Saturday, November 24, 2012

Middle East: Arab spring youth using music to beat the rhythm of change

Arab spring youth using music to beat the rhythm of change
by Nada Akl

Beirut - During the Arab spring, the world listened to the voices of Arab youth online as they called for change. Today, the Middle Eastern independent music scene is adding music to the mix, through innovative tunes by talented young local artists focused on social change.

This is certainly not a new movement. These last few years, however, a growing number of digital platforms are giving musicians more exposure at the regional and international level. These artists have messages reflecting dynamic societies across the Middle East, a vast territory of voices.

Leading the way is a website called Mideast Tunes. It showcases the work of independent artists from across the Middle East, allowing them to submit and update their profiles on a website and mobile application that allows users to stream music as they discover new bands. Mideast Tunes aims to unite “young people committed to fostering constructive discourse in the Middle East through music”. The website promotes bands and musicians “that would otherwise never be given a second glance in the international scene” with the belief that “music can change the world and that the musicians of the Middle East and North Africa will lead the way”.

Founded in Bahrain and launched in 2010, this is an initiative of MidEastYouth, an organisation that leverages digital tools to promote social change in the region. This musical venture is an opportunity to meet The Free Keys, a progressive metal Quintet originally from Tehran, Iran. Another interesting group is the folk, funk and reggae beats of Hassan Hakmoun who started performing on the streets of Marrakech, Morocco as a child, then took to the international stage and was selected by Rolling Stone as one of the “Hot Picks of `94”.

The website allows users to browse by artist or check out the more popular choices. The concept behind the project makes more sense if you chose to discover the music by suggested collection: Arab Spring, Street’s Heartbeat, Revolution Blues and Heart of Tradition are amongst the themes available, emphasising the central role of music as a vector for social and political dialogue. Many of the bands, from Kabul Dreams to Hezbel Taleta (in English, Tuesday Party), focus on expressing their generation’s concerns, dreams and emotions in different areas of a region often marked by turmoil.

This effort is also an opportunity to showcase an often-ignored side of the region: the fact that it’s a creative whirlwind artistically and otherwise, thanks to a young demographic in culturally rich and diversified societies. Lebanese band Mashrou3 Leila is one of the most interesting actors in the regional music scene today. Formed in 2008, the alternative rock band speaks for a generation critical of institutions and taboos, exploring gender in Arab societies and lampooning what they feel is a sick society.

More formal political institutions might be eroded by corruption, oligarchy and cronyism, but in music, Middle Eastern youth are affirming their determination to take a stand for the values they uphold, whether individual rights, love or political participation. Art is a platform for expression and discussion within societies and amongst the many groups that make up the Middle East. It will also be the platform to make the world listen a little better.


* Nada Akl is a freelance journalist based in Beirut. There are 697 bands (and counting) to discover on You can also find out more about Mashrou3 Leila on This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews) Copyright permission is granted for publication.