Come Together: The Globalization of Music and its Modern Occurrences
by Nada Alturki
My brother called me a few days ago. “Did you hear it?!” he asked. “Hear what? What are you talking about?” I worriedly answered. “The new Marshmello song with Amr Diab! You have to listen to it!” I guessed he had called with pressing news. He had, but this was not what I was expecting.
This probably doesn’t sound like news to most of you, but to me, and anyone from the Arab region, it was groundbreaking. You also probably don’t know who Diab is. If that is the case, allow me to enlighten you. Amr Diab is an Egyptian singer and songwriter, dubbed the “father of Mediterranean music.” His first international hit “Noor Al Ain,” a feel-good love song, gained him significant recognition, making him one of the most popular artists in the region. In short, no one in the Middle East will fail to tell you who Amr Diab is. However, he had no reputation beyond the region, which is why I consider this to be a shockingly bold release on Marshmello’s behalf. The masked artist has gained recognition worldwide in the past couple of years as a DJ and EDM producer, working with big-name artists such as Selena Gomez and Khalid. It seems that he aims to do something different by expanding his collaborations beyond the Western medium, paving his way through with his “Bayen Habeit” co-release.
However, this is not the first that we have seen such a far-fetched pair up. I remember summer 2017 when I could not enter a single clothing store or restaurant, listen to a single channel on the radio, or watch a single Snapchat story without hearing “Despacito” blasting at full volume. It was daunting, really. There was no escaping the Latin pop hit. "Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee had taken the world by storm. The remixed track featured pop idol Justin Bieber and reached No. 1 on the charts in 35 countries, becoming a worldwide anthem. This is also another example of how Western influencers help further the reach of a song both locally and globally. The song had only really been popular amongst South American countries until the remix with Bieber was released 4 months following the original version. Cardi B, pop music’s new favorite female rapper, has also collaborated with Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and J Balvin, a reggaeton singer from Colombia, giving them international fame with their earworm song “I Like It.”
The up-and-coming Spanish group, Fuel Fandango, seems to have gained international recognition through their EDM-inspired sound, and effortless leaps between English and Spanish lyrics. Their global influence definitely shows through their sound and their overarching theme of empowerment and growth.
Triangulo De Amor Bizarro, another Spanish group that has been praised by Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook and frequent collaborator Sonic Boom, has gained an International audience. Their sound is highly influenced by the U.K.’s 80s shoegaze movement, giving off a euphonious and mellow feel through their music. My Bloody Valentine, one of the most iconic rock bands of the “dream pop” generation, had asked specifically that TDAB open for them during one of their concerts in Mexico. The band’s career is surely on the rise, as they were recently Awarded best album of 2017 by the Association of Music Journalists of Spain for their album Salve Discordia.
However, while Western music has just begun taking baby steps towards becoming more global, the East has been advancing rapidly. Many artists around the world have been inspired by the sound elements of Western music, such as the sharp edge on the electric guitar and the smooth and velvety sound of the trumpet. The Arab region has been growing rich in up-and-coming rock bands and artists that have been innovators in introducing the genre of Arabic rock music. Many seem to carry themes of liberation and rebellion as young adults in a world of limitations.
The Middle East is famously known for its chaos and a constant struggle to fight for democracy and liberation, but the everyday struggles of a young Arab do not end there. Some notions, which here are thought to be natural inborn rights, can lead to imprisonment or even death if acted upon. Freedom of speech, independence, tribal hospitality, and gender equality are amongst the matters that Arabs are actively fighting for. Simple pleasures such as going out on dates and being in a room with the opposite sex are still frowned upon, largely due to the religious Islamic ideology that governs the behavior of most societies in the Arab region. Younger generations are opening up the door for change by calling out these issues, most prominently through social media and various art forms, including music.
Although these Arabic variations of the rock genre are generally foreign and new to traditional Middle Eastern music, they are not unlike the “underground” sound of Western rock music today. The acclaimed Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila has been a leading artist in the indie Arabic rock niche genre, introducing issues of same-sex relationships, patriarchy, and marriage into the Arab community that are often tabooed in eastern cultures. The controversial band quite prominently incorporates the violin, which is frequently embedded in most traditional Arabic music, giving their songs a touch of Arab qualities, regardless of their predominantly western-themed instrumentals.
JadaL, a Jordanian rock band, has had a unique way of laying out Arabic lyrics onto a bed of Alternative-Western-rock-inspired music. However, both JadaL and Mashrou’ Leila seem to stick with their native tongue when it comes to lyrics. Although JadaL also makes social issues an overshadowing theme throughout their three releases, they seem to have a different outlook on what social issues are. They bring to the table a new honesty about family dynamics, gender expectations, class hierarchy, and the struggles of coping with everyday life.
Malika Zarra, a Moroccan multicultural singer/songwriter with an angelic gift of vocal performance, manages to incorporate Tamazight, Arabic, and French lyrics interchangeably in most of her music. She blends traditional Arabic instrumentation with western combos native to Jazz, making a name for herself in the Eastern Jazz world music genre.
Music cannot help but reflect the modern happenings of society; that is a relief. If this were not happening, then music has failed to reflect the authentic nature of a life that is well lived within the context of modern cultural affairs. And what is happening all around us in our day-to-day lives involves the rest of the world, too. We are at a point in time where our actions as a country, culture, or community have the potential to become a global issue. We are no longer bound by our physical and abstract territories; the world is finally becoming more interconnected through social media and ever-evolving technologies. Music continues to bind and bring us together as one population: citizens of the world. It has been serving its purpose by becoming a place of understanding or refuge for people across the planet. We see this on a global scale, not only with Western music but with multicultural sounds and global influences becoming more popular and gaining prominence as well.
However, as World Music continues to experiment with inter-cultural boundaries, there seems to be an unsureness about the future. It is not clear at this time if the efforts to bridge the gap between what is considered “Western” music and the respectable “Eastern” counterpart are truly initiating change in our daily lives and shifting our perception of the world. I couldn’t help but wonder after my conversation with my brother if Marshmello was simply looking to diversify his collaborations and gain a wider audience, or, rather, demonstrating the inevitable global movement that is slowly making its way through the various cultures of the world. Although music can be a very personal experience, it is never a single experience. Will World music bring us together or will we continue to watch the rest of the world through a glass door?