RECORD REVIEWS - The Syria Issue
You may be asking yourself, “Hey, where are VICE’s usual pissy yet strangely on-point reviews? I was looking forward to reading about the latest release from my favorite _____-wave band!” Well, this month we decided to do things a little differently, apropos of our Syria Issue. Below, you’ll find reviews of (mostly) Syrian music, written by Syrian Americans, or in the case of Shalib Danyals, a person who has spent a shitload of time in the country. So far, Middle Eastern music hasn’t really had a ton of crossover appeal—unlike J-pop, K-pop, or Yanni, for instance. That said, you’ve probably been exposed to small doses of Middle Eastern music at some point, maybe without even knowing it.
The thing about a country at war is that what you hear on the news revolves almost exclusively around violence, suffering, and destruction. Hence we felt it relevant to offer insight into the listening habits of Syrians. Of course, the volatile political situation does change things and offers worrisome inspiration. Some Syrian artists have reflected on the turmoil of recent months via their songs, while others avoid the situation entirely—probably because weighing in on the conversation can easily get a musician thrown in prison or even killed.
As far as the “scene” goes over there, trends in music aren’t all that much different from their Western counterparts. Saccharine, hook-heavy pop reigns supreme. A couple of singers made popular by the Arabic version of the Idol franchise (Arab Idol, naturally) have risen up the pop charts. Hip-hop in Syria and other Arab states is slowly but surely developing into a legit genre. Since the beginning of the uprising that began about a year and a half ago, protest songs have steadily increased in popularity. And, of course, music that incorporates traditional sounds and instruments always has a strong following. Most Arabic music tends to rely on this sort of sonic commingling, and that’s what makes it unique. Even the catchiest pop song might include a customary dabke rhythm, or the twang of an oud (a traditional stringed instrument) among a plethora of synths and Auto-Tuned vocals.
Of course, because of the ongoing political tumult, there’s just not a ton of stuff being released at the moment. And as far as the standard music industry goes… Well, let’s just say it wasn’t super-easy to confine this reviews section to recent releases. Still, what we did find runs the gamut from slick pop to raucous techno-dance to heart-wrenching folk.
So read on, and give some of these albums a listen. Keep an open mind. Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it. And even if it’s not your thing, maybe when the next hot Jay-Z song drops, you’ll be able to say you know where a certain sample originated. And, if you’re into bragging, that you knew all about it before it was popular. Enjoy.