HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Youthful Music and Progressivism

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.

-Kevone Hospedales

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31986705

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30555154

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/egypt-female-musicians-break-barriers.html

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24 Comments

  1. nrassam3 says:

    it is certain that music is a very effective in energizing the momentum of change and equality going on in the middle east. It is a question now on wither political entities will Capitalize on such movements for their own political interests in the name of change. This genre is rare in the middle east, and probably would inspire the current generations to open their eyes.

  2. missypittard says:

    Wow. Well, for one, thank you for introducing me to a new realm of music to explore, and second, how incredible that these individuals enough are bold enough to flaunt the changes they hope to see come to the Middle East. The themes of the lyrics are incredibly eye opening to what the people feel in regard to the future of the region, or at least, some portion. If these are the popular artists on the rise, this is great foreshadowing of the change that could be coming to their countries.

  3. coreilly says:

    This really shows the voice of the people in the Middle East. It shows that younger generations want more equality and more freedom and are starting to do something about it. Music and other forms of the arts are some of the best ways to spread new ideas so this is a good start. It is hard to change a society that has been against gender equality and at war with each other for hundreds of years but someone somewhere needs to start to try spreading new ideas and it seems as if these artists are doing just that. Like I said earlier, if anything this shows the mindset of the younger generations. It may not change overnight but it is promising for the future.

  4. trevormcelhenny says:

    The ideals behind the lyrics of these artists certainly points towards a growing trend of equality and social/religious acceptance. No doubt, music can be a vehicle for social change – think about what happened in the late 60’s in the US…or was it the drugs?…Anyway, I always enjoy listening to new music and artists. Great post!

  5. wcarter31 says:

    It’s very interesting how powerful music can be for spreading a message, and what better message is there than equality and freedom? I hope the messages are well received by the population.

  6. austinsoper says:

    I am encouraged by the modernization of Islamic society. These changes are necessary in some of the most repressive and violent places on Earth. With everything that is occurring in Syria and Iraq with ISIS right now, music is such a powerful vehicle for change.

  7. ashumway3 says:

    I really like how you incorporated videos and music into your post! It was really constructive to demonstrating your point. I agree with you that this is not a rapid change, but steps like these and those mentioned in the other blog post this week I feel signal a great change lying just beneath the surface. Hopefully, over time we will see more and more supporters of these modernist ideas rise up and take political power in order to enact actual changes in the government to support equality between the sexes as well as guaranteed protection of freedom of expression.

  8. jkempa3 says:

    Great post! Music has proven to be a very powerful medium for people to try and influence the masses. The messages of the artists referenced in the above post gives hope to true social changes that could reduce the violence between peoples of different regions. The fact that musical artists are standing up and openly conveying their messages of change while still maintaining fundamental style unique to their culture is awesome. In my opinion, the music sounds pretty good too.

  9. cryan3232 says:

    I found this really interesting! The idea that music may be able to facilitate social change in the Middle East would be great. Since these people carry a substantial amount of social influence and are in a position of power where their lyrics and songs can connect with a wide audience, it would be a great benefit to the Middle East. Also, its great to see women being open to new opportunities even if it is just a small number in this sense.

  10. vlobo3 says:

    To be honest, I just feel like these people are really brave. It’s really awesome that they aren’t afraid to speak out on these issues. I’m sure that they may get a lot of critiques from different places, but it still is great that they’re still pushing for rights for everyone.

  11. lmoghimi3 says:

    It’s interesting that all of these songs are in English. Meaning they are probably looking for an audience more outside of their home countries. Which is good that they are trying to reach wider audiences, but also makes me wonder just how many Yemenis, Syrians, Palestinians ect. listen to their music.

    • amiteichenbaum says:

      They may have multiple versions of songs (one in English, one in another language.)

      Idan Raichel is a very popular artist in Israel (http://www.idanraichelproject.com/en/), with the band and collaborations involving tons of different cultures and languages (“guest appearances by Portuguese fado star Ana Moura, Palestinian-Israeli singer Mira Awad, German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, Colombia’s Marta Gómez, Vieux Farka Touré…”). They often have songs in many different languages to expand their audience.

  12. kimpgt says:

    Great post! Similar to the previous post about women’s rugby, I am glad to see strides in music and for female artists in the Middle East. Music can have lots of propaganda and be seen as rebelling if it contains material that disagrees with the government. Like you said, it’s the message, more than the beat that’s important. I like that women can use their music to speak out about injustice/inequality and their hopes and dreams, especially because men are deemed superior. I also enjoyed how 47SOUL made a modern version of traditional Arabic songs. I think it helps show those who oppose them that music is not bad or a form of resistance.

