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Arabic pop music

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Title: Arabic pop music  
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Subject: Middle Eastern music, Arabic music, Natacha Atlas, Al Jeel, Pop music
Collection: 20Th-Century Music Genres, Arabic Music, Pop Music Genres
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Arabic pop music

Arabic pop music or Arab pop is a subgenre of Pop music and Arabic music.

Arab pop is mainly produced in Cairo, with Beirut as a secondary center. It is an outgrowth of the Arabic film industry, also predominantly located in Cairo.

The primary style is a genre that synthetically combines pop melodies with elements of different Arab regional styles, called ughniyah (Arabic: أغنية‎) or in English "Arab song". It uses string instruments including the guitar as well as traditional Middle Eastern instruments.[1]

Another aspect of Arab pop is the overall tone and mood of the songs. The majority of the songs are in a minor key, and themes tend to focus on longing, melancholy, strife, and generally love issues.


  • Songwriting, recording and distribution formats 1
    • The business side 1.1
  • Characteristics and themes 2
  • Videos and performance 3
  • Demographics of Arabic Pop 4
  • History of Arab Pop 5
    • Early days: 1920s-1950s 5.1
    • Modernization: 1950s-1970s 5.2
    • Arab Pop today: 1970s-Present 5.3
  • Arabic Pop outside the Arab world 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Songwriting, recording and distribution formats

The road to Arab stardom is very different from in the Western world. Traditionally a certain producer creates the full song from music to lyrics no matter the talents of the performer. Most music is recorded in studios as is Western Pop music. But also several live albums have been popular such as with Asalah and Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum.

Most music is released on CD in the album format. Singles are not released separately, but just airplay is common. In some countries where certain types of music is banned by Islamic law, such as Iran, bootleg tape is most common.

There are no official charts or certifications due to the loose nature of the business and bootlegging. Ringtone charts are occasionally made, but due to bootlegging, they are also highly inaccurate. There are several awards in different countries awarded in different ways according to their organizations.

In fact bootlegging is so common most bootleggers have their own brands. They are so bold that they usually put contact info on the front of the CDs. Bootlegging is such a major problem that most artists don't rely on royalties for income.[2] Most of the actual musical income comes from ringtone downloads which is more prevalent than in the West. Other income comes from endorsements deals and live performances.

Live performances are mainly brokered through the record label. This includes traditional performances such as at arenas or major media events. However performances at weddings and private parties are common no matter the level of fame.

The business side

There are vast differences between the Western Music Business and the Arabic Music Business.

Unlike with the West there are rarely managers, agents or PR systems. Record Labels are usually mega corporations that control music videos, music channels, and distribution as well as the artists' careers, such as endorsement deals or booking gigs. Producers and writers are usually affiliated with certain labels.

An aspiring Arab singer creates a video demo and sends them to satellite channels that specialize in that area. It is then up to a record label to see them on such a program and sign them.[3]

Several other artists have also rose to fame via other forms of exposure—either having a famous parent musician (such as Asalah) or having been famous in some other area (such as 'Miss Lebanon' Haifa Wehbe).

Characteristics and themes

Most Arab pop concentrates on romantic themes, hence the frequent use of words like habibi and qalbi. Explicit references to sexuality and things forbidden by Islam, including alcohol, are rare. So is overt mention of politics, reflecting the limited democratic traditions in the region, but international conflicts such as the Gulf War often inspire songs such as "Saddam Saddam", a 1991 hit in spiritual support of Saddam Hussein.

Although tame by Western standards female Arab popstars have been known to cause controversy with their sexuality. Playful lyrics, skimpy costumes, and dancing have led to quite a bit of criticism in the more conservative Islamic countries. Artists such as Lydia Canaan, Samira Said, Nancy Ajram, Nawal Al Zoghbi, Latifa, Assala, Amal Hijazi and Haifa have all come under fire at one time or another for the use of sexuality in their music. This has led to bans on their music and performances in certain countries; particularly in Haifa's case. Lydia Canaan's provocative costumes made her a sex symbol. The Daily Star wrote: "On stage, with her daring looks and style, Canaan became a role model".[4] In 2002 a video by Samira Said Youm Wara Youm was banned by Egyptian Parliament for being 'too sexy' like Nancy Ajram in 2003. In addition Amal Hijazi's music video of "Baya al Ward" was heavily criticised and banned on a few music channels. Such extremes are rare but smaller actions are not uncommon towards Arab female popstars. [3]

Videos and performance

As stated above, videos are generally the way Arab popstars are discovered. Once famous a single is chosen and a music video is made. Music videos generally are the same as they are in the West with a small storyline and dance scenes.

