Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Meaning of Music

In America, we don't read too deeply into our music. If it's catchy, it's good enough. Just look at the lyrics to the summer hit "I Gotta Feeling" (I happen to like this song) by Black Eyed Peas:

Fill up my cup. Mazel Tov!
Look at her dancing. Just take it off.
Let's paint the town. We'll shut it down.
Let's burn the roof. Then we'll do it again.

But in the kaleidoscopic political/cultural/religious/ethnic landscape of the Middle East, everything has a deeper meaning. Here are three music videos from across the region that convey a message that trascends their notes and lyrics.

Tehran Bureau highlights an Iranian rapper named Hich Kas (translation: "Nobody"). His first music video "Bunch of Soldiers" encourages unison in the face of oppression. Interestingly, it was made in 2008 before this summer's tumultuous events.

The LA Times blog Babylon and Beyond features a Kurdish singer from Iraq named Dashni Murad. Like many female singers in the Middle East, she's caught between trying to emulate the style of Western music while maintaining a connection with her traditional culture. Not surprisingly, she has simultaneously accumulated a fair amount of ogling fans and vehement, conservative detractors.

Third but not least, I've added a video by the Israeli group Flashblack. During my trip to Israel, I visited an educational kibbutz called Eshbal that takes in some of the country's most troubled kids and gives them a sense of direction and hope. Most amazingly, Esbhal was founded by a group of young Israelis, fresh out of their military service, who had the "chutzpah" to make a difference. In this case, a group of their students have formed a rap group to express themselves in a positive way. Here is a video of one of their performances.

I'm not saying there isn't meaningful music in the West. There is. But given the number of conflicts, divisions, inequalities and tensions that exist in the Middle East, it only makes sense that musicians reflect these issues in their music. Moreover, even the most trivial song in the Middle East can carry serious cultural, religious and even political implications, salient to anyone who cares to listen.

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