For three consecutive nights we listened to Arabic music from a wide variety of different genres at the highly successful and entertaining Arabit Festival in Jaffa which served as a testament to the diversity of contemporary Arabic music that incorporates the latest international trends and styles. and has completely transformed the traditional genre, so much so that music purists are wondering “is this even Arabic music?”
I find this question a little irritating because Hebrew-language music doesn’t seem to face the same kind of scrutiny when inspired by Brazilian hip hop, K-pop, and even hyper-pop.
So in the same vein, when excellent musicians — Arabs from Nazareth, Jaffa, Haifa or Ramla — play reggae, hip-hop, electronics and drones, they still play Arabic music, even if it does not strictly adhere to traditional melodic and rhythmic traditions. rules.
Arabic music in its traditional form, whether classical Egyptian poetry (such as Abdel Halim Hafez or Umm Kulthum) or orchestral work, has several common denominators that distinguish it from Western music.
First and foremost are quarter tones and maqam – an improvisational technique made up of melodic modes that define the pitches, patterns and development of a piece. A millennium of Middle Eastern music has relied on these maqams.
But Arabit Festival represents contemporary music where these maqams no longer play any role. And yet even the hippest bands we heard this week pumped out melodies and beats that reminded us time and time again that we still listen to Arabic music – fascinating, marrying the old and the new, the traditional and the revolutionary.
“A local artist, even if he makes music with international flavors, still makes Arabic music,” Arabit artistic director Hassan Masri told Ynet.
“Because of the language he sings in, because of the subjects he sings about, and because of the elements of traditional music language that weave into his work, consciously or unconsciously.”
Take Zenobia, for example, a fantastic electronic duo from Haifa who feature a mix of fast synthesizer beats with traditional Levantine melodies that got the whole crowd moving.
Experimental band The Hallways presented another mesmerizing mix of east and west, weaving drum machines and heavy synths into a slow drone beat with Arabic melodies and mesmerizing vocals from Isra Shalabi.
It is just one of many groups comprising both Arabs and Jews, the largest of which is System Ali – a nine-man hip-hop group whose members sing in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Yiddish , Amharic and English and whose work is inspired by the intersection of the different identities of the members of the group. System Ali’s music is underpinned by a clear social agenda that seeks to bring out a mixed and egalitarian societal model.
However, the full lineup did not appear at this week’s festival with their familiar repertoire, only three members – Neta Weiner, Samira Saraya and Muhammad Mugrabi – as part of a mesmerizing show where Weiner welcomes performers with interesting life stories.
“There’s definitely a stylistic influence from what’s happening in the world of global music. That’s how cultures grow, and that’s wonderful,” Saraya told Ynet.
“Our musical work demonstrates how it is possible to maintain a shared community whose members come from different cultures and to create art from mutual understanding and respect.
We are not afraid to meet the other and we refuse to submit to the forces that divide and segregate. Most important is our belief that music has the power to change, together, existing reality.”
As far back as I can remember, this is the first time that a single festival has covered the full breadth and breadth of local Arabic music – from traditional folk to classic Arabic pop to experimental electronic musicians.
The more traditional wing of the festival was represented by Nizar Elkhater and his ensemble ABAAD who cover the classics of Lebanese pop by the three great divas of the land of cedar – Fairuz, Majida El Roumi and Julia Boutros.
Even in the music of Sama Shoufani, a very active young artist from Nazareth, the influence of the classics is evident, although she creates her own music and brings a more modern voice.
Diwan El Yemen is another cool band with a more folky vibe that performs forgotten Jewish-Yemeni music in Yemeni Arabic.
Lina Makhoul – the winner of the 2013 Israeli edition of The Voice who has gone on to an international career ever since – represented the epitome of mainstream pop with flavors of classic Arabic pop à la Fairuz, American pop and tons of material original.
Personally, I find this kind of collaboration fascinating. For example, band Ministry of Dub-Key sees super-energetic folk singer Walaa Sbait team up with American dub DJ Bruno Cruz to create a captivating musical fusion.
Conclusion: Arabit Festival offered us three rich and magical nights and a stage for contemporary artists that we wouldn’t necessarily see on the big stages while bringing together a diverse audience.
I don’t know if there were more Arabs or Jews in the audience, but one thing is clear: there were people who came to listen to good music together, and that’s all that matters.