Amman a potential music hub yet to receive attention

Sunday 26/11/2017
New music. Members of the Jordanian post-rock band El Morabba3. (El Morabba3)

Amman - The Arab region is no stran­ger to contemporary arts and culture. From the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi to Beirut’s renovated Metro al Madina theatre hosting increasingly unique young artists such as Mo Khansa, the re­gion is home to many creative tal­ents. However, there is one capital city that’s generally left out of con­sideration — Amman, Jordan.

Though the city has numerous talents — from those in fine art to underground hip-hop — it is gener­ally not included in discussions on contemporary Arab culture.

New musical talents from Amman, including Dirar Sha­wagfeh, drummer of popular post-rock band El Morabba3; Laith al-Huseini, better known as rap art­ist the Synaptik; and artist and rap­per Fadi Hourani, stressed the lack of local interest in their art.

Considering there is a limited mu­sic industry in the Arab world for the kinds of sounds produced by these artists, they, like many oth­ers in the region, use the internet as their main platform.

YouTube, SoundClound and BandCamp are growing increasing­ly populated with regional talent. Some of the artists’ tour in the West, as is the case of El Morabba3, sched­uled to perform in Belgium, Germa­ny and the Netherlands, as well as tend to their fans in Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon, among other places. That, however, doesn’t mean the Jordanian state is interested in sup­porting them.

But cultural constraints in Jordan have begun to ease to allow these groups to take the spotlight, Sha­wagfeh said.

“What made me decide to be a musician in Jordan?” Shawagfeh said, “When I was 14 or 15 years old, watching a metal concert in Jor­dan was an underground scene. It wasn’t — let’s say — legal to do such a thing because it provoked the reli­gion and society of the country.

“Music was made interesting for our generation and for me as it be­came somewhat of a rebellion that got us.”

Hourani said he began making music to explore a new medium. His work in other domains of cul­ture opened the door for him. As for the Synaptik, he said: “I always wanted to make music and did what I needed to become one, despite be­ing in the country.”

The advantage Arab artists have is that a large market opens for them, so while there may only be a small number of Jordanians as fans of their work, these artists all have fan bases in other Arab countries.

“There is feedback from Arabs in the region — Tunisia, Egypt. It cre­ates a type of ‘oneness.’ We’re all Arab and we’re all working on the same things. There is always space to collaborate,” Hourani said.

As far as Jordan goes, “the local community in Jordan is definitely interested, in Egypt and Lebanon, too, but it’s just the (Jordanian) offi­cials who aren’t interested in what we do,” Huseini said.

This lack of interest from official channels limits the reach of emerg­ing artists when officials should be supporting a growing industry, particularly considering high youth unemployment rates and a suffer­ing economy.

“Improved venues would lead to more opportunities in events man­agement, sound and light engineer­ing. Basically, more work for every­body,” Shawagfeh said.

Huseini complained that cultural channels such as the Ministry of Culture and its associated bodies “want nothing to do with us,” which is not a surprise for a conservative country.

“One of the reasons Beirut and Cairo may have a better reputation is that arts and music have better support,” he said. “We were just in Beirut around a month ago. There are so many more venues and spac­es to perform and organise events.”

Aside from an underdeveloped scene, navigating Jordanian cultural and religious dynamics is difficult in any cultural production context and the case of contemporary music, probably more so.

Hourani pointed to a lack of di­versity among artists. “You know how it is for women here [difficult]. It would be good to see more fe­male artists, it would be good for the country,” he said, noting that women are culturally active across the region but in Jordan tradition leaves a large gap.

Despite the obstacles, the musi­cians said they were competition for their regional counterparts.

“We have to put so much more work in it; the quality of our stuff is really good,” Huseini said.

“All eyes are on Jordan. We are producing new music and new gen­res and bands like Jadal, Autostrad and El Morabba3. We are taking over if only our country supported us like it should,” Shawagfeh said.