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21 May, 2004

Bellydancing on acid

The music scene in Arabia is having a fairly dire time of it. This could be blamed on the fact that most Arabic music is undeniably dire, but among people of dire taste, this should be no issue. First is the fiasco of the inaugural Arabian Music Awards which suffered various humiliations including a no-show by the two top prizewinners. It was delayed two hours, trophies were lost, microphones failed, live broadcasting collapsed, and half the audience left well before the end.

Next is the Arabian launch of SingStar, a new karaoke Playstation2 game. This takes place in a luxury cruise boat on Dubai Creek. Where a similar event in London or New York would feature an upcoming pop starlet for the night and plenty of C-list tabloid fodder, the presenter/demonstrators here are two CIS girls and a bloke dressed up as Ricky Martin. None can sing, and one of the girls is actually tone deaf yet spends the entire night hogging the microphone from guests. As for the guests: they comprise a shambly pack of shabby hacks, and some journos have even brought wives and toddler-age children along. For a late-night event, with alcohol and loud music. Unsurprisingly, they sit huddled in a corner in their black shrouds, not talking to anyone or taking part in the singing.

Then comes Dubai's latest radio station, 93.9FM. The launch features a bizarre video which is first thought - by non-Arabs present - to be a spoof. It begins with black-and-white footage of a woman listening to the radio in the 1950s, leading into various music video clips of cheesy, straining, moustachioed crooners, followed by a few higher-energy examples of what appears to be the Arab world's Bucks Fizz. But no: this is the actual playlist, Arabic Golden Oldies.

"Our target audience is 25-45, but we expect a lot of younger people to listen with their parents, and then their parents can tell them the story behind each song." These parents are presumably the same ones who fret and wonder at Arab youth's mad rush to Western culture. The number of pale-face brats sitting down and discussing the Everly Brothers with Mummy and Daddy can be counted on the fingers of a fingerless hand.

The radio people are honest about the lack of variety in Arabic music. "We have basically just three kinds: the Gulf, the Levantine, and African music." They hope the radio station will somehow remedy the situation. How, if it sets out by excluding anything past 1990?

There is (some) excellent Arabic music out there, but these guys clearly haven't found it. Instead, every song on their airwaves sounds like the same bellydancing track, played at different tempos. And predictably, the only lyric in every song is "habibi".

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