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Salsa de Arabia

diabian.jpgSome of the most popular music from North Africa to Indonesia bears a striking resemblance to the songs found in Latin dance clubs around the world. Artists such as Amr Diab have popularized a style of music that mixes Middle Eastern harmonies and structure with Latin American rhythms and melodies -- and have become best-selling performers world-wide. This musical movement is a welcome demonstration that globalization can mean more than global markets for Mickey Mouse and Michael Jordan -- sometimes, it can mean connections and art that bypass the West entirely.

Egypt's Amr Diab isn't the only Arab-language musician mixing Latin and Middle Eastern styles, but he's certainly among the most popular -- he even has tribute bands performing in Japan. His 1996 song Nur El Ayn (Real Media) can still be heard in dance clubs world-wide. The song's worth giving a listen, as it is an excellent example of how well the two styles can mash together. Other popular Amr Diab songs include Amarain, Tamally Ma'ak, and Ana Ayesh (all Real Media).

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor referred to the music as "Salsa" style, reflecting the growing popularity of Salsa dance in Egypt (and elsewhere in the Muslim world); those with greater knowledge of the history of music might dispute that label, but still acknowledge the growing connections between the Spanish-language and Arabic-language music scenes.

Scholar Michael Frishkopf argues (RTF) that there are many reasons why Middle Eastern and Spanish/Latin American musical styles mix so well, from the historical -- much of Spain was once part of the Muslim world, and subsequent musical forms reflect that distant heritage -- to the political -- the parallel experiences of post-colonial Latin America and Arab-speaking nations, and the resulting political connections between the regions. I would argue that this musical development, which had its earliest expressions in the 1970s but really took off in the 1990s, also owes much of its existence to the proliferation of satellite television and, eventually, the Internet, making it far simpler for people on different parts of the Earth to experience each other's arts and media. In and of themselves, global networks may not be enough to cause transnational cultural mash-ups, but they significantly reduce the effort required.

As more developing societies become sources of new media and gain greater visibility online, we are likely to see more of this sort of cross-culture weave -- and if the results are as appealing as the songs of Amr Diab, I'm looking forward to it.

(Via Metafilter)

Comments (1)

I actually listen to Amr Diab a bit, and enjoy it. I even recently found someone who could translate a lot of it for me, so now I know what is being sung. :-)


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