Tuesday

Top 15 Arabic Songs for Americans


To western ears Arabic music sounds at first, well, foreign.  It uses beats, rhythms, and scales that our ears just aren't used to.  We didn't grow up with it so the music sounds strange.  In this post you're going to find some songs that you will likely enjoy, even if you've never listened to Arabic music before.

I've chosen mostly quick tempo songs as slower songs are often described as whiny by western listeners.  To tell you the truth, a lot of slow songs sound whiny to me too, but I know that if I say that I don't like Um Kalthum or that Fayrouz's only has a few songs I enjoy, I'm going to make the Arab readers of this post a little peeved.  I've never found a western person who will say that they like Um Kalthum though although Arabs are crazy about her.  I really believe her music is just something you had to grow up with to like.  I've decided to leave out songs from that era and go with more modern music.

These are 15 songs that I like and listen to (some so much that I don't listen to them anymore).  I've waded through a lot of songs that I didn't like over my 6 years of learning Arabic and these are the best I've found.  I have more, but people don't like long lists so I've limited it to a manageable top 15.  I've tried to get most of the regions of the Arab world represented on the list.  So, in no particular order:

1. Lebnani - Assi al Helani (لبناني - عاصي الحلاني) Lebanese

This list is a tiny bit skewed toward Lebanese songs (6 out of 15), but that's because the Lebanese have more than their fair share of popular singers nowadays.  This song is about Lebanese people being awesome.  It's got a quick tempo which, for me, makes me more likely to like an Arabic song.  I looked over my favorites list on You Tube and only 2 were slow songs.  Does this say something about Americans or just me? :)  Another good song from Assi al Helani is و اني مارق مريت.  It's worth a listen too, but doesn't pick up until minute 1:30.

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2. The Job - Qusay (الوظيفة - قصي) Saudi

In my experience Saudi music, and gulf music in general, sounds more foreign to western ears than Egyptian or Lebanese music.  Gulf music is really what I was referring to when I said earlier that the scales and rhythms are different.  Although it doesn't usually have the long مواويل (mawaweel, the part that sounds like whining to my American ears) that more traditional Levantine and Egyptian music has.  You can definitely tell that The Job by Qusay has a Saudi beat to it, but it's more of a pop song and has a quick pace so I imagine more conducive to westerners.  This is Saudi music lite.  I wish Qusay had more stuff like this, but most of his other songs are 100% English.



3. Alby w Omry - Brigit Yaghi (قلبي و عمري - بريجيت ياغي) Egyptian

Now this song could pass for an American pop song if you just changed the words to English.  I like the song (except for the cringe worthy "go dj" part in the middle).  Pepsi used this song in a commercial they did for the region. I've heard criticism that the words to the song are just fluff and are stupid, but whatever, it sounds good and that's what songs are about right?  She says things like, "I dance with him and when we finish we dance again."  It's not a deep song, but you'll like it.



4. Layky Layky - Wafeeq Habib (ليكي ليكي - وفيق حبيب) Syrian

I just realized this is the only Syrian song on the list.  This isn't because I don't like Syrian music.  It's probably tied with Lebanese music for the most dialect that I listen to.  Lebanese and Syrian sound pretty similar though.  Another great Syrian song is وطفي (Watfi).  I challenge you to hate that song.  It's this guy singing about how his girl is hot but never does any work while he slaves away in the field.



5. Ma Cherie - Cheb Rayan feat. Rima - Moroccan

I can't understand anything Rayan sings in this song as it's Moroccan.  Rima is not hard to understand, but the rest might as well be a different language.  I've looked at the transcript of the song and it's still hard for me to follow along.  The countries west of Egypt have some really good music, but I usually don't listen to them too much as I can't understand their dialect.  This song is one of the best I've heard and there's also Cheb Khalid.  A lot a singers west of Egypt call themselves Cheb and then their name.  Cheb is the way they write شاب (young guy) in French.  The "sh" becomes a "ch".  It's still pronounced "shab" though.

