Unlike many cultures, traditional music in Saudi Arabia is somewhat limited. The nomadic life of the Bedouin just didn’t really make it easy to carry around musical instruments. However, occasionally, you would find the one or two individuals who would purchase an instrument in some of the larger cities and take on the burden. Mostly, people used what they carried with them as makeshift drums. And of course, their voices.
Instruments used in Saudi Arabian music are ones that are found throughout the Middle East. Some of the ones you might hear include the ney (a double-reeded wind instrument), rababa (another type of stringed instrument), and the oud (lute-like stringed instrument).
The Najd region is known for a style of music called Samri. While the music is also used in Khaliji music, it also has an accompanying dance that goes with it. Samri typically includes a drummer beating rhythms on a daff drum to someone singing poetry. There are also two rows of men who clap and sway to the music while seated on their knees.
One thing I found disturbing was that because Saudi Arabia is led by such a conservative version of Islam, there are actually people who believe music is a sin. They believe that it’s taking away from serving their god. But they also made sure to include that there can’t be any songs about women or composed by women. Because, you know, that would ruin the whole thing, right? However, percussion music is ok (percussionists rejoice).
I found a few musicians on Spotify. The first ones I listened to tended to be more aligned along the traditional sounds. Although Talal Maddah is often considered Saudi Arabia’s first pop star, much of his music is very much based on traditional styles when it comes to the instruments used and vocal decorations. However, from what I can tell, the musical style and composition is more indicative of Western music. I kind of liked what I heard; it was kind of relaxing.
Omar Basaad is one of Saudi Arabia’s first DJs in electronic and dance music, and I have to say, I really like his stuff. And he was the first DJ from Saudi Arabia to make it on the international stage. What I like about his stuff is that it flows well, and while still mixing in some traditional instruments here and there and a few traditional percussion riffs.
And as I’m finding in many of these countries that often have suppressed free speech, you’ll also find an underground metal band scene. People will express themselves as they need to; it’s a basic human need. Metal and hip-hop seem to be the go-to genres for expression, especially for social commentary. Now I certainly don't know for sure what they're singing out. I found three hard-core metal bands from Saudi Arabia on Spotify: Al-Namrood, Creative Waste, and Grieving Age—all playing a fairly similar style of loud, screaming-style metal, even though there is definitely a Middle Eastern influence in there in places.
Up next: the food