in search of Middle Eastern music From 2001 to 2003 I lived and worked as a freelance journalist in Japan. I had a great time selling stories from the future of mobile technology to the curious web.
I returned to California as it looked like the United States was fast-heading for war with the Middle East. I thought, maybe I can take my foreign correspondent skills to Jordan or Egypt, to share glimpses of culture and innovation there, and maybe help make the world feel smaller and more friendly.
Ultimately there were too many beheadings for me to take my aggressive curiousity abroad then. But my curiousity for middle eastern culture remains. "Middle East" is a silly designation because there's so many different languages, tribes, styles mixed up there. Nonetheless, having spent some time in "Asia" I found myself curious about another region.
Searching on Pirate Bay for "Arabic MP3" in 2011 I found a motherlode of antique Arabic 78 RPM records that were ripped and posted online, and later I found a group of over 50 old 78rpm records with 1930's-1950's Arabic Pop and Swing music, where you can click to download from any of the record label images!
an MP3 of "Rhumba" by Hanan and Feyrouz
I became interested in bands like Devil's Anvil, who mixed rock and a Middle Eastern sound. They cover Hala Laya, for example, which I've heard covered more traditionally as well.
So what about bands from the Middle East who fused rock sounds? I started poking around Spotify and found an album called Pomegranates - Persian Pop, Funk, Folk, and Psych Of The 60s & 70s CD, then cross-referencing those artists to see what other songs I could find.
Searching the web for Middle Eastern Rock 70s unearthed a number of Middle Eastern Psych/Rock/Fusions/Crossover album reviews and a bit of politics:
One of the reasons why we hear so little of beat/rock examples from Middle Eastern and Arab countries is not that there exists no examples, because especially in the 60s and seventies more or less the whole world was open to modern experiments, but that many of such scenes quickly closed down in many countries and were replaced by fascist or other extremely limiting-the-freedom-of-creative-expressions RegimesFascinating! It's not only hard to find Middle Eastern fusion music because of time, and distance, but also because of political and social change! The life of Iranian singer Googoosh is an explicit example of this.
That quote above came from a review of Waking Up Scheherazade - a 2007 LP of assembled Middle Eastern tracks from the 60s and 70s. (The second volume has been posted online: Waking Up Scheherazade Vol. 2: 60's & 70's Cross-Over Rock from North Africa & The Middle East).
These days I use a music service called Spotify - I can search through their catalog of music for stuff to listen to. I tried searching "habibi" Arabic for beloved (useful like searching for "corazon" will give you plenty of spanish-language songs).
Perhaps due to repressive regimes, and licensing difficulties across the world, there ain't much of this music accessible in Spotify. Most of the artists in the track listing for Waking Up Scheherazade have no results in Spotify's particular online musicbrain.
What I can find I'm assembling: here's a Middle Eastern selections into a Spotify playlist which is less about any consistent theme, artist or era and more about supporting musical travel. The playlist is collaborative, so if you're on that service you can add your own suggestions!