Palestine has never really been considered a breeding ground for mega-popular, pan-Arab entertainers. The Palestinians have been consumers of Arabic music, not producers. Egypt and Lebanon rule the music scene in Arabia and act as the talent factories that never cease or slow down music production. Palestine has not had the talent pool to lead in music production, and of course there's that little situation called "occupation" that makes for a harsh life, not to mention a nearly non-existent entertainment environment. Yes, people have a much bigger fish to fry and have little interest in producing local music.
Now there has always been an active folklore dance and music tradition that has found audiences around the world, and these efforts preserve the Palestinian culture. Local artists have always had songs and music to celebrate the land and the people who keep the Palestine culture and cause alive. In that sense, Palestine has provided an inspiration for many Arab musicians and singers to write songs about tradition--Iraq has assumed this role as well.
However, I am sensing a change in the air. Thanks to social media and talent competition shows like Super Star, Star Academy and now, Arabs' Got Talent, many young Palestinians are getting prime time exposure and introducing the Arab world to their art and vocals.
In the past few years alone, Palestine has cranked out a number of pop singers that have managed their way into the mainstream. Frankly, some of those voices are worth listening to, and few are merely using the "Palestinian card," as their talent can speak for itself. Let's meet few:
Originally from the city Ramallah, and the youngest Palestinian pop princess on this list, she lives in Jordan where she also attends school at the University of Jordan studying psychology. Lian shot to fame when she took part in Star Academy's eighth season, and those who watched season eight may remember her as the one who had the epic breakup with her fiance on the show. Upon graduating from the Academy, she seems to be doing all the right things. She has strong stage presence, and the demeanor of an energizer bunny. Her first single was dispersed on the Internet in music forums, and went viral like no other song at the time. The song was a great choice in terms of music and lyrics, making it worthy enough to make even the most seasoned singer jealous. Lian's voice is very distinctive and bold, and she describes herself as such: "I am a Palestinian blood, soul Jordanian, Arab workers."
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The Palestinian singer sent waves all over the Arab world for her epic performance of the song that has been dubbed the Arabic version of the Titanic hit song "My Heart Will Go On." Ever since she performed this song on TV, Vivian has found herself being defined by the romantic songs which she has capitalized on, releasing a number of singles that have been well received. According to Vivian, she gets her singing genes from her mother. She has already toured the United States in 2006, accompanied by composer Simon Shaheen. Vivian has performed in just about every major city in Palestine. She is now working on her new album and a number of other musical projects.
Palestinian, born in Libya, and settled Egypt, Diala Odeh participated in Star Academy's sixth season. She left the show with millions of fans and name recognition. Rightfully, her first music video was for Palestine and filmed in both Egypt and Palestine, and her videos incorporated images from Tahrir Square and the Arab revolutions. The song was an instant hit due to its timely release and the irresistible charm Diala packed. Diala is working on her first album, but she has recently joined a music label Pause 1 where her CD single stole the show.
Ahmad Dari is one of the hardest and most prolific on this list as he knows how to make a viral video. He is not a celebrity as of yet, but his videos land on major Arabic news sites (his song about the release of Gilad Shalit, for example). Ahmad doesn't do romance videos, his thing is Palestine and its people. The Jerusalem native has written many humorous songs for Palestine that lampoon the reality of living there under occupation. Ahmad comes from a long line of Palestinian intellects who use humor to channel the grim reality they face. Ahmed keeps his music lively by utilizing graphics and calligraphy.
One more upside of the Arab Awakening that doesn't get much mention (for obvious reasons) is that A list singers cannot release any new work for fear of not selling copies, and many of the established stars singers (who I won't name) have a dirty past sucking up to Arab dictators, making them hugely unpopular. Thus production companies in the Arab world are more inclined to take risks with new talents. I have been seeing new trends in the region. The music industry is a lot more democratic now, ending the monopoly of the few regime-friendly singers who were practically shoved down everyone's throats. Thus, more and more young voices are adding their own aspirations and dreams to the public airwaves. After all, the support these new artists are getting is from the same kids who mobilized online to overthrow regimes. They can certainly support a budding trend towards a younger, more decentralized music scene.
[Hat Tip: Joseph Abushawish]
Follow Hani Almadhoun on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HotArabicMusic