicians from all parts of the country, including descents of Nubian immigrants to Cairo, the real melting-pot of the new music.

Thus, mixing jazz sounds and African roots to the Arabic tradition is a characteristic, something which is illustrated by the famous Fathy Salama, founder of Sharkiat band and winner of a Grammy award with Senegalese singer Youssou N’dour.

Egyptian musician do participate in the elaboration of the so-called "Oriental jazz". Listen for instance to Bakash , El-dor el-awel (First Floor), Masar (مسار – Trajectory : oud solo by his leader, Hazem Shahine on this video) and Eftekasat (افتكاسات- Innovations).

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (1): Jordan

As if musical stereotypes have to be associated with visual ones, almost all the (western) images of the Arab world that we see are illustrated by the same clichés : a vibrant nay (flute) solo or, more often, the call to the prayer.

Nevertheless, it is easy to hear and appreciate Arab alternative music and to understand, even without knowing the language, that something interesting is occurring in that particular field.

Zade Dirani (زيد ديراني), a 25 year old pianist and composer, is the great name of the Jordanian musical scene. His majesty mentioned him as “one of the six achievers that are leading the country into its new era” in recognition of his work in order to foster a better understanding between people, a necessity Zade Dirani get aware of it as he was living in the States at the time of the 9/11 events.

The performance given a few days ago by the young composer at the Roman theatre of Amman, with the London Philarmonic Orchestra and a English famous choir, has been attended, among many others, by Zade’s friend, princess Haya, daughter of king Hussein and wife of cheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the Arab Emirates.

Viewing that vidéo, in which the young Jordan composer explains his project, one feels that the Western taste, in this musical cooking, is obviously stronger than the Oriental one.

A blending which is also used by Rum, a band founded in 1998 and whose international fame comes to some extend from the music written by its leader, Tareq Al Nasser (طارق الناصر), for films and TV serials (see their Web site). But proportions are different with Rum as the Oriental spices exceed the Western ingredients.

In fact, every musician has his own way of mixing Western and Oriental influences, the last ones prevailing in Yazan Al Rousan’s (يزن الروسان) folk songs or Aziz Maraka’s (عزيز مرقة), Maccadi Nahhas’ (مكادي نحّاس) and Ruba Saqr’s interpretations.

All of them are from a generation in its thirty now, all of them using to some extend jazzy ingredients in their music. Referring to jazz, and especially what is called “Oriental jazz” mention has to be made to guitar player Kamal Musallam (كمال مسلم), to a new band called Sign of Thyme (زمن الزعتر) and to the very strange interpretations given by Ayman Tayseer of famous classical Egyptian songs of the 50’s (Jazz Abdul Wahab).

For rock fans, listen to Akheer Zapheer or Tyrant Throne , two local bands who give an idea of the vitality of the Jordanian musical scene.

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French, for which I am deeply endepted to Ruba Saqr, for her blog The Musical Thoughts of Ruba Saqr and to Khobbeizeh, another very interesting blog about music, especially in Jordan.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Culture of Politics: a Roadmap to Unesco!

Is Faruk Hosny’s name famous? At least, the recordman minister of Culture of the Arab Republic of Egypt (21 years in office!) has got a rather good fame locally as somebody who played a leading role in putting his country back to the limelight on the arab cultural stage.

His next challenge is to run for the coming election at the head of the Unesco, and to become the first Arab in charge of this international institution.

Head of the Egyptian cultural policy for such a long time, Faruk Hosny does not have only friends in his country! Indeed, the “minister of crises” as he is often called in the Arab press has survived many problems, thanks to his ability to get rid of some of his best friends at hard times, and to the backing of some powerful people like Mrs Mubarak.

Regarding the freedom of expression, M. Hosny’s file is so-so: yes, he acted rather strongly against hard-line Muslim during May 2000 crisis about the publication in Egypt of a novel by Syrian writer Haydar Haydar (حيدر حيدر), no, he did not show the same strength during other attacks, one year later for instance when works by the famous Iraki poet of the 8th century Abu Nuwas were burnt for “immorality”!

Faruk Hosny’s main trick has been to “bribe” a helpless intellectual class who “stayed in the sheep-fold”, to put it in the Egyptian minister's words.

It is not an easy job to be elected at the head of the Unesco, especially if you are an Arab may be… Thus, Faruk Hosny needs some extra backing.

This could explain why he announced, in November 2007, that he was working on the project of a museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Egypt.

Certainly a “positive gesture” but not a definitive one as the key issue is probably the “normalisation” of the cultural relations with Israel, something the Egyptian intellectuals and artists strongly resist since Camp David agreements.

Nonetheless, a step toward “the good direction” was recently done when the cultural attaché at the Israeli embassy in Cairo was invited to atend a performance at the National Theater.

Halas! Sometime ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave some publicity to a declaration given by the Egyptian cultural minister saying to some local politician that there was no Israeli books in his the national libraries and that “he would burn Israeli books himself if found in Egyptian libraries”. Of course, the Israeli authorities officially protested to such a declaration.

Apparently, Faruk Hosny knows what he has to do if he wants to succeed in his project and he has recently tried to correct his image saying that (cultural) normalisation with Israel was “a dream”.

All the more, such a dream should not be broken by foolish decisions. Thus, complete normalisation would be the result of a peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Knowing the difficulties of the famous “roadmap” for peace between the two nations, the road to the Unesco offices in Paris could also be a long one!

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Arab Conscience: (re)Birth of a Nation ?

The expression “Arab World” was almost never used before the birth, around the last quarter of the 19th century, of the Arab nationalism. An arab nationalism which was obviously very much linked to the spread of the printing facilities and other IT facilities developed at that time (telegraph, new maritime roads…)

Thus, a challenging hypothesis is to bet on the re-birth of Arab nationalism, with the coming in age of a new IT revolution in the area (satellite TV’s, internet…)

A way to test such an hypothesis is to have a look at two multi-stars videos, produced by Ahmad Al Aryan who recently launched his second opus, “The Arab Conscience”, after the tremendous success of “The Arab Dream”, released in 1998 (see previous post).

With the collaboration of many famous singers, from all parts of the Arab World, “The Arab Conscience” tells in pictures the painful story of the Arab countries and populations since the release of “The Arab Dream”.

The main message is repeated again and again: People hearts are dead, our love and love to each others is dead, we probably forgot that all Arab been a family once upon a day…

The video has just been released and it is probably too soon to know if it will be as successful as the previous one ten years ago.

But it is easy to see that “The Arab Conscience” has been aired by 15 major Arab TV’s only and that all (pro)Saudi channels did not participate in the promotion of the video (when “The Arab Dream” had the backing of Al-Waleed Ibn Talal, the famous Saudi tycoon)…

Indeed, such a split in the “Arab TV consensus” gives a fair picture of what Ahmad Al Aryan and his Arab friends wanted to say: the worrying state of the “Arab Conscience”.

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French, and there for "The Arab Conscience" video, with English subtitles.