Music is regarded as the universal language that traverses over cultural boundaries and nations thus unifying the human race. It is believed to have the ability to evoke sentiments ranging from happy, sensual emotions to sad and enraged feelings.
As an art, music has evolved together with a man from a humble mostly percussion beginning to the beautiful and complicated symphonies that engage hundreds of instruments of this modern era.
The developer of music was expansive thereby leading to the birth of different styles of music called genres. These genres often depend on the unique geographical, and cultural settings of the singer as motivation and inspiration always come from one’s surroundings.
Owing to its geographical positioning, music in Saudi Arabia has been influenced by several different sources including India, Iran, the East African Coast, Egypt and Iraq (Maisel and Shoup 310).
This means that the music offered by Saudi Arabia is not only expansive but also has a unique blend as a result of this wide pool of sources.
This paper sets out to discuss music in the Saudi Arabian context. The various kinds of music and their effect on Saudi culture shall be articulated. Merits and Dangers of music to Saudis shall also be highlighted to bring about a deeper appreciation of the effects of music in Saudi Arabia.
Development of Music in Saudi Arabia
Compared to Western nations, relatively less music is played in Saudi society. This is mostly as a result of the strict interpretation of the Quran where music is not allowed in religious services and also plays little part in a person’s private life (Broberg 49).
However, this has been changing mostly as a result of the influence of radio and television which has made music increasingly heart in Saudi society. Music has not historically enjoyed a favorable past in Saudi.
With the growth of the modern Saudi state in the 1920s, the authorities mostly under the influence of the religious leaders banned singing and musical instruments (Zuhur 65). The reason for this ban was mostly religious since the Koran does not approve of music.
However, this ban was not absolute, and musicians and dancers were still allowed to perform at weddings and for certain religious celebrations.
Most of Saudi Arabia’s’ traditional music is inspired by the geography of the land. Music related to pearling and seafaring is part of the classical music in this region, and this is as a direct result of the sailing history of the people.
These songs came about due to the occupation of building ships and sailing that is a part of the Saudi legacy. As such, there were songs for work while making the ship, moving the vessel form the dockyards to the sea as well as songs for sailing.
These songs were mainly to boost the morale of the people involved in the various tasks as well as for expressing hope and encouragement for pearling and seafaring was a dangerous occupation.
A particularly common form of traditional music in the Gulf region is the Sawt which is centered on the lead singer who is fundamental to the music. This traditional music is mostly noted for its poetic verses, and the music is normally performed in front of large audiences in large halls.
Sarat also comprises of several percussionists who provide an accompaniment to the singers. Zuhur asserts that this form of music also involves the audience who clap n a particular rhythm (66). The audiences also at times dance to the music usually in pairs.
The Bedouin people who are the Arabic speaking nomads of the Gulf region developed a distinctive chant accompanied by a single stringed instrument and drums.
This type of music became known as Bedouin music and continues to play an important role in Saudi Arabia despite the Bedouin not forming a majority of the region’s population (Maisel and Shoup 314).
The drumming element of Bedouin music is significant, and drug groups can range from a small number up to a squadron of 50 men drum groups.
These drum groups were traditionally an important part of honor and display of valor and Maisel and Shoup reveal that this is still the case in modern times (314).
Contemporary music in Saudi Arabia began in the 1950s despite the ban that had been enforced on most music and dance. This music was mostly enjoyed in private settings.
After the ban was lifted, Saudi singers began recording their songs and had their songs played on the radio to a wide audience. In addition to this, music from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq was played, and this proved to be influential to Saudi music.
Maisel and Shoup note that most local singers began to be influenced by the powerful Cairo radio station “Sawt al-‘Arab” as well as popular Indian musical films (315).
Saudi music has not escaped the western influence, and the country boasts of several very successful pop stars.
A particularly significant artist is the Saudi Mohammad ‘Abduh who has become renowned in the wider Arab region for his songs which borrow greatly from the traditional folk songs (Maisel and Shoup 316).
The 1990s were a particularly significant year for Saudi music and musicians. It was in this decade that Saudi musicians began to be exposed to the global music market with some of them rising to major stardom.
Saudis such as Adb al-Majid ‘Abdallah and Rashid al-Majid rose to stardom achieving large sales of their albums in not only the Arab world but also in Europe, North America and Asia (Maisel and Shoup 316).
One of the special features of contemporary Saudi music is that it uses traditional poems to recognize high quality. This attribute of Saudi Arabian music has resulted in the attraction of a huge Arabic listenership to the music.
The main reason for this is because the high-quality poetic verses offer a variance to the sea of Egyptian and Lebanese pop songs that are characterized by catchy beats but unimaginative words (Maisel and Shoup 315).
