It is easy to tell when a remix has taken on a life of its own: when radio stations become inundated with requests for the new track rather than the original. It doesn't happen often, but a recent reworking of the Colombian pop singer Shakira's She Wolf by a Lebanese DJ is becoming one of those rare exceptions. "I am well-known as an oriental beat-maker. My remix is a fusion between oriental percussion and western dance music, and it has become the main version here in the Middle East," said Said Mrad, 41, who has been a DJ in his native Beirut for almost 20 years.
As well as being a big name in the city's club scene, he regularly plays in Europe, Africa and locations throughout the Middle East. In recent years he has also moved into producing and remixing music and become the default choice for "orientalising" western pop. To create the remix, Mrad took the original track and began by adding a conventional house music beat. He then layered digital recordings of oriental percussion instruments, such as the darbuka and tef, to create a traditional Middle Eastern rhythm. Finally, he recorded the acclaimed mezmar player Ali Madbouh, who played live to create the remix's distinctive melody.
"I added the oriental flavours and made it a dance version," said Mrad. "The original is a pop song, not a club song. It only took about two days. It was very quick because I felt the song. When you don't feel the song it can take a week or two." Commissioning remixes is a technique commonly used by record labels to help market songs and artists to different audiences. "We told the DJs that we don't need a Euro house mix, we are looking for something that really reflects your city and your region," said Kevin Ridgely, the managing director of Sony Music Middle East in Dubai.
As well as getting regular airplay, Mrad's remix has also been included on the Middle Eastern pressing of the She Wolf album as a bonus track, along with versions by Cairo's Fahmy and Samba and Dubai's Mindloop Collective. The record is Shakira's third full-length English-language release and hit the shops last week. Four other reworkings of the track, including longer club versions and radio edits, were approved for a "maxi-single", which will be released next month. The remixes have also been made available for download through Getmo Arabia, the joint venture between Avarto Mobile Middle East and the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which also publishes The National.
Of the different remixes commissioned by Sony, it was Mrad's version that was chosen to accompany an edited version of Shakira's video, now on rotation on MTV Arabia and elsewhere. "They wanted more Middle East exposure for Shakira, because her father is originally from Lebanon," said Mrad. "It's also a good tribute to her and it tells the world that there are Arabic people who can do remixes for international artists which are as good as those in Europe or America."
Since his version of She Wolf reached the airwaves, Mrad said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. However he doesn't yet know what Shakira herself thinks of the song. "I hope she likes it," he said. "It has passed through her management and been approved, but I don't know any more than that." Sony hopes moves that involve members of the Middle Eastern music community in high-profile international releases can pave the way for signing Arab artists in the near future, according to Ridgely.
"We don't yet have Arabic artists that we have signed in the Middle East, but we are trying to reach out to that audience," he said. "So we thought this would be a good way." Twelve thousand fans watched Shakira perform live at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, in a New Year's Eve event to ring in 2009. "I'm the fruit of an Arab land and I'm immensely proud of my Arab heritage," she said. "I just wanted you to know that. I can't think of a better place to spend New Year's Eve."
The show, which included several costume changes, saw the singer perform Hips Don't Lie and Underneath Your Clothes, in addition to several Spanish numbers. Shakira has been pitched to Arab audiences through local DJs once before. Sony Music commissioned the Sahara remix of her hit single Whenever Wherever by a local DJ in Cairo, and it was included on the bonus edition of the CD Laundry Service Washed and Dried, in 2002.
When she played the song in Abu Dhabi last New Year's Eve, that was the remix she chose. The She Wolf album is out now. The various remixes can be downloaded fromwww.getmo.ae.