Music has always been a key component of pretty much any culture or society. Various regions of the world have their own unique musical styles, genres, instruments, and sounds that they alone identify with. Of course, music has a broad impact that can come from more than just the notes and rhythms. Throughout history, the poetic and theatrical nature of vocal music has creatively highlighted the political and social landscape of the times. And, especially in younger generations, new ways of thinking, progressive ideals, and calls for change often shine through musical expression.
So among the various articles and analytical pieces on BBC News regarding current events of the Middle East, it was nice to see a feature on a particular Middle Eastern electronic music group that is quickly gaining popularity.
47SOUL, formed in 2013, plays with a style reminiscent of traditional Arabic street music. Search “dabke” on Google and you’ll find a multitude of examples of this traditional style of song and dance of the Levant. But rather than the flute, hand drum, and tambourine typical of this style, 47SOUL opts for electronic percussion, synthesizer, and guitar, clearly embracing the new age of musical creativity.
But perhaps more striking than the modern sound is the modern message the group conveys. Featured in this BBC video is a song that champions a message of acceptance and togetherness, regardless of race or nationality. This is something that lies in the hearts of these musicians because they all come from different backgrounds: Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian. But this group sees no reason to let those differences stand in the way of coming together to make great music, an ideal that stands in stark contrast to the extremely strong nationalist attitudes prevalent throughout the Middle East during the modern period.
Through these young musical talents, one can also find commentary on gender issues in the Middle East. In a similar feature, Yemeni rapper Amani Yahya champions female freedom and empowerment, ideals that certainly go against the grain in the conflict-ridden capital city Sanaa.
“Hopefully one day they will accept the idea that a woman can do something,” she remarks. “She’s not just at home cooking and raising kids. A woman can be whatever she wants, a musician, an artist, or whatever.”
She certainly has a difficult time pursuing musical performance in her home country, but Amani and many others hope that their musical passion and lyrical expression will inspire the new generation to think differently and rally against the gender-biased ideologies that seem to have a lock on much of Middle Eastern society.
The struggle is all too real for these women who seek to express themselves through modern styles of music. Egyptian producer and singer Bosania gave up the struggle to perform in Egypt after being “cursed at and chanted off stage” at a number of her performances, her electronic style and more wild theatrics “too bizarre and provocative for many in the audience.” Composer and singer Omnia Hegazy, an American of Egyptian descent, strives to maintain her independence in an industry where “people both in the US and in Egypt expect her to have a man to speak for her.”
Regarding her endeavors in filming and performing in the Middle East, Omnia comments, “I went to university for music business and I represent myself/book all my own gigs, so the assumption — that because I do not have representation— [is] that I either don’t know what I’m doing or am not established enough.”
It’s truly inspiring to see these young musicians advocating equality, acceptance, and progressive societal change in their struggles to pursue their musical passions and perform for the Middle East and for the world. It’s especially inspiring to see these women who, despite anticipating the resistance and the difficulty of it all, strive to follow their passions and inspire others to do the same. Personally I can’t say I would have the strength to put up as much of a fight if I was in such a position.
Of course, looking at history, it’s clear that the culture won’t change overnight. A few songs here and there won’t sweep through the minds of entire nations. But the push toward a more free society for everyone is certainly alive and well in the Middle East, and musical expression just adds that little bit of extra sparkle and passion to the movement. Only time will tell how today’s younger generations will respond going forward.