RIYADH, 21 April 2007 — Western music no longer seems to attract foreigners living and working in the Middle East. Many have developed a special interest in Arab music. Some Middle Eastern female singers such as Haifa Wahbi and Merriam Fares have changed Western perceptions of beauty and entertainment. When asked about their favorite entertainers and sensational dancers, many Westerners mentioned the likes of Ruby.
In the Kingdom, where public concerts and cinemas are virtually non-existent, music stores tend to be the only source of information about Arab singers.
“Arabic music is growing in popularity among foreigners day by day,” said Aiman Hashim, a music store assistant. “Arabic songs with Western remixes — such as albums by Amr Diab, Latifah, and the Grammy double award winner Alissa — are in high demand among foreigners.”
Arab music, which includes several genres and styles of music ranging from classical to Arab pop, has a long history of interaction with other musical styles including Greek, Persian, Turkish, Indian and African. Recently Arab music, which has incorporated Western instruments such as the guitar (whose origin is actually Arab) and the piano, has become influenced by Western styles such as jazz.
“Oriental rhythms have become quite recognizable to foreigners because many Arab singers participate in international concerts,” said Hashim.
“The fact that many popular singers in the West have used oriental instruments or rhythms in their songs — such as Justin Timberlake, who used Arab instruments in many of his songs, including in the ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ track, and the US band Chemical Brothers in their song ‘Galvanize,’ which was taken from a Yemeni folk song — shows that there is a tendency to accept oriental music and rhythms in the West,” he added.
Eelco Schattorie, former assistant coach at Al-Ittifaq Football Club, has a large collection of new and old Arabic songs, especially those from the Gulf. His wife, who is Arab, was the one who kindled his passion for Arabic music. He said that he prefers Haifa Wahbi and that Kylie Minogue looks “pale” compared to her.
He also believes Wahbi is an example of the “ultimate feminine beauty.” He said, “After coming to the Kingdom, through satellite television I found a new type of Arabic music, which is the Gulf style. The posters in the cassette stores helped me to learn more about Saudi singers such as Rashid Al-Majid and Abbas Ibrahim.”
Saudi musician Mamdooh Saif believes a person’s environment can influence his or her taste in music. “A person’s musical taste can change due to the culture he or she lives in. As for foreigners, it is normal for them to mingle with the local culture and learn more about it through the music of the place,” he said.
Saif said, “As for Ibrahim’s song ‘Nadeet,’ its popularity is due to its cultural realization since the song is purely Oriental. I believe that its rhythm has made it popular among foreigners.” He added that Haifa Wahbi’s song “Ma Saar” simulates the DJ melodies of the European DJ Tiessto. This has made the song very popular.
Michael Glover, a Briton working in Jeddah, said: “I find the differences between Arabic and Western music very interesting. Arabs love singing about black eyes, dark nights and the moon, while Westerners tend to sing about the morning, flowers and green fields. It is these differences that catch my attention.”