Al-Qaeda, Meet al-Salsa
October 6, 2005 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Al-Qaeda, Meet al-Salsa Salsa music is sweeping the arab world, especially as played by Amr Diab, hailed by an Abu Dhabi taxi driver as "the Ricky Martin of the Arab World." But unlike Ricky Martin, Amr Diab combines Latin rhythms in an appealing mix with guttural Arabic lyrics. It's the type of cosmopolitan fusion that might now be welcome in Iran's growing but barely-tolerated music scene.
posted by teaperson (21 comments total)
It might work in Iran if they combine a salsa beat with Farsi lyrics, maybe.
posted by davy at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2005

Err, little WTF there, referring to the Arab world as al Qaeda.
posted by xmutex at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2005

I concur 100% with xmutex...

What is the context of the title there?
posted by tpl1212 at 12:37 PM on October 6, 2005

I think "Saudi Arabia meet Salsa Arabia" would have been a better choice....
posted by Floydd at 12:55 PM on October 6, 2005

It's like raï without any balls.
posted by hototogisu at 1:03 PM on October 6, 2005

This story's angle is all wrong. It's not about SALSA at all, idiot. That word should never appear in the article. It's about Amr Diab and others performing modern Middle Eastern pop that sounds superificially like some modern Hispanophone music, because traditional Arabic or Middle Eastern music plus pop sensibilities, surprise surprise, sounds something like modern Hispanophone pop with its own historical Moorish roots. Anybody who listens to "Nour Elain" (a.k.a "Habibi" or "Habibi ya nour al nain") or "Ne me jugez pas" and thinks they're salsa is out of their minds. And who could ever listen to the Gypsy kings and think that Gypsy Kings "Alabina" is a crossover song? Their WHOLE catalog is connected historically to Arabic vocalization styles, instrumentation, musical keys, themes, etc.

This, however, is strictly true: "Amr Diab is no Ricky Martin. He's much better."
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2005

"Traditional Arabic or Middle Eastern music plus pop sensibilities, surprise surprise, sounds something like modern Hispanophone pop with its own historical Moorish roots."

Having looked at your "Homepage URL" I doubt you're a total dimwit, but I'd still like to know what makes you an expert in this field please. Are you a genuine polymath like languagehat or are you talking out your ass like the rest of us usually do?
posted by davy at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2005

I thought that "salsa" was a made-up label to sell records in the 70s? Or is it actually descriptive of something beyond "latin music" in general?
posted by footnote at 2:33 PM on October 6, 2005

Those are hardly earth-shattering claims, davy. Why does he need to be an expert in anything to make such an obvious statement?
posted by hototogisu at 2:36 PM on October 6, 2005

There be latent possiblities for counterpoint in Persian music, even a Zarathustran Harmony, if only an Aryan Rameau would publish the theory.

Alas, attempts thus far have been groping, insipid.
posted by 20-sesquial terra at 2:40 PM on October 6, 2005

Arabic music is the basis of Spanish music, which is the basis for Spanish pop from Mexico, Spain, South America, etc.

In other words, what Mo said. It's hardly a secret-- listen to the way Flamenco singers sing, and then listen to their Arabic counterparts and you've got 1/2 the story right there.
posted by cell divide at 2:47 PM on October 6, 2005

Having looked at your "Homepage URL" I doubt you're a total dimwit, but I'd still like to know what makes you an expert in this field please.

Well, for what they're worth, one, I use to be a music journalist, albeit small-time. Two, I used to be a disc jockey at a student radio station where I started its first international music program--not "world music," when I could help it, but music made in foreign countries for a domestic audience, not for white Westerners. For three, I listen to a lot of Middle Eastern music. I have 46 songs by Amr Diab (some remixes) alone and I've listened to them all (much of my Middle Eastern/Arabic music comes recommend by Middle Eastern friends). I've got more than 6GB of in the Middle Eastern/Arabic genre in total. For four, in my Hispanophone genre on iTunes, I have more than a thousand songs and I hear it all the time in clubs, bars, restaurants, shops, from the neighbors, bleeding out of earphones on the subway, pretty much everywhere.

Also, like anyone with any fricking knowledge of the Middle East would know that "yalla" is slang for "come on!" and would make a joke about that, not some crap comment Allah and extremists.

