September 23, 2012

Maghreb women and Gulf Music

What is better than Music to bridge cultures? Nothing really, I believe. I've mentioned before many times that my first interaction with the Maghreb region happened through Rai music. This great genre that got introduced to thousands, if not millions, of my generation in the Arab world and Europe through pop songs like those of Khaled and Mami. When you take such a genre seriously, as a fan of music, then you try to know as much as possible. You get to track the history of it and how it is a reflection of a great diversity in Algeria's early modern history. You also get to know the dialect better, see how different communities interact, and what themes are mostly presented. If it wasn't for Rai, I would not have known about the history of the 1990's civil war in Algeria; the young men and women escaping the threats and assassinations of Islamists back then. A great example of that was the assassinated Cheb Hosni. 

Since my friend Samia has already made a post about the Gulf songs that hit Morocco, I choose to write here about several wonderful women of the Maghreb who have not only mastered Gulf music, but also left their fingerprints on it. They set the bar up for other Arab singers to reach, especially that many aspire to sing in Khaliji dialects to approach a wider market. 
To go back in time, I share this video of an Algerian singer called Sabah. Back in the 60's and 70's, Kuwait was the best place for Arab singers to make concerts and get to approach the Gulf audience. Kuwait was a central country in hosting Arab intellectuals and artists and had strong pan-arabist political stance. Sabah is one of the early Maghrebians to sing a Khaliji song, if not the first. I could not find any information about her and hope Algerians can help us figure out more about her life and career. This song entitled "Yal Asmar Ya Zain" translates to "o you dark, you beautiful." It is a Kuwaiti song for Abdulkharim Abdulkader (check the beautiful music video here), and she was the reason this song became popular again when she sang it in her concert in Kuwait in 1978. Ladies and gentlemen, "Sabah the Algerian": 

Another woman that sang beautifully in the Gulf was Alya Al-tounisiya from Tunisia. She was a famous singer in the 50's and 60's mostly singing in Egyptian dialect; she moved there to start her career and married an Egyptian composer. Alya (or as some write it: Oliya) had two songs that most of us do not know that they belong to here; عاللي جرى sang years ago by Syrian singer Asaala (without any acknowledgment to Alya) and جاري يا حمودة sang by Lebanese singer Laura Khalil (also no acknowledgment). Shamelessly, Arab pop singers take over older songs and say they're theirs or "they are of folklore." 
I could not find a song of Alya in Khaliji dialect, but this song is written and composed by Ahmed Baqer- a big figure in Kuwaiti music and one of the founders of Kuwait's musical institution: 

The other Tunisian woman that has sung in the Gulf is surely Thekra (or Zikra, as some wish to spell it). This great singer did not only sing some songs in Khaliji dialect but more importantly became the most favorite to the Gulf audience for a while and was unbeatable. She has great vocal strength and has grasped the accent well. Thekra had her own Khaliji songs and has also made covers of old songs. This one was the first of hers singing in Khaliji and is here sang live by here as she's dressed in a Khaliji dress and sitting in a Gulf musical circle: 

The last one is Moroccan and she's a contemporary singer that keeps succeeding in her career and in her choices of Gulf songs. Asmaa Lemnawar makes numerous concerts around the gulf having proved her ability to sing in several dialects with her great voice. Asmaa was also loved much when first introduced in the Gulf for her beauty and became an icon in that regard. This is her latest song in Khaliji: 

This theme on music is surely crucial and we hope to write more on this in future. 


  1. By reading the title of your post, I was expecting more analysis of the experience of maghrebian women with Khaliji music than a sample presentation of the most succefful ones. For example giving more importance to the basic role more and more played by production companies and music channels to make this singer famous rather than the other.
    But in general I keep believing, as you said, on the ability of art to bridge cultures.
    long life to your blog :)

    1. thank you for your great suggestion. I hope to work on such a good topic when finding information. thank you for your support

  2. I didn't know Sabah Saghira (as we called her in Algeria) sung in Kuwaiti. She's more famous for El Khoumri (meaning asmar in some parts of Algeria). She died in 2005 Allah yarhemha. A short bio here [Fr] (