music is life, music is breath, music is us

Rock and the Arab World

I recently wrote a research paper on the rising rock movements in the Arab world (this I define as various countries in the Near East and North Africa). The goal of my research was to discover how popular a genre I hold close to my heart is in a world I have had some contact with due to my playing of Near Eastern music. What I discovered was astonishing, namely that rock in the Arab world is incredibly diverse. Some bands like the Jordanian Jadal create a beautiful alternative-rock tone that could easily be found on any radio station in the west. Other bands like Iraqi Acrassicauda, which is considered the first Iraqi metal band, create an aggressive sound that draws on their unique hardships (the band has been subjected to death threats, bombings due to military action in their country, and general concern for their family, and they now live in New York City).

No matter what the case is, all bands in the Arab world have a passionate love of rock, and seek to spread their own unique takes on a western genre around the world. Some are politically driven (such as rock and Algerian Rai musician Rachid Taha who is known for critiquing governmental systems), others are driven to critique societal norms and pre-conceptions (like the Egyptian band Massar Egbari who takes aim at a society that “is trying to imply its power over people starting from their childhood till the day they die”). Often times, bands in this region of the world will combine a variety of influences, depending on the style of rock music that is being played. Some bands draw not only on their rock influences, but also on Jazz, Electronica/Trance and Rap. Most of all, traditional Arabic music is present, as all of the bands are proud of their heritage and allow it to bleed through their art. Such examples of this include the utilization of instruments like the oud (Near Eastern lute) and the darabuka (Near Eastern hand drum), melismatic singing (where one single syllable is ornamented melodically), and the presence of taqasim (instrumental solos that are essential in classical Arabic performance, taqasim demonstrate how well the musician has mastered their instrument and the maqamat (scales)).

No matter what resistance some bands may face (in certain regions of the Arab world rock is not truly considered music, in the most extreme cases bands, namely metal bands, are treated with hostility by religious extremists due to the “evil” nature of their art), rock music is rising daily in the Arab world, with various bands from all over the Near East and North Africa playing massive music festivals and getting radio airplay.

Many of the bands I had the opportunity to study and write about could easily be successful in the United States, and it is my hope that they do in fact make it big in the west. Even though many bands sing in Arabic, the music that they write, the melodies and the passionate rhythms speak to any heart and lover of rock music. I encourage anyone reading to check out the bands I have mentioned, I don’t believe that you will be disappointed.

(Source: “Rock and Metal Music in the Arab World” by Derek Kortepeter, can be accessed at http://ucla.academia.edu/DerekKortepeter)

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