Saudi Arabian music has received recognition and a measure of success in the Arab world mostly as a result of its variance.
One of the renowned Saudi singers ‘Abd al-Majid declares that the reason for this popularity is that “there are over twenty different rhythmic patterns in their music whereas Egyptian and Lebanese popular music use less than ten” (Maisel Shoup 315).
Some of the western music which has made a niche in Saudi Arabia is American-style country music. Goldstein reveals that this music is mostly as a result of the influence of U.S. soldiers stationed in the Persian Gulf (18).
However, this embrace of western music is not as prevalent as is the case in most other nations whereby western music has almost entirely eroded or redefined local music. The reason for this restricted embrace of Western music is because of the role that religion plays in Saudi Arabia.
Western music is mostly related to moral decadence, and therefore the society is taught to shun it or in some cases, the government censors the music.
Social Relevance of Music
One of the areas whereby music plays an important role in Saudi society is at wedding parties. Zuhur notes that typically, the bride’s family hires musicians who are usually women (62). These musicians comprise the chorus, drummers, violinist and sometimes keyboardists.
The music is especially important since the musical group sets the tone of the entire event. As such, if the musicians appear bored and fail to excite the crowd, the whole wedding ceremony may lose its slender.
This music is mostly accompanied by traditional dances which are performed by young girls and teenagers.
Being a strictly conservative community, women never express emotions or ideas related to love in public. However, Zuhur notes that music acts as a platform through which strong emotions never verbalized by women in public can be expressed in the form of love songs (63).
Music, therefore, acts as a forum whereby the participants are allowed to enjoy themselves in a manner that the traditional society would not normally allow them to as well as express sentiments which are unacceptable in other instances.
Benefits of Music
From its conception, the traditional function of music as entertainment. This remains true in modern-day Saudi culture where music is still hailed as the number one entertainment activity for Saudi Arabians.
This is especially in light of the popularization of Saudi music as well as the outside influence which has brought about new contemporary music which is hugely entertaining and is used in wedding parties as well as most other major celebrations.
Research indicates that Saudi’s are increasingly dedicating more time to listening to music for leisure than they did in the past (Shepherd 22).
This may be because of the globalization process which is exposing Saudi Arabia to the world and slowly moving the conservative society into a contemporary one.
From a commercial perspective, music has become a big business in Saudi Arabia with individual artists gaining immense wealth as well as a measure of fame. While the contribution of the music to the Saudi economy is relatively minute, it remains to be a contributor.
This is because through the various components, e.g., recording artist, production houses, agents and concert venues to name but a few, this industry creates employment for several Saudi citizens and also gives the government some amount of revenue from taxation on sales made.
The recognition that the country as a whole gain from its music is also significant and positive for the country as it tries to market itself to the rest of the world.
Negative Impacts of Music
While traditional Saudi Arabian music is accepted by the society due to its social awareness, Saudi Arabia’s music scene has begun to be infiltrated by some western genres of music such as Hip Hop and rap which are infamous for their lewd content and vulgar language.
Masooma asserts that most western music is derogatory to the woman and degrades her to a sexual object. This objectification of women is contrary to the Islamic standards that Saudi Arabia abides by.
In addition to this, such offensive material is detrimental especially to children and adolescents who are highly impressionable. In addition to this, some forms of music have been noted to actively promote social vices such as drugs and violence.
Another disadvantage of music is that it can be used to advance prejudices and stereotype images which may then be used as the basis by which people interact with others of differing cultures.
As such, music has led to the marginalization of some groups as well as propagation of prejudices which is detrimental to the harmony of the Saudi Arabian society.
This paper set out to give a brief overview of music in Saudi Arabia to provide a deeper appreciation of the role that music plays in shaping the Saudi Arabian culture. To this end, this paper has discussed traditional music as well as traditional music.
How the music has evolved has been articulated, and the impact of outside influence on the Saudi music scene discussed. Like most other things in life, music has been seen to be a two-faced creature; having both a benevolent side and malevolent side.
The advantageous attribute of music has been seen to be significant in keeping people happy and nation-building efforts.
However, from the discussions presented herein, it is evident that the negative aspect of music may break the fiber that makes up the Saudi society if they are left to run wild.
Laws by the country have to this point prevented this from happening, therefore, making sure that only the benefits of music are enjoyed by Saudi society.
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Masooma, Beatty. Shedding Light on the Darkness of Music. 2003. Web.
Maisel, Sebastian and Shoup, John. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States Today: A-J. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2009. Print.
Walker, Jenny. Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula. Lonely Planet, 2007. Print.
Zuhur, Sherifa. Images of enchantment: visual and performing arts of the Middle East. American University in Cairo Press, 1998. Print.