Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I recently met an Omani who plays in the Omani Orchestra, and he reminded me of how confusing the issue of music is in the Arab world. Flip through the satellite channels and you'll find tens of music stations playing anything from Shakira to Nancy Ajram (a popular Lebanese singer) to more traditional Saudi men singing and dancing in a circle. Most Arabs I have met are familiar with American and Lebanese popular music. Yet there is a really large cultural gap in appreciating music that lies between the Gulf and other Arab countries.

When I lived in Egypt, I regularly went to concerts (check out Wust al Balad for a taste of my favorite Egyptian band). There were several clubs that featured live bands and a cultural center and opera house that hosted various concerts. Bahrain had a number of bars which had Pilipino bands, but aside from a few talented musicians most were simply background noise for scantily clad female dancers. Oman and Dubai also have dance clubs, some including the dancing girls, but I have yet to meet a local musician from any Gulf country except for ironically, Saudi Arabia, the one place where it is technically illegal to have concerts so they happen privately. Most of the Saudis I met were educated in the West or not Saudis but residents of Saudis.

Local musicians are rare in the region because some Muslims see music as wrong, because it is seen as competing with the musical poetry of the Quran. Even more Muslims see any instrument involving blowing (this includes trumpets, clarinets, or any other wind instrument) as being un-Islamic, so therefore wrong. I had a friend who taught in an upscale private school in Muscat who always had a hard time convincing Arab Muslims to play any wind instrument. Even traditional instruments are rare, such as the oud.

This brings me back to my Omani friend, the one who plays violin for the Royal Oman Orchestra. They are building a new concert for the group, which is comprised of Omanis and visiting guest soloists and conductors. Or at least that's what he told me, because they have no website, not many articles available in English, and their Facebook page was last updated 6 months ago. It frustrates me that it is so hard to find these local pockets of art and expression.

1 comment:

  1. what confuses me is that if wind instruments are not allowed then how can singing be allowed. After all voice is classified as wind instrument. Either all music is haram or all is ok. take a pick.