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Global Pop in the Middle East

In today's increasingly globalised world, where economic, technological and cultural barriers between countries are being eroded, musical differences between East and West have also become narrow and cannot be so well-defined as in earlier centuries. Western celebrities such as David Beckham and Angelina Jolie are highly acclaimed by people in China and the Middle East and the same can be said about Western music stars such as Michael Jackson and Madonna. Also, increased emigration by Eastern people to Europe and America have influenced the music young Eastern people come into contact with. The increased availability of music on the Internet that people can download onto their mini-disk players and MP3 players also exposes people to different types of music in my opinion. In this essay I intend to explore the theme of Global Pop in the Middle East. I will explore the impact of Western music in the East but I will also discuss the increasing popularity of Middle Eastern music in the Western world over the last few decades. Beginning with a historical account of how Eastern and Western musical styles initially came into contact as early as the seventeenth century, I will go on to discuss popular music culture in Middle Eastern countries today and collaborations between Eastern and Western musicians. I will conclude by attempting to highlight both negative and positive connotations of the global pop movement.

In order to discuss my subject, I wish to begin by giving a brief historical overview of when East meets West in the music world. Western influences on music of the Middle East, and indeed vice versa, began as far back as Napoleon's invasions of the East in the seventeenth century with the military bands that accompanied Napoleon's armies. This influence has continued down through the centuries; even when East and West are politically at war, the global pop music culture remains prevalent. A.J. Racy has previously discussed how "Since the late nineteenth century the Easterner's attempts to define themselves musically have been accompanied by a strong desire to emulate Europe as a "superior" or "culturally advanced" model of civilisation".

While the increased globalisation of Middle Eastern music certainly does allow for more positive images of the East and a deeper cultural understanding between East and West, globalisation of popular music also has negative connotations. Both Bloechl and Swedenburg discuss the problematic possibility of "Orientalism". Orientalism, as we know, was a term coined by Edward Said and it refers to the Western world's way of thinking and writing about the East. Bloechl and Swedenburg seem to be concerned that the Western world's interest in Arab music may result in an exoticising by the West of the East and serve to reinforce traditional stereotypes of Eastern races. Swedenburg claims that "global capitalism has become adept at marketing the exotic to sell products, while avoiding the troubling political or economic issues associated with "exotic peoples and cultures"

In this essay I have intended to highlight the major influences that Eastern and Western music styles and genres have had on each other. It is clear to see that Eastern popular musicians have often embraced certain aspects of Western music and have assimilated Western instruments into their recordings. Global pop music in the Middle East appears to continuously battle with traditional music such as the Arabesk and Tarab styles. However "the world views of a vast number of young music makers and consumers are becoming well-attuned to the so-called global pop culture". Also, as a result of Western influences, the "current popular mainstream incorporates a major audio-visual component, namely the widely disseminated and often elaborately produced music video, or "video-clip"Likewise the West continues to display growing interest in Eastern music and theories, In the US and in Europe certain universities offer students the opportunity to study traditional Arab musical styles, history and instruments. Many Western record labels are also signing Eastern artists to their labels and in the East consumers have ever-increasing access to Western pop artists. However we do need to be careful in how we in the West perceive Eastern musicians and perhaps this works in the opposite way also. Global pop culture should be a means to understand more about different cultures and perhaps to create a deeper level of communication and tolerance between East and West. It should not serve to instigate a new practice of "Othering", exoticising or the reintroduction of traditional stereotypes in how the Eastern and Western worlds thinks about each other.

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