Arabic Music – Part 1

People in Indonesia have a common misconception about Arabic music. They think that Arabic music is always composed for religious use. This is not true. Like Indonesian and Western music, Arabic music is composed of various themes, including love (mostly!!). Speaking of Arabic music… well, my childhood life was basically surrounded by Arabic music. Both of my parents — having to live in Egypt for 11 years — are fans of classical Arabic music. And honestly, that’s the only music they listen to; they never listen to any other music, not even Indonesian or Western music (my father does, but it’s very rare). As a result, all of us — including myself, my sister, and brother — are Arabic music lovers!

Uum Kulthum When I say classical Arabic music, I refer to those talented singers like Uum Kulthum and Abdul Halim Hafez. They are my mom and dad’s favourite singers, respectively. When I was a kid, I used to make fun of Uum Kulthum’s video clips, which are in fact her black-and-white concerts. I used to ask my mom, “Why does she always hold a handkerchief? Why does she always move like that (shaking her body, but stand still!)? Can’t she do something else? Or at least walk a bit??? She’s so boring!” Hehehe. Mom told me how all people in Egypt admired the singer. When Uum Kulthum suddenly died of nephritis in 1975, my mom was already in Cairo, pursuing her study there. She said that she was overwhelmed to watch MANY people attended the funeral (people said that her funeral was larger than that of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser). She even said that after Uum Kulthum’s death, many people committed suicide! More than 30 years after Uum Kulthum passed away, her name is still recognised in the Arab world and her concerts are still shown on TV and watched by millions of people. Isn’t she amazing??!?

It’s important to know that both Uum Kulthum and Abdul Halim Hafez, who rose to fame in 1930’s and 1950’s respectively, came from Egypt. Indeed, Egypt has played an enormous and important role in the development and evolution of Arabic music, simply because many great and famous musicians are Egyptians. A number of music labels and companies were founded there. Many singers from other parts of Arabic countries — such as Latifa, Warda, and Samira Said — who are now famous, made their way to Egypt to become a singer. It was even said that “No matter how brilliantly an Arab singer or artist shines in his own country, he or she will never fulfil dreams before setting foot in Egypt.” [] In addition to the classical Arabic music, the “modernised” Egyptian music has become one of the most popular music genres in the Arab world. I’m sure most of you know — or at least have heard of — Amr Diab, a very famous Arabic singer whose song Habibi went into success, not only in the Middle East but also in Western countries. I heard this song being played numerous times in Jakarta’s markets.

It’s also worth mentioning that Lebanon too has played an important role in Arabic music. By 1970’s, Fairuz and Majida El Roumi became one of the most successful Lebanese female singers of the Arab world. Like Egypt, Lebanon has pretty much contributed in westernising the Arabic music. During the period of Fairuz, Arabic songs that usually last over 5-10 minutes (and sometimes hours in Uum Kulthum’s songs) began to change in the melody (pop music) and length (now around or less than 5 minutes). The country also has a traditional folk music that is quite popular in the Middle East. However, due to years of civil war, Lebanon’s involvement in Arabic music decreased; leaving Egypt as the only “leader” of the Arabic music business. After the civil war ended in 1990, Lebanon managed to re-develop its infrastructure and economy. The growth of Lebanese music scene has once again increased, producing many well-known singers like Nawal El Zoughby, Wael Kafoury, and Ragheb Alama in the early 1990’s, as well as “pop princesses” like Elissa, Nancy Ajram, and Haifa Wehbe in the late 1990’s.

Although not as famous as Egyptian and Lebanese singers, the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman) have also produced many musicians who usually promote the Khaleeji (Gulf) music styles. This includes Mohammad Abduh, Rashid Al Majid, Ahlam, and Abdullah Al Ruwaished. I’m not a huge fan of Khaleeji music, so I can’t write more about it :D. There’s also an Arabic music genre called raï, popularised by Maghribi* singers such as Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami.

… to be continued. Read Part 2.

To see the different styles of Arabic music, watch these YouTube videos:

* Refers to people from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria; due to similar culture and dialects.


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5 Responses

  • Mel, I’ve posted this article on my SIDELINES (bookmark) on my Indo blog. I like it a lot. It comes with YouTube shows as well. 😉


  • mel, kaget. lihat link ini bolak balik, gue pikir lo abis lulus kuliah buka kerudung. abis mirip muka, sama nama. whuaduh. setelah berkali2 ternyata bukan. hihihi.. lega.
    maap mel, gak maksud apa apa. cuman emeng beneran lega aja.

  • amellie

    Jennie: Thanks so much! I feel honoured 😀

    mulia: hahaha.. gak apa2.. kaget juga itu kok nama bisa sama hahahaha..

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