x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirati Life: From hearing loss to musical gain

The reason I shied away from the Arabesque variety of music was that I equated it with the outdated and the old, having only heard it through my parents.

Music has always moved me in a way few other mediums are able to.

As a child, I remember not being able to bring myself to press the stop button on my tape player as I left for school in the morning - even the shortest moments void of music were too much to bear.

I recall wearing that tape player out, eventually moving on to a disc-man, after the extreme wear and tear brought on by constantly lugging it around with me took effect.

Music has resulted in my spending countless idle hours in cars waiting for a chorus, song or an entire album to finish playing before being able to take the car key out of the ignition.

My love of melody has taken to me to countless concerts and shows, so many, in fact, that their amplified sounds have damaged my ears and resulted in my developing tinnitus, a condition that can arise from noise-induced hearing loss. Most of this auditory pleasure and pain has been derived from non-Arabic music.

This was not because my exposure to music was limited. I enjoyed, and still do, dance, hip-hop, electronic, rock, jazz, alternative, blues, funk, reggae, ska, classical, capoiera, Latino and Indian music, among other genres. The reason I shied away from the Arabesque variety of music was that I equated it with the outdated and the old, having only heard it through my parents.

Having grown up in the West, western music was hip, cool, modern, relevant and comprehensible as opposed to my parents' music, which was weird, uncool, outdated, out of place and incomprehensible.

TV shows such as Top of the Pops in England and the MTV channel in the US brought life and colour to the music I heard on the radio, in shops and on the streets every day, while the distant Arabic music seemed as if it had been unearthed from a foreign, black and white era.

My affinity for western music solidified further when I moved back to the West for school.

Living outside the Middle East without my parents' influence, the gulf between Arabic music and myself widened to the point where all traces of it vanished from my life. It was only when I returned from my extended absence that I took notice of the music of my childhood, this time with a more curious ear.

Umm Kulthum's powerful and commanding voice, the reason behind Abdel Halim Hafez's being called "The Nightingale" and the Lebanese singer Fairouz's exquisite vocals all started to become of interest to me.

The instruments that accompanied these great voices were equally intriguing and I began to fall in love with the ancient sounds of the oud, kanun and the nai.

Attending Arabic concerts furthered my connection with the music, too. Witnessing the Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma's ability to leave an audience floating with his magical oud playing and Karima Skalli's capacity to transport listeners to Arabic music's golden age with her beautiful voice truly moved me.

With ever more Arabic talent to discover, I realise I have a long way to go to make up for lost time. However, I am glad that my ears are now open to the richness and variety of the music from this region.

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