The Lebanese music industry: commerce and emancipation

April 2010 -

A beautiful young woman whistles at a man driving by in a convertible. The man turns to look and runs smack into a light pole. This is the initial scene in a clip by Rola Saad of Lebanon. Haifa Webbe - also a Lebanese singer and a big large star in the Arabic world - appears in clips in tight red pants, with pouted lips, moving like a cat in heat. These are just two examples of striking developments in the music industry in Arabic countries or, more accurately, in Lebanon. For years Egypt was in the vanguard, but these days Beirut seems to have taken the lead.

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Rola Saad

Lebanon has the best producers and technicians, frequently trained in France and the United States, but increasingly in Lebanon itself. The quality of every one of these clips is high. The role of women in these short films is striking. In a clip by Miama Weddi, a woman argues with her male partner; we see him later in a pathetic scene, driving his expensive Audi sports car in aimless circles at an abandoned harbour.

The clips by Weddi, Saad and Webbe do not fit the image western countries generally have of women in Arab countries. Webbe is controversial; part of her popularity hinges on this very controversiality. She supports Hezbollah, supports rights for homosexuals and is active in fighting aids. Popular singers in Arabic countries are anything but submissive, dependent, or sexless. Quite the contrary.

According to Gaby Mrad of Arab Nights, who organises dance parties in Amsterdam, because of their star status, these singers can get by with virtually anything in their music clips. The short, frequently steamy, films are also a smart marketing strategy. Smart producers and directors serve up what people want to see and what is good for sales. The clips manage to get past the censors because they are only shown by commercial broadcasters that transmit by satellite. According to Mrad, there is no question that these women are role models. Thus, commerce and emancipation go hand in hand.

Thanks to Neil van der Linden.