Arabic covers of Western pop hits are not a new thing. Both established and independent artists have taken them on for years, giving the music a flavour resonant to the region. Here are four of our best:
Listen: Arabic versions of western pop hits
No Woman No Cry’ by Mohamed Bakri
Sure, this is a version of the Bob Marley reggae classic where the lyrics are sung in English, but the Bahraini crooner Mohamed Bakri (pictured above) marries the lyrics with a big band of local musicians, including a percussionist playing the daff and clapping along, not to mention a little troupe of dancers. The video of the performance went viral and it is a heart-warming reminder of how great music crosses cultures.
‘Despacito’ by Noel Kharman, featuring Audinius
While the thought of hearing the melodies of Despacito one more time may induce an immediate shudder, you won’t be disappointed by this version by Palestinian singer Noel Kharman. Teaming up with Spanish guitarist Audinius, the duo mix the Luis Fonsi hit with Ahmed Al Mosali’s Akheeran Qalha to create a beautifully soothing mash-up track.
Hallelujah by Mennel Ibtissem
Her appearance on the latest season of The Voice France may have been fleeting, but Mennel Ibtissem’s startling cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was stunning enough to make all judges offer to mentor her, and it dominated the French and Middle Eastern social media sphere for weeks afterwards. Following a smooth English and then French take of the first verse of the song, Ibtissem transitioned into the Arabic language, with the Hallelujah refrain replaced with an equally stirring ‘Ya Ilahi’, which translates to ‘My God’.
Everybody Hurts by MC Rai
MC Rai was born in the southern Tunisian city of Gabes. As a youth, he was immersed in the folk music traditions of Chaabi, or Mizoued as it is known in Tunisia. In 1995, he began to turn his attention from Chaabi to Rai music, and realized that he could develop a style of Rai distinct from that of Algeria and infuse it with the traits of his native Tunisian music. Unlie many of his contemporaries, Rai eschewed moving to France to appeal to European audiences when he began to achieve some success, and moved instead to California in the hope of winning American fans. It's perhaps appropriate, then, that he supplied this cover of the REM classic for the soundtrack of Sacha Baron Cohen's 2012 movie The Dictator.