Wall Street Times

The New Wave of Arabic Music: Elyanna and the Modernization of Traditional Pop

When the Coachella music festival opens next month, it will be a historic moment for Palestinian-Chilean singer Eliana. She will be the first artist to sing the entire show in Arabic on the festival’s biggest stage.  

Elyanna views this as a major accomplishment for all Arabs as well as for herself. She is a member of a new generation of performers from North Africa, Southwest Asia, and diaspora groups who are making Arabic music more well known than ever.

Elyanna’s fame is underpinned by her unique sound that blends elements of pop, reggae, trap and R&B. 

Backed by music industry mogul Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, who recently founded Universal’s Arab Music label, Elyanna represents a departure from the formulaic structures that have defined much of Arabic pop over the past three decades. Their music is a fresh update on the sometimes monotonous Westernization of classical Arabic music. 

Success for Elyanna involves more than just her musical abilities. It aims to unite Arabs in the music industry and encourage them to support one another in the same way that other markets do. “If you look at any other market out there, they support each other,” she says. “And that’s what we should do when it comes to music too.”

Elyanna’s message resonates with a growing number of young Arab and diaspora communities around the world who are striving to connect with their roots and introduce their culture to more people. 

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Elyanna’s Achievements

In recent years, artists like Tunisian rapper Balti, who collaborated with Elyanna on the hit song “Ghareeb Alay,” have gained popularity, while other Arab and diaspora artists are also experimenting with new sounds and styles.

As Elyanna takes the Coachella stage next month, she will be a beacon of hope for a new generation of Arab and diaspora artists who are eager to make their mark on the global music scene. By singing in Arabic, she is breaking down barriers and showing that music is a universal language that can bring people together from all walks of life.

For Arab and diaspora communities around the world, Elyanna’s success represents a powerful symbol of pride and identity. By embracing their cultural heritage and fusing it with modern sounds and styles, artists like Elyanna are helping to reshape the music industry and inspire a new generation of musicians to follow in their footsteps.

The global music industry is witnessing a seismic shift in the recognition and appreciation of Arabic music. Thanks to the tireless efforts of artists, labels, and behind-the-scenes movers, the music of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and diaspora communities is finally breaking through the traditional barriers that have historically kept it marginalized.

One such artist is Elyanna, the Palestinian-Chilean singer who is set to become the first artist to sing her entire set in Arabic on Coachella’s biggest stage. She represents a new wave of Arabic music artists who are experimenting with different genres and sounds, helping to modernize the traditional Arabic pop formula.

Artists Paving the Way

Supporting this new generation of artists is a growing infrastructure that is helping to connect Arabic music with a global audience. Streaming platforms like Spotify and Anghami have made it easier for listeners to access Arabic music, while social media sites like TikTok have helped to break through the traditional gatekeeping of the music industry.

Arabic music is also finding a platform in television shows and films produced by Western studios, including Hulu’s Ramy and Netflix’s Mo. These shows are breaking down stereotypes and providing a much-needed platform for stories from the Arab community. Meanwhile, large global events like the World Cup in Qatar have served as a powerful means of exporting Arabic music to a wider audience.

On a more grassroots level, dance spaces that center the music of Southwest Asian and North African diaspora communities have been growing in popularity. Laylit, a group that organizes events in New York and Montreal, has grown to include other cities, while DJ Nooriyah’s performance for Boiler Room in London has gained significant attention on social media, demonstrating the excitement and liveliness of Arabic music.

Although there have been notable achievements in the popularity of Arabic music, there remains a significant amount of work to be done. Suhel Nafar, who is the Strategy and Development for West Asia and North Africa at EMPIRE Vice President, acknowledges that the ultimate objective is for Arabic music to attain the same level of acclaim as artists such as Bad Bunny. This will require continued support and investment in the infrastructure that is helping to bring Arabic music to a global audience.

For now, though, the milestone represented by Elyanna’s upcoming performance at Coachella is cause for celebration. As she notes, it’s not just about her, but about all Arabs, and the potential for Arabic music to find a place on the global stage.

From the legendary singers of the past to the current generation of Arab musicians, their work has found its way into the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

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Arabic Music

The Arab music scene of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s was dominated by the likes of Umm Kulthum and Fairuz, whose music had universal appeal even among those who didn’t understand Arabic. Their artistry and vocal prowess earned them respect and admiration not just within their communities but also from audiences and artists outside of the Arab world.

As the world moved into the late ’90s and early 2000s, Arab pop singers began collaborating with Western artists, blending cultural sounds and instruments together. The collaborations between Sting and Cheb Mami in “Desert Rose” and Don Omar and Hakim in “Tigi Tigi” blended the darbuka, a drum used in Southwest Asia and North Africa for centuries, with reggaeton.

For the Arab diaspora, the 2000s were a turning point, with artists like Iraqi-Canadian rapper Narcy and Syrian-American MC Omar Offendum incorporating and mixing their identities in their music. These artists laid the foundation for the future success of their peers, and helped make Arab music a global phenomenon.

Even Western artists began incorporating Arabic music into their work. Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” and Aaliyah’s “Don’t Know What to Tell Ya” both heavily sampled Arabic music and became hits in their own right.

Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Anghami have played a significant role in the growing popularity of Arabic music, making it more accessible for listeners and breaking through the conventional barriers in the music industry. Social media sites like TikTok have also played a role in this, with Arab music becoming a staple on the app.

Photo: Blogto

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