Monday, July 03, 2006

This Independence Day, why don't you treat yourself to the music of the Middle East?

I just picked up this CD, a collection of songs from famous Arabic singers, and I’m enjoying it very much. Now, I know virtually nothing about Middle Eastern/North African music and I have no idea what these people are singing about: all I know is that it sounds good. I’ve found that, in the work of most great musicians, you don’t need to know what the lyrics say to understand what the singer means. The vast majority of songs–in all languages and from all parts of the world–are about one of two things: (a) I’m in love and isn’t the world beautiful?, or (b) my lover has left me and isn’t the world sad? The lyrics–while they can often be great art in themselves–are, in the end, unnecessary. Here, the singers could, for all I know, be saying something like “I want! A White Castle Slider! Right now! Because! They taste! So good! When you’re living! In Lebaaaaaaaanon!” and I’d be none the wiser. To me, they’re wistfully recalling their youthful first love and maybe making a subtle plea for justice and peace for all.

When I lived in Brooklyn, my apartment was near a neighborhood where a lot of Middle Eastern people lived. Sometimes, when I was out walking to the post office, I could hear a muezzin calling the Muslims to prayer. I am not a religious person by any means, but I liked the sound of his voice. It had the same dip and glide that the singers on this CD have, the same transfixed, lost-in-the-song quality. The music that accompanies these voices is, to my ears, pretty exotic. It’s a mixture of familiar Western instruments, predominantly violins, with all sorts of ouds and African percussion and whatnot. The overall effect is quite sensual, quite moving, quite beautiful.

You should buy it. You know you want to. You ought to indulge yourself a little.