Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Mari": A Syrian All Women Symphonic Orchestra

Born in Irak, raised in Damascus before he went to the famous Victoria College in Alexandria, then to London at the Royal Academy of Music, Solhi al-Wadi’s life is a nice example of a Middle-Eastern sophisticated cosmopolitanism better known in the West through Edward Said’s works and life.

Like the great maestro Solhi al-Wadi who died a few months ago, Ra‘ad Khalaf is from an Iraqi origin. Famous violinist, inspired in his works by thousand-year old heritage of the Syrian civilization, he founded at the end of year 2006 the first all women symphonic orchestra in the area.

Conductor Ra‘ad Khalaf got the idea of this orchestra by year 2006 in order to help its 62 players and 39 singers, trained in Syria or abroad, in finding good opportunities to perform in concerts, as the orchestra did in Dubai with great success, some days ago.

Obviously, the project is also to give a different picture of the Syrian culture and of the situation of women in this country. Let us hope that Professor Bernard Lewis will hear about Mari Orchestra: he could give up some of his arrogant ideas about culture in general and music in particular, in the Arab World!

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French. And to discover the more cultural than political blog ot the official Syrian "visitor" to the USA, this link to a very intreresting and (apparently) more cultural and personnal than political blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Songs & Politics : “I hate Israel”

Some years ago, Egyptian singer Abdel-Rahim “Shaabula” Shaaban” became incredibly popular with a song which plainly says “I hate Israel.”

Surfing on every major political event in the Arab world (Irak, Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur…), Shaabula also deals with local politics. I don’t like chairs, one of his most famous songs is a clear allusion to Egyptian “chair-man” Husni Mubarak and the Kefaya movement used it for one of its political campaigns.

Today, Shaabula gives a new version of his very first hit with new lyrics dedicated to US President Georges Bush, whose election was such “a black day” (for Arabs…)

The fact that he was hired by both Egyptian authorities (for a preventing campaign against the bird flu) and muslim preacher Amr Khaled (in a campaign against drug addiction) reveals how popular the former mekwagi (a man who irons shirts and throusers) remains.

Heir of a long and rich tradition of Arab protest singers (see previous posts 1 and 2), Shaabula has a popular and comic touch that makes him similar to great names of the past like Shaykh Imam. But he is also the product of a radically different cultural era, dominated by media and mass production of cultural artefacts.

An era in which the raising of stars like Shaabula sometimes may be seen like a kind of revenge: the revenge of “low” classes which have been living too long under the cultural patronage of cultural elites.

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French.
To wath Shaabula in one of his most famous hits, 'Ammi 'araby, (with English subtitles), this video from Walter Ambrust's study, Bravely Stating the Obvious: Egyptian humor and the anti-American consensus

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Fate of the Picture in Saudi Arabia: Ads and Movies

According to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, pictures of “living beings” are normally forbidden in Saudi Arabia although TV exists in the country since the 60’. There are also numerous illustrated newspapers and all the digital facilities in particular since the opening of the Internet in January 99.

Because of those regulations which, according to the local professionals, remain unformal, ads along the roads and main streets of the Kingdom have to accept the forbidding of human representations.

Thus, using tricks invented long ago in Islamic art, today graphic designers often use in their illustrations different aliasing effects as the shape of a face or a body remains “licit” if there is no “manifestation of life” given by the human look,.
It explains why so many (male) figures represented on the billboards wear sun glasses!

Billboards which remain, when they are electric and animated, the only public screens Arabia as there are no movie houses in Saudi Arabia.

A reality presented in one of the very first local movies filmed by Abdallah al-‘Ayyaf in 2005. “Next Moovie House: 500kms,” a documentary, is about the trip, between Riyadh and Manama (Bahrain), of a Saudi movie fan who wants to go to the “real” movie...

The same year saw the not-so-private screening of another local made documentary. “Women without shadow,” a film, by Haifa Mansur, made a big fuss when the well-known Muslim preacher, Aaidh Algarne, retracted the statement he gave in the movie about the question of veiling.

The very first local fiction movie was to be released in 2006 but the main Saudi participation to the realization of “Kayfa al-h├ól” (How are you?) was that of its producer, the Arab tycoon Waleed Bin Talal and his Rotana company! Thus, the “title” of the first local movie could rather go to “Shadows of Silence,” released almost at the same time by Abdullah al-Muhaiseen.

Since that time, various movies have been produced and cinema festivals are more and more openly organized.

One century after the first screening of a movie in the Arab world, in Egypt, picture has finally got some legitimacy in the Saudi kingdom. Even in the legal courts of the country which accepts, since 2005 too, pictures as legal evidences.

A decision which raises many issues in the time of the digital picture but it is another question!

Follow those links 1 and 2 to read the original and more detailed posts in French.

And to watch an interesting video where a Saudi activist shows, thanks to the camera, that a woman, yes, can drive, follow this link

Monday, March 3, 2008

Charms for a Suffering Society

For many Muslim believers, the Coran, the divine word, is supposed to have curative effects. In the Arab world, people may go to a shaykh “specialized” in Coranic medicine. Most of the times, he will “cure” psychological diseases.

If correctly used and as a way to recognize the power of God, the ruqy, the “magical incantation” of God’s words is a well known and rather accepted – if discussed – tradition in many Arab countries, especially among popular and uneducated segments of the population.

When people can’t see any solution to their difficulties, they are incline to turn to charms which can “magically” solve their problems. It is the case in Gaza where traditional “doctors” are mushrooming.

Same thing in Algeria, a country where people had to cope with dramatical events and where 10% of the population is said to suffer from psychological difficulties.

The revival of magical traditions is obviously an evidence of the suffering of many people in the Arab world.

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French. Photo: