We have a problem with Arabic music today. The mainstream pop culture music has taken over the entire music scene in the Middle East practically wiping out an entire tradition and genre of Arabic music. I hear many people in my community who say that the music of Abdel Wahab, Um Kalthoum, Sabah Fakhri, and many other Arab Classical artists both old and new are dead and pop music is what people want to hear. While there is some truth to the above statement, I have a different outlook on the situation. First let me explain some fundamental differences between Pop Culture and Tarab music. Pop Culture music today has become simple, and repetitive and most of it sounds the same. It uses but not fuses many western elements and about 60% of it is focused on weddings. Recently few Pop Culture stars have "stretch" the limits by including some suggestive "sexual themes" in there music. While Tarab music, both classical and new ,tends to be a little more deeper and mature in musical content and lyrics. Another big difference between the two genres of music is instrumentation. Pop Culture music will use more electronic and "foreign" instruments such as, keyboard, electric bass, and LOTS of percussion from the Latin and American style. Tarab Music makes more use of the orchestra or what I call the Arabic "symphonic sound". I am not saying that a traditional "takht"* is always used, sometimes in contemporary Tarab music, musicians will branch out and experiment with different elements or instruments. These are only some of the main differences between the two genres of music. Reading this, one could easily say that I am biased when it comes to music. While I do have my personal choices and tastes in music, I love ALL Arabic music. Most people tend to be one sided about what they listen to or what deserves being called "music". But I believe that EVERY genre of music has its place the Arab world. While Pop Music is lighter and more geared towards dancing and night clubs, it serves a purpose that is needed. I mean lets face it, you generally wont find people dancing or doing the "dabke"** while listening to Sayed Darwish, or Um Kalthoum. That would be like going to a college night club and busting a move to the greatest hits of Mozart. People need to dance, let off some steam and just listen to something light and mindless. At the same time Tarab music has its place in society. Aside form the fact that it has a rich history in Arab culture, it is the type of music that stimulates the mind of both the musician and the active listener. I am not only talking about music form centuries ago, or the golden age of Arabic music with people like Mohammed Abel Wahab, Sayed Darwish, Saleh Abdelhey, or Farid El-Atrache, but also about contemporary and new Tarab music coming out from musicians like Simon Shaheen, Ali Jihad Racy, Bassam Saba, and even Raid George. This genre of Arabic music does exist because it is beautiful, but also because it is necessary, serves a purpose, and has its place in Arab society. I can sit and write for hours on the individual experiences with this music not just from me, but from almost everybody I know both Arab and non-Arab. But the bottom line is that Tarab music has made its mark on Arab culture, and I think I can safely say it has become a part of the Arab identity. So what is the problem and how do we fix it? In my opinion the problem stems from a number of reasons, a few of them have to do with education, and most of it has to do with business. This is why Arab Pop stars are generally much more financially stable than your local oud player. However I think the solution lies with coming to an understanding that ALL music has its place and serves a purpose in the Arab world. One should never be neglected over the other. This means that all of us have a personal responsibility not only as musicians but as listeners to acknowledge, understand, and preserve our rich heritage of beautiful music both old and new.
* A small traditional Arabic ensemble that includes violin, oud, nay, qanun, and riq.