x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A look at the Arab music scene

The blogger Gazan Hani Almadhoun gives us his run though of the best of the Arab music world.

Courtesy Hani Al Madhoun
Courtesy Hani Al Madhoun

Gazan Hani Almadhoun runs the Hot Arabic Music blog, a witty look at the Middle East's music scene, and one of the only English-language resources on popular and independent Arab music. A US-based comedian, Almadhoun gives The National readers a guide of who's who onstage.

Is Arab music just Habibi crooners and sex-kitten singers?

It was up until 2008. There's no more easy money anymore to make cheap music videos with nudity, too many people have done that. Now, singers have to really be able to sing, not just ride a bike and show their bottoms. Also, the Arab Spring helped clean the stage of wannabe singers. There are a lot more sobering singers who challenge the narrative and go beyond kittens and "you love me" and "look at my eyes" sort of things. It might be a phase, but as more conservatives claim seats in governments, you will see less of the kitten business.

For people completely new to Arab music, what three musicians shouldn't be missed?

For pop, tune in to Haifa Wehbe. If you want real music from a singer with rock-star swagger, it's Mohamed Mounir. Indie bands: Cairokee and Black Theama. For something really different, listen to [the Syrian traditional singer] Sabah Fakhri.

Who are the best up-and-coming artists to watch for?

The Iraqi UNT1 band are pretty exciting to watch. Fayrouz Karawya from Egypt is a very good female singer with a brain. Rock bands are popping up all over the place. More young singers are coming out of Palestine - we've never had that before. Really, there are too many to name, so look at the labels "new star" and "young star" on the blog.

Who is overrated?

I am not a big fan of Tamer Hosny. He's in his late 30s and acts like he's 16. There are too many of those types of pop stars in Egypt at the moment, but most are sitting at home.

The independent scene seems to be playing a lot with styles and genres lately (Cairokee's collaborations with Zap Tharwat and Aida El Ayoubi). Is there a new maturity to the regional music scene?

This is the best thing to come out of the Arab Spring. Actual musicians are getting involved now, not mere performers and dancers who sing. Those two were amazing songs that bring something new to the table - little to do with house and club music - that's authentic and will stick around. But at the end of the day, if these bands do not make good money, the kittens will be back.