The traditional music of Jordan has very ancient roots. One of the most noted styles of music comes from the rural communities and is known as zajal. It’s based on a style of poetry that is recited in a variety of Arabic dialects; the format is half improvised and half sung. It’s actually a style that is shared across much of this region from Lebanon to Palestine to Algeria.
When it comes to their traditional music, there are several different instruments that can be heard. Some instruments like the rebab and the oud are used throughout the entire Middle Eastern region. You’ll also hear a type of flute called a shababa; the mijwiz and arghul (both are double-pipe, single-reed woodwind instruments); the tableh (a type of goblet drum); a riq (like a tambourine); the daf (a frame drum); simsimiyya (a type of plucked lyre often used by the Bedouins); and the gerbeh (similar to bagpipes).
By far, the most popular type of dance from Jordan is called the dabke. It can be danced as women-only, men-only, or in mixed company. The general movements of the dance includes standing in a circle where the dancers either hold hands or put their hands on their neighbor’s shoulders followed by a series of stomps and kicks. Although it’s performed many places, it’s often seen danced at weddings.
Jordanians are enamored with the current music coming out of Europe, the US, and other areas of Middle East. I found several Jordanian musicians on Spotify and have listened to them throughout the last couple of weeks.
There were several musicians whose music fell into the “inspired from other areas of the Middle East.” Throughout this week, I listened to musicians like Omar Alabdallat, Diana Karazon, Toni Qattan, and Hani Mitwasi. Sometimes you could tell there was a little bit of modern inflections in the music and a few different instrumentations. But overall, these songs were primarily inspired from the traditional music styles of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
There is also a surprising popularity of hip-hop in Jordan. I took a listen to El Far3i and Arab MCs. For the most part, Arab MCs’ flow is on point, and they toggle the verses with sung parts. From song to song, there is an obvious change between songs. I hate when I listen to an album and all the songs sound the same. You can tell with these guys that there is truly some skill in writing here.
And I was surprised to find a couple of hard rock/metal bands originating from Jordan. The Middle East never comes to mind in terms of metal music, but I stand corrected now. It could also probably just be pockets of underground musicians and fans who patron to it, but at least it’s still there. Bilocate is a band that certainly doesn’t fail on the screaming lyrics and ominous guitar riffs. Strangely enough, it’s sung in English. Relics of Martyrs is another band that falls in this category as well. Their music is really high energy, but they do counter it with some slower sections and intros. They have some catchy instrumental parts to their songs, and it’s also sung in English.
The interesting part I was happy to see here is that Jordan also has a few indie rock bands. I really liked listening to Jadal. Although I have no idea what he’s singing about because I don’t speak Arabic, the sound of the language somehow fits this genre nicely. His music shifts from relaxing with acoustic guitars and catchy melody lines to more driving music a la Franz Ferdinand. I really like his music and am glad it’s available on iTunes. El Morabba3 is another band I listened to. It’s a little more on the psychedelic side of rock but yet still maintains distinct Middle Eastern elements in their melody lines and vocal techniques. You can tell Autostrad has been influenced by a variety of styles. There are some songs that definitely have a rock- and acoustic-influenced sound, but there are others that almost sound as if they tried to merge klezmer music (and other varieties) with rock and then changed up some of the instrumentation a bit. I’m not even quite sure how to describe their sound. But you can tell they’re having fun making it, so that should count for something.
Up next: the food