DUBAI: Saudi designer Daneh Buahmad’s eponymous label Daneh is known for its effortless elegance.
Though the womenswear designer launched her namesake brand nine years-ago, she only began creating exclusive capsule collections for Ramadan in 2016.
“What makes the Daneh Ramadan collection so special is its worldly appeal,” she told Arab News. “Not only is it suitable for the region at a specific time of year, but for women from anywhere as it can be worn on other occasions.”
As Ramadan falls in spring this year, Daneh’s capsule collection features a light color palette. “Ramadan, for me, is a time of stillness and reflection and just taking time to focus on what’s important,” she said.
“(Ramadan) designs are getting more innovative and even brave. For example, years ago you wouldn’t find many women wearing an off-shoulder kaftan during Ramadan,” she added.
“It’s wonderful to see how things are changing yet maintaining the spirit of the holy month. It’s important for a person to be and feel themselves.”
Buahmad herself likes to wear easy and breezy clothes during Ramadan, such as loose-fitting kaftans.
Many women like to dress up for sahoor and iftar gatherings, but she said it is important to buy clothes that you can also wear once Ramadan is over.
“The essence of my brand is clothes that are timeless and that you can repeat well past Ramadan,” she added.
The Daneh capsule collections are designed to be dressed up or down, so you can wear them on holiday at the beach or to a beautiful iftar soiree.
Buahmad believes that when it comes to Ramadan dressing, it is always better to choose a regional label over an international brand.
“Local designers create for this season from the heart, and for some brands it’s their chance to shine, which is why I encourage to buy local rather than shop big brands that are trying to capitalize on the season,” she said.
You can purchase the Daneh Ramadan capsule collection at select retailers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as online.
The truth behind the Middle East’s obsession with K-pop
Wholesome lyrics, positive messages and a dedicated translation service are just part of the appeal
Updated 14 July 2020
DUBAI: In a strange parallel universe somewhere, 2020 has already seen two K-pop festivals in the Middle East — two Dubai gigs, 10 K-pop acts and a world free from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that only resorts to serious mask-wearing when it comes to Halloween.
Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t been quite so favorable to your average K-pop fan in the region. The much-anticipated Music Bank Show fell victim to a COVID-19 cancellation, and the K-pop Super Concert followed suit — both events part of a lost weekend at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena. But while live music might have succumbed, K-pop’s march into the hearts and minds of Middle Eastern fans remains pandemic-proof.
It’s easy to forget that this is a genre that came about with shaky credibility and little appeal outside Korea. Now, the figures are staggering. K-pop kings BTS are lauded globally, and last year Blackpink became the first K-pop girl group to play Coachella — achieving the highest of cool points in the process.
Spotify dials things down like this: The big five MENA streamers of K-pop (January 2014-2020) are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, in that order. If you’re streaming, chances are it’s “Boy With Luv” by BTS and Halsey — the most streamed K-pop track in the MENA region for that time period. And while Saudi Arabia might boast the biggest market, Egypt is the most rapidly developing, with a 33 percent increase in K-pop streaming between January 2019-2020.
But to limit the ways in which the Middle East loves K-pop to a simple playlist would be reductive. Look at the 60,000 fans that poured into Riyadh last year to see a groundbreaking show from BTS — also a signifier of greater cultural freedoms in the Kingdom. How about the hundreds of social media fan pages that beat algorithms to drive success for their idols? The BTS UAE Army, the band’s biggest collection of fans in the country, recently pushed an “All Kill” week in English and Arabic. The aim was to get a different song from the “Map of The Soul: 7” album to the number one spot in the UAE iTunes chart each day for a week. It worked, too. Still not impressed? How about this: Last year, so many people wanted to catch a glimpse of EXO in Dubai that they had to close the roads.
As K-pop has grown in the region, so too has a K-based fascination in other areas, with fans only too willing to immerse themselves in the culture from top to bottom.
“K-pop isn’t just limited to just Korean pop music,” says Ren, an admin for @bangtanuae, the Instagram page for the BTS UAE Army. “It’s a mixture of food, fashion, language, traditions and the country itself. We really just want to learn about Korean culture.”
It certainly doesn’t take long to see that Ren, and others like her, are part of a movement in the Middle East. From supermarkets packed with kimchi to restaurants serving up a spin on the classic hotteok pancakes, Korean culture here is booming, and it has been ably assisted by official efforts to strengthen ties between the two regions, neatly signposted by last year’s Korea Festival in the UAE. You might think that Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day, but you’d be wrong. It’s officially Emirati-Korean Friendship Day — and has been since 2015.
But while the strength of K-power in the region is clearly visible, the question of why it resonates so much might not be immediately obvious. Success for an artist who sings in his or her own language outside of that language’s region is no easy ride.
Perhaps it all lies in the echoes between Korean and Arab life? In “The Korean Wave: Past and Present,” Mohamed Elaskary, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, cites the author SW Kim to explain how the Middle East sees itself in K-pop.
“Cultural factors play an important role in the success of Hallyu (the Korean Wave) in the Arab world,” he explains. “Among these factors are the social habits and customs that Arabs share with Koreans, such as family bonds, love stories that are not explicit, friendship and altruism. Compared to Western pop music, with its nudity and obscene lyrics, K-pop fits well into mainstream Arab societies.”
When it comes to the language barrier, K-pop fans don’t really seem to mind that either. Those who don’t simply love it for the catchy melodies or elaborate dance routines just tackle the issue head-on.
“Within the BTS ARMY fandom we have lots of people who volunteer to translate everything the band releases,” Ren said. “Often in many different languages and almost instantly too!”
And if you think an unofficial translation service is a sign of dedication, then others take it a step further.
“A couple of years ago, I came across a Korean TV series called 꽃보다 남자, which roughly translates to ‘Boys Over Flowers,’” says Egypt-based Menna Mahmoud, who discovered her love of K-pop through the country’s other great export: K-drama.
“I liked how funny it was, but I didn’t like that it was dubbed in Arabic, so I decided to start learning Korean,” she said. “I did it for a couple of months and it was really fun. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I could probably just about understand the events of a TV series without resorting to the subtitles button.”
Mahmoud isn’t alone in this; Korean is now one of the most in-demand languages to learn across the Middle East. It’s worth noting that the cultural exchange can be a two-way process, and Korean boy band BIG now sing in both Korean and Arabic.
K-pop’s rise to global prominence has been no accident. In the midst of the Asian economic crisis of the late 90s, it was decided that Korea should attempt to diversify its export power. As a result, the former president, Kim Jae-Dung, was persuaded to use cultural output to help fuel his country’s resurgence. In that respect, K-pop is less an organic trend, more a concerted effort from a nation looking for a soft-power approach to better days. Either way, the move has paid off handsomely.
“K-pop and K-drama play a vital role in Korean imports and tourism to Korea,” explains Elaskary. “Hallyu products, such as K-pop, K-drama and K-beauty, are a driving force in an era of cultural economy products. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, travel every year to visit the places where K-pop songs and K-drama series have been shot, and Korean companies utilize the success of K-pop and K-drama to promote their businesses.”
While the hard-nosed capitalism behind K-pop’s rise might feel a little jarring, the wholesome message of the music remains at the root of its success in the Middle East — and in that respect, it has the power to change lives here, too.
“The music is just so empowering,” says Anne, an admin for the @unitedblinks, the Instagram fanpage for Blackpink UAE. “When I hit rock bottom, Blackpink’s words were straightforward, strong, and motivational. It’s like they were telling me that sulking won’t solve anything, that I should get up and fix myself, because the world doesn’t revolve around me.”