MADRID, 09/06/2023.- El presidente de la Fundación Antonio Gala, Francisco Moreno Crespo, interviene en un acto en homenaje al escritor Antonio Gala, fallecido el pasado 28 de mayo, este viernes en Madrid. EFE/ Chema Moya

Arab pop: a universal language

Doha, Sep 10 (EFE).- Singers who want to make it in the Arab pop world, which boasts a huge audience, use an Egyptian colloquial dialect known as Masri which has become the go-to language when it comes to popular culture in the Middle East.

Cairo has long been a cultural hub in the region and its musicians, television shows and movies have a vast audience beyond Egypt’s borders.

Only Algeria and Morocco, where there is a strong French influence, have their own music genres, but they have little or no reach in the rest of the Arab world.

Masri’s dominance in popular culture does not mean no art is produced in classical Arabic, the official language of all North African and Middle Eastern nations, but productions in that formal language tend to be relegated to traditional art-forms like poetry.

Singer Amr Diab during a concert at the Lusail stadium ahead Lusail Super Cup in Doha, Qatar, 9 September 2022. EFE/Alberto Estévez
Singer Amr Diab during a concert at the Lusail stadium ahead Lusail Super Cup in Doha, Qatar, 9 September 2022. EFE/Alberto Estévez

DIGITAL PLATFORMS

Masri pop music has also suffered the consequences of digital platforms and the abundance of free music online.
YouTube is the favored channel to access music and it is common to see young people in shops or cafes playing music on their laptops.

Spotify, Amazon Music and Anghami, a music streaming app from Saudi Arabia that is by far the most used in the region, are also popular among music fans.

A scroll through Anghami demonstrates the popularity of Egyptian musicians in the Arab world, with artists like Ahmed Saad and Wegz dominating the charts.

Saad, whose brother Amr is a well-known actor whose love life makes headlines and is widely discussed on social networks, is the most listened-to artist in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt.

His songs “El youm el helw dah” (What beautiful day today) and “Wasa3 Wasa3” (Let me in, let me in) have made the top 3 in Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s charts.

But the unquestionable star of Arab pop is Amr Diab, who at over 60 is topping the charts across the region with “Mn 6 Le 9” (From 6 to 9).

Singer Amr Diab during a concert at the Lusail stadium ahead Lusail Super Cup in Doha, Qatar, 9 September 2022. EFE/Alberto Estévez
Singer Amr Diab during a concert at the Lusail stadium ahead Lusail Super Cup in Doha, Qatar, 9 September 2022. EFE/Alberto Estévez

INTERNATIONAL STARS

Diab, who in 2016 broke the world record for the number of world music awards he has achieved, is a fixture at major cultural events in the Middle East.

He opened the African Olympic Games with a performance in 1991 surprising the world by singing in three languages ​​— English, French and Arabic — and recently performed in the first game of the Lusail stadium in Doha, which will host the inauguration and the grand final of the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

“I’ve attended a concert before, it was very good ‘vibes’ and excitement so I came here again. I think music is for everyone, so even if you don’t understand Arabic you will enjoy,” says Sarah, a 23-year-old Egyptian who enjoyed Diab’s performance sporting her flag.

Sarah is not alone. Diaab’s spectacle of lights and energy is contagious.

Spectators chant in unison, clapping, dancing and cheering on the singer as he moves vigorously across a futuristic stage perched at the back of the stadium, designed by the Norman Foster studio.

Unsurprisingly lyrics steer clear of sexual content or references to drug or alcohol use.

What does keep cropping up is the word “habibi” which, depending on the context or the personal interpretation at any given time, can be friend, lover, wife or girlfriend.

Performers sing of going for a walk, date, dance or swim in the sea with their “habibis”, without it ever being clear who they are actually talking about.

Traditional Arab music is slowly adopting new ways of communicating, especially with a younger audience.

“I think music from abroad is better, I like it better,” says 16 year-old Zian as Diab’s performance ends.

“Arab music is very good” and he welcomes the fact that the lyrics and content of songs “have been changing in recent years.”

He also hopes that musicians will introduce other rhythms like “salsa, reggaeton, rap or pop. It would be great to see Arab singers make this type of music. Now there are very few. It is not really done.” EFE

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