Demand for pop music sung in the Gulf dialect is prompting an increasing number of artists to learn the language.
Gulf dialect making its mark in music
Demand for pop music sung in the Gulf dialect is prompting an increasing number of artists - both new and established - to learn the language of the region. The Egyptian singer Amal Maher, who performed on TV's Prince of Poets in Abu Dhabi last weekend, learnt the dialect several years ago but is only now realising how important the decision could be to her career. As an artist, "you have to conquer the market everywhere", she said.
However, when she first studied the dialect, it was not to increase album sales. "I first did it because I was introduced to Ameer Khaled al Faisal, the poet, and he familiarised me with an art I did not know. "I think he chose me to do the album because my voice reflected beyond my age so he thought I could deal with everything that was involved in learning the dialect." That album, released four years ago, included two songs in the local dialect.
Maher is working on a new album, which will also include several songs for Gulf audiences. The Egyptian singer Angham, the biggest-selling female artist in the Middle East, released an entire album in the Gulf dialect, while the Lebanese singers Nancy Ajram, May Hariri and Najwa Sultan have also incorporated the dialect on their albums. But learning a new Arab dialect is challenging. "When I was in the studio with Dr Abdelrab Idrees, the lyricist for the two songs, he had to help me with the dialect because I still had no experience with it," said Maher.
"I was young and hadn't ever encountered anyone who spoke with a Gulf dialect and had to learn it from the beginning but, thank God, I am very familiar with it now and can speak with the dialect very easily, I have got used to it." Aisha al Mazroui, 27, an Emirati, recently bought a new CD by the Lebanese singer Ragheb Alamah which included two songs in the Gulf dialect. "I am pleasantly surprised when a non-Khaleeji artist decides to produce a song in our dialect," she says. "It gives more attention to it, and makes it more commercial, this is a good thing.
"In the past, when singers wanted to be famous, they would stick to the Egyptian or Lebanese dialect because it was more artistic, but now, even the Lebanese singers are making Khaleeji songs that have become hits." It is not an easy transition for all artists, says Mrs Mazroui. "There are many artists who cannot perfect the dialect and sometimes it sounds funny, but there are other artists who seem serious about perfecting the Khaleeji dialect for the sake of their art."
Maher hopes local music fans will appreciate her commitment to perfecting the Gulf dialect. She has travelled the Gulf extensively, performing in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, and has observed different attitudes here. "In the Gulf, they are people whose concerns are wide and they get involved with a poem and with a song depending on its meaning, so it is important to go inside their lives," she said.
"Once I get into their hearts then I have succeeded." Poetry influences her music and "opens up a part of your mind, enhances your ideas and enhances your feelings", she added. "It expands my horizons and allows me to choose many aspects of poetry for my music because poetry is in everything for the Arabs." For her latest album, what she calls "my Egyptian album", Maher has tried to diversify by working with a range of poets and lyricists, including Walid Saad bin Mohammed al Hameed and Salah al Shayoubi.
Maher has been singing since she was a child and was 13 when she decided to make a career of music. However, she says: "As a serious artist, I only started a year ago with the release of an album with my own music and not a remake of someone else's music, but I've known for a long time that this is what I wanted to do." Critics and fans have compared her with the Egyptian music legend Umm Kulthum, one of the Middle East's most famous singers of the 20th century.
"It is hard for an artist to be compared to someone as great as her. I am glad they compare me to her but it is hard for me to ever be like her," Maher says. "I started out singing for Umm Kulthum and I didn't think that people would respond well to my own personal work, but they proved me wrong." Maher says "everything in life can inspire me", and she hopes fans recognise her sincerity. "The only hope I have for myself and my music is that I remain true to myself and my style of music."