Music is an important part of Lebanese culture and has played a part that not only supports their traditions but also as a means for supporting the things that mean the most to the Lebanese. Beirut itself has been and continues to be a regional musical capital in the Middle East. During the Lebanese Civil War, many musicians left the country and went to study and perform in Europe and Africa, namely Paris and Cairo. And while they maintained many of the traditional styles and instruments, they also merged these styles with American and European styles and genres.
Lebanese musicians perform on many of the same instruments found throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Some of these instruments have variations to them while others are pretty standard. Instruments you’ll hear in Lebanese music include the lute (a pear-shaped string instrument with a short neck), tablah (a small vase-shaped hand-drum made of wood and usually covered with goat skin or fish skin), mijwiz (type of clarinet), daff (similar to a tambourine), and the buzuq (a long-necked two-stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum).
The dabke (transliterated a variety of ways) is a popular dance found in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. Intended as a joyous dance, it’s often performed for happy occasions, such as births or weddings. It combines both circle dancing and line dancing, and there are many variations based on where it’s danced. Most dancers will wear traditional clothes when performing the dances.
During the war years (from 1975–1990), rock music became very popular in Lebanon. It was seen as a genre that led itself to breaking social barriers and used as a means of expressing the frustrations of the younger Lebanese generations. One of the first pioneers of Lebanese rock music is Lydia Canaan. I listened to the two songs I found on Spotify, and the two they had listed for her were sung in English and were more of a soft rock style.
I also listened to a variety of rock bands; many were kind of a merge of rock and other genres. One band I sampled is called Soap Kills. It’s a slight mix of rock, but with elements of reggae, bossanova, and chillhouse. I liked them; I wished there were more tracks available on Spotify. One band I really enjoyed is called Meen. They had an indie rock sound but if I really listened to some of the songs, the chord changes and melody lines remind me of some Latin rock bands (the instrumentation is different, though). Mashrou’ Leila is another band I enjoyed listening to. Their songs are a little slower and have a groove beat to it, but still uses a traditional string sound with the modern instruments.
And then there are some bands/groups that really stick with traditional Arab music that has been modernized. Much of what I found would probably fall into this category. Najwa Karam features a strong female lead and utilizes quite a bit of rhythmic vocalizations in the song “Mafi Noum,” almost reminiscent of African rhythms. Diana Haddad is another musician who sticks with more traditional styles, although many of her songs do also have elements of pop and even Bollywood to them. Musicians like Nawal al Zoghbi, Elissa, Fadel Shaker, Melhem Zein, Amal Hijazi, Nancy Ajram, Wael Kfoury, and Ragheb Alama also fall into this category.
If you like dance music, Haifa Wehbe’s album MJK is pretty good. The songs are fairly catchy, and it’s been mixed well. Ayman Zabeeb is another I would say falls under the dance category. He takes traditional music and mixes it with some dance beats. Some songs use more of a Western dance feel, and some are still syncopated. The music is pretty catchy. Fares Karam’s music is a variety of dance music (I believe), although some are dances that are probably Lebanese or Arab in origin while other songs have been modernized to reflect an American/European influence. I would venture to put Assi El Helani into the dance category for the same reason as Fares Karam (at least on The Best album I listened to).
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