Music channels are popular in the Middle East, and North Africa where some 40 Arab music channels exist.[5] Rotana is the most popular company running six TV channels, a record label, and a roster of more than 100 of the Arab top pop artist.

Performances occur as they do in the West. As with the music videos, female artist are criticized for their suggestive dancing and skimpy costumes. Haifa Wehbe and Nancy Ajram tend to sell concerts out based on such reputations.

Arabic pop music videos are most popular among local youth in the Levant and North Africa. The Gulf countries are well-known to ban or censor music videos they deem too inappropriate. Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, and Morocco show the least tendency to censor or ban music videos while Egypt has been known to ban overtly sexual and explicit music videos.

Demographics of Arabic Pop

Though particularly popular among the youth and young adult Arab population, Arabic pop has also found an audience with older fans as well.

Most fans of Arabic pop live in the Arab World. Arabic pop also has found fans in communities of expats particularly in France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Further fan bases come from Western belly dance fans.

History of Arab Pop

Early days: 1920s-1950s

The early days of Arabic pop featured a more traditional style of music. Artists such as Umm Kulthum, who is now considered an Arabic music legend, made it acceptable for females to perform.

At this point the performers tended to write lyrics, though not always. Music was written by others. Both lyrics and music were in traditional Arabic styles and songs tended to last well over 10–30 minutes. Several of Umm's songs were measured in hours. Performances were broadcast over radio and live tours were conducted. The songs could have been compared to Western Jazz for their improvisation and to Opera for their traditional elements and length.

Modernization: 1950s-1970s

During this period Arab pop began to emerge though the older style of the Early Days was still prevalent and extremely popular. Songs began to become more westernized in sound and length (now around 5–20 minutes). Such artists as Abdel Halim Hafez, Dalida and Fairuz rose to fame during this period.

Arab Pop today: 1970s-Present

In the 1970s with the rise of Western artists such as ABBA and the death of the early artists such as Umm Kulthum, Arabic pop began to take shape.

Artists such as Dalida began to produce disco sounding songs with success. By the early 1980s artists such as Samira Said rose to fame with their Western sounding Arab Pop. By the mid to late 1990s a style of Arab Pop Princesses rose to prominence defining the genre as it's now known today. Artists such as Najwa Karam, Elissa, Sherine, Nawal Al Zoghbi, Diana Haddad, Amr Diab, Ragheb Alameh, Rashed Almajed and Nancy Ajram rose to fame using traditional Arab instruments and melodies.

Arabic Pop outside the Arab world

Arabic pop has continually charted in Europe in the past few years especially the French Top 20,[6] although it is harder to spread due to most of the popular songs being in various Arabic dialects. However many artists speak several languages and have songs in various languages, especially French and Spanish. Nevertheless, it is rare to have more than a few lines in the other languages. Even rarer is a line in English.

See also


  1. ^ Hong, Y. Euny (2005-06-03). "In the Arab World, Pop Stardom Can Be A Touchy Subject article".  
  2. ^ Hong, Y. Euny (2005-06-03). "In the Arab World, Pop Stardom Can Be A Touchy Subject".  
  3. ^ a b Hong, Y. Euny (2005-06-03). "In the Arab World, Pop Stardom Can Be A Touchy Subject".  
  4. ^ Jinan Jubayli, The Daily Star, No.10,735, March 18, 2002
  5. ^ Usher, Sebastian (2007-05-21). "Arab youth revel in pop revolution".  
  6. ^ Hong, Y. Euny (2005-06-03). "In the Arab World, Pop Stardom Can Be A Touchy Subject".  

External links

  • - Scoopspy.comList of Arabic Music Videos
  • Arabic Songs
  • - Reason MagazineMusic and modernization in the Arab world
  • A Little War Music - by Robert Christgau for the Village Voice, 1991
  • Flamenco and Arabic Pop - A popular radio show
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