For all my facility with languages, I am not actually magic. There are a lot of tongues in which I know scattered words, some script, and some grammar, but not anywhere near enough to understand what's going on in, say, a TV show.

Some of the music collection is in those languages. I find it annoying that I haven't stuffed enough into my brain to properly parse these things yet. My Arabic, for example, is wholly inadequate to appreciate the subtle beauty and poetry of the interlocking literary allusions in their surprisingly complex...

AHAHAHAHA. Okay, no, I can't keep that up very long, not with a straight face. Pop music is just as stupid in Arabic, overall, as it is in English. Any time you hear someone say "habibii", swap in "my baby", and you get the gist. "Youm" is day, "layla" is night. "Wa'" is the root for 'love'. "Ana kan mali?" is something like "what have I gotten myself into?" or "what's the matter with me?" Pretty much all the other Arabic I know involves menus -- I can point out 'shawarma' and 'falafel' to you, no problem -- but it hasn't stopped me from picking up random songs.

This one is a duet. The lady is named Samira Saïd, a former teenage pop star who is the only person ever to have represented Morocco at Eurovision. The man is an Algerian named Cheb Mami, whom you have probably already heard doing the background ululations on Sting's song "Desert Rose".


"Youm Wara Youm" ("Day After Day")/ Samira Saïd & Cheb Mami

Pretty repetitive, but it's meant to be a silly dance-pop track more than anything. I'm still working on the new kind of melisma. Arabic musical scales sound strangely flat to western ears, but Saïd ornaments notes easily as much as Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey.

Here's a playlist of stuff by Nancy Ajram:



There's also a pretty popular clip of her performing on Arab Idol  this year -- yes, the "Idol" pestilence is now worldwide. Somewhere, on a tiny atoll in the South Pacific somewhere, home to a dozen people, someone is putting on one of these damn things with three judges and five contestants, for the other four people to gossip about the next day.

Anyway, she's not a contestant, she's a featured performer. Ajram has been a very big name in the Arabic pop world for at least a decade now. As far as I can tell, she comes as close to flat not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks as any woman can in the Arab world -- probably because she's from a Christian family in Lebanon, which is not a particularly conservative part of the Middle East. Her first single hit when she was fifteen. She's been called "the Britney Spears of the Arabic pop world", with the main difference that Ajram is not a gigantic train wreck -- she's married, apparently happily the first time, with a couple of daughters. She's done commercials for Coca-Cola and Sony Ericsson, toured worldwide, and played at the World Cup, which is what the rest of the planet does instead of booking halftime shows at the Super Bowl.

Every so often Ajram catches flak for wiggling at the camera so much; she does a video all covered up, to prove she can, and then she goes right back to doing whatever she damn well pleases. She's one of the few women who routinely makes lists of the most influential Arabs in media.

Even my minimal understanding of Arabic dwarfs my knowledge of Thai. I've figured out the algorithm behind the script -- those things on top are vowels -- but I have no idea at all what they're saying. I have a few albums from Myria Benedetti, better known as Nat Myria; this is one of the few videos I can find on YouTube, but she has a pretty extensive discography:


"Ruk Mai Chuay Arai" (Love Don't Help With Anything) / Nat Myria

It's not my favorite, but I can't find the one Winamp informs me is called "Fun Lek Lek", mostly because I can't type in Thai. I don't have the foggiest idea what the title means. For all I know it says "eats many babies". I can decipher what syllables she's singing most of the time, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is because she has a funny accent -- she's half Thai and half Swiss, her father being (I think) from an Italian-speaking canton. I wouldn't be surprised if she spent a lot of her childhood in Europe. Even if she speaks Thai like a native, it's much harder to get an odd inflection or cadence to go away while singing, and she is sufficiently different from other Thai singers that I've managed to notice.

Comments