So those factors, plus Metafilter Brand talking out of my ass, boing! that makes me more of an expert than someone who thinks Amr Diab is flavor of the month.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:13 PM on October 6, 2005

(O, that second to last paragraph doesn't parse.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:26 PM on October 6, 2005

Any tracks worth specifically hunting down? I only scanned the site as far as the two samples, and wasn't a fan of the recording or the quality.
posted by hototogisu at 3:26 PM on October 6, 2005

I found a lot of his music in iTunes Music Store. I'm browsing now and plan to buy a few tracks. So far I bought Nour el Ain.
posted by mike3k at 6:32 PM on October 6, 2005

I just bought an entire album. Very enjoyable music. I still like Rachid Taha a bit more, although his music is a lot more western.
posted by mike3k at 6:38 PM on October 6, 2005

You can't not like it - Tamally maak
posted by growabrain at 7:22 PM on October 6, 2005

Agree that the title of the post is crap. Would also like to second Mo's take on the whole thing and make note that I would very much like access to his itunes catalog. ;) Also, I love Amr Diab. His voice is like honey, warm and rich....yum.
posted by dejah420 at 8:29 PM on October 6, 2005

Not to bang Mo here, but I think the article merely overstates the identification with salsa per se:

> Arab popular music from the mid 1990s onward strikingly displays the influence of Spanish and Latin music styles: the Spanish tinge.... Mere consideration of the Arabic adjectives associated with Spanish influence - Latini, Andalusi, filimanku (flamenco), gharbi (western), bahrawsati (Mediterranean), 'alami (global) -- as well as the multiple categories into which Spanish-tinged songs are sorted - shababi (youth), hadis (modern), bub (pop) - suggest the dense tangle of meanings which Spanish-tinged Arabic music presents to Arab listeners....

Two factors, then, motivate this study. One is the striking rise of Spanish and Latin styles in Arab popular music over the last ten years....

The Spanish tinge in Egyptian pop music occurs primarily in the domain of “al-musiqa al-shababiyya” (youth music, already a fusion of older Arab music with western rock and pop). Spanish influence includes instrumental, timbral, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, textural, and occasionally linguistic resources. Most often, influence is manifested in acoustic guitar styles, both rhythmic and melodic (often an ersatz 'flamenco'); in Latin grooves and percussion; or in distinctive harmonic progressions. Within a song, Spanish influence may appear vertically, in short segments: introductions, instrumental interludes, or fills (lawazim) separating vocal phrases. At the level of album, influence is likewise vertical, since in the typically only one or two (out of 8 - 12) songs contain Spanish influence (though these are often the most popular). Or influence may appear horizontally, as one sonic layer within a shababiyya texture including also Arabic, Western rock/pop, and perhaps other styles as well. Occasionally the Spanish style constitutes the primary matrix for an entire song....

Amr Diab is the most popular music star in Egypt today, and among the three or four most consistently popular singers in the Arab world, from the 1990s to the present. Diab has consistently innovated since his first album in 1986; his great fame and financial success ensures that his artistic decisions reach a vast audience, and spawn many imitators. Since the mid-1990s, Diab's output has increasingly displayed Spanish influence....

Gradually his career has become more international. Besides touring abroad, his use of foreign musical styles has garnered international acclaim, and his fan base has increasingly extended outside the Arab world; this fact in turn reflects and necessitates continued deployment of those styles. Indeed, the most striking feature of his 1990s output is the increasing diversification of music styles, especially Spanish and Latin. Some Arabs began to refer to his as the “Mediterranean sound”....

At the [World Music Award] ceremony his performance of ["Nur al-'Ayn"], cast in a flamenco/Gipsy Kings mold....

Though Spanish influence is most salient, Diab has experimented with other musical hybrids as well, including Turkish, North African, Greek, electronica, and hip-hop sounds....

Diab is by no means alone. “Leeli” (from the album Shawa'na, 1990) imitates “Lambada”. “Eeh bass illi ramaak” (Habibi, 1992) opens with Spanish-style acoustic guitar, which returns for fills. On Ayamna (1993), “Hawak hayyarni” begins with conga sounds, and “Taba' el Hayah” features a Latin groove, plus Spanish guitar and Brazilian pop harmonies. However it is on Wi yilumuni (1995) that flamenco sounds appear in force, in “Ahlif bi il-layali” and “Wi yilumuni”. Ragi'in (1996) features a Latin groove on “Balash tikallimha”. The title track on Nur al-'Ayn (1996) presents the clearest example yet of a Spanish-flamenco groove, instrumentation, and harmonic progression, displacing the usual Arab pop matrix.

I don't know that the author can be considered an authority per se, but it's a well-documented thesis, not just a magazine article (it was published as such).
posted by dhartung at 1:17 AM on October 7, 2005

It was a reminder that there were other voices in the Arab world than Osama bin Laden, and good voices at that.


Count me with those who find the mention of Al Qaeda or OBL more than a little gratuitous and thick-headed here.

Anyways, interesting stuff. It is amusing that the author should find the mingling of influences surprising, considering traditional music in different areas of the Mediterranean has so many common roots and styles. A "middle ground between cultures" is what it's always been!
posted by funambulist at 3:03 AM on October 7, 2005

Whoa, dhartung, brilliant find. I don't feel like I'm wrong, but that article (as opposed to the CSM piece) is waaaay out in front with facts and ideas I don't have and have never considered.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2005

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