  13. jyount6 says:

    To effect social change I think it would be good for these artists to start off small and then grow outward in terms of their message. I’m not sure of the overall popularity of the artists but if change is to happen sooner rather than in a generation or two then the musicians should gain certain respect of the generation in power before attempting to change the hearts and minds of the leaders. Overall very informing article!

  14. Travis says:

    Music is an effective way to spread opinions and messages due to the fact that just about everyone listens to some type or form of music. The question is whether the message will sink in or whether the listener will just switch to a different song. Even though politics in the Middle East are very important, the social aspects of the Middle East are also very important in understanding the people as a whole. I hope that the artists mentioned in your blog continue to thrive and encourage different people across the Middle East to think of things in more of sense of connectivity than separation.

  15. jackjenkins2015 says:

    Great post! I have always loved and appreciated music and artists as a way to express ideals of love, peace and acceptance. Music is powerful, as our history has shown (slave spirituals, jazz, the Beatles) and I think it’s really cool that there is a young generation of musicians in the Middle East who are willing to share these songs and promote a message of change and of good thoughts to those who listen. Hearing things like this always gives me hope for a better world. Thanks for sharing!

  16. lalaninatl says:

    I think artists are the ones who sometimes start trends. This is a good adaptation for a progressive movement but as you’ve highlighted, many people are not ready yet for the change. The rapper story was an awesome, unique view and something I’m glad you shed light upon.

  17. corypope6 says:

    People always say, “Music is the gateway to the soul.” I think this concept is very clear in the Middle East right now. Music reflects what we believe, and we only listen to music that strengthens or at the very least doesn’t conflict our beliefs. The culture in the Middle East is very unacceptant of women and progressive ideas in general at this point, and this is reflected in their clear distaste for progressive music. However, even though some people are vehemently against this new musical style, it means the world to the people who love it and gives them hope, so it is important that this movement not be stamped out but instead be protected and nurtured.

  18. ssweeny3 says:

    I think this is a very interesting article and a new aspect on the progressive movement that many are pushing for in the middle east. This is simply another form of how the west is influencing the progressive movement of the east. Alternative, electronic, rap, and metal are all genres of music that are coming from the west. I am curious how much of the censorship talked about in one of the other blog post, if some organizations are banning the viewing or purchasing of this song.

  19. jjacob7 says:

    This post is illustrative of how significant art is in moving society forward. It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg comparison when we consider how art drives progress and how progress impacts art, but I think part of the reason that modern society is evolving so quickly is because of the ability for art to flourish unabated. In American society, support for the Civil Rights Movement, backlash against the Vietnam War, and even modern advances in LGBT rights have been propagated through art as a means of activism. Of course that’s much more difficult in a country that wants to censor that material, or with an audience that is less receptive to it, but young people will always find away to promote progress.

    • nsumi3 says:

      I agree that it’s much more difficult to expand musical and creative horizons in a country with strict censorship laws, but the US is no stranger to censorship either. Rock and Roll used to be abhored by certain segments of society and, especially in the 50s with the “Communist scare”, certain bands were blocked from the radio. Fortunately though, censorship has proven to be unsustainable across history, and I think if these forward moving bands continue their struggle, either they or their descendents will eventually achieve the same freedom of expression that we enjoy.

  20. emartin36 says:

    This type of movement can be a generational leap that can affect a country’s progress for years to come. Obviously this music will be better received by more youthful listeners than the generation of current effective leaders in the Middle East, but this simply means the main impact can come in the years down the road. In America, music has been an influential cultural movement, especially in the ’60s, and a similar type of nonviolent revolution in the Middle East may push towards a more peaceful future.

  21. jenglish7 says:

    I find it very interesting how music can be a cultural driver for change. The youthful audience of these forms of entertainment will certainly go a long ways in focusing the message behind groups like 47SOUL into affecting real-world events. Hopefully the progressive message contained will take root and catalyze future movement.

  22. zhu64 says:

    Interesting article! I find they are just like the musicians in the U.S.. They have their own styles, no matter what it is, electronic, rap, or hip-hop. They speak English. They also deliver their emotion and opinions through lyrics. Every culture need music, even though sometimes they don’t have much more freedom. The appear of women musicians could greatly encourage other people in middle east to think about women’s right in their country.

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