Amman a potential music hub yet to receive attention
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.