Cheb Khalid is Algerian.  People get mad if you call him Moroccan.  I always group them together in my mind though as it's two similar dialects that are incomprehensible to me.  I remember listening to Didi right when I started learning Arabic and thinking, "Eventually I'll be able to understand what he's saying!"  Nope.  Another great song with Cheb Khalid is Henna.  The song is half Persian and half Algerian.

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6. Al Bint Al Lebnania - Marwan Khoury (البنت اللبنانية - مروان خوري) Lebanese

Similar to the topic of the first song on the list, but this one is about how awesome Lebanese girls are.  Good song.

video



7. Wahishny Eh - Myriam Fares (وحشني ايه - مريم فارس) Egyptian

Myriam Fares is actually Lebanese, but a lot of her songs are sung in Egyptian dialect.  I think singers are getting away from this somewhat, but even recently people would sing in Egyptian even if they weren't from Egypt because the Egyptian audience is the largest in the Arab world and Egyptian dialect is widely understood.  Wahishny Eh is Myriam Fares's  most popular song.  Other good ones are Ha'aliq Rahtak and Nadini.



8. Joumhoureyet Alby - Mohamed Eskandar (جمهورية قلبي - محمد اسكندر) Lebanese

This song is about a dad who's daughter wants to get a job, but he doesn't want her to because she's his little princess.  The song starts at minute 0:41 where she says بدي اشتغل (I want to work).  The mijwiz (or at least a synthetic mijwiz on a keyboard) is used in this song.  It sounds kind of like a kazoo and is commonly used in traditional music in the Levant region.  I didn't like it at first, but it's grown on me and I really like how it sounds now.  It's used a lot in debka, the Levantine dance where everyone holds hands and dances while walking around in a circle.  Here's a mijwiz mix.  This is something people would debka to.




9. Shasawi - Asma Al Munawar (شسوي - اسماء المنور) Saudi

I discovered this song while listening to MBC FM on my iPhone.  That station only plays music from the gulf so if you want to find some good Saudi songs it's probably the best radio station to listen to.  That being said, it's hard for me to find gulf Arabic songs I like.  There are a few songs I like.  This is one of them.  Asma is actually Moroccan, but sings in gulf Arabic as well.  Others that I've found are حلم رومانسيي (Romantic Dream) and كم الساعة by Shada Hassoun.

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10. Khetyar 'Ala Al Akkaze - Faris Karam (ختيار على العكازة - فارس كرم) Lebanese

Another great Lebanese song.  Faris Karam is actually my favorite Arab singer.  In fact, I've listened to his songs so much that I don't really listen to them anymore, but that just tells you how good they are.  This song is called "The Old Man on the Cane".  It's about some girl that everyone in the town is crazy about, even the old men and the kids in school.  Other good Faris Karam songs are الحمد لله and التنورة.

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11. Iyyak Tilhagni - Mona Amarcha (اياك تلحقني - منى امرشا) Saudi

Mona Amarcha is another Moroccan who sings in gulf Arabic.  This song's title means "don't chase after me".  In the song she is engaged, but there's another guy who likes her and she tells him not to bother.  Listen to the drum in this song, especially at the beginning.  That type of drumming is found in almost all gulf songs.  It's a good way to identify what type of music you're listening to.

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12. La Li Leih - Aline Kahalf (لا لي ليه - الين خلف) Lebanese

I'm not sure if the title of this song actually means anything or if it's just like "la la la".  I mean, you can translate it as "no, for me, why", but I don't know if it's supposed to be translated.  I'm guessing it's just "la la la".  That's really all I have to say about this song.  It sounds good.

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13. Wayn 'A Ramallah - Folk Song (وين ع رام الله - اغنية تراثية) Palestinian

This song is about going to Ramallah.  There's a trumpet used which is rare for Arabic music.  This is a newer version of the song which is probably why.

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14. Boos Al Wawa - Haifa Wehbe (بوس الواوا - هيفاء وهبي) Egyptian

I had to put Haifa Wehbe on here.  She's got to be the most famous Arabic pop singer of all time.  Some of her songs are decent.  I like this one and also بابا فين (Where's Dad?).  The music starts at 1:45.  بنت الوادي (Girl of the Valley) is good too.  Again, these songs are in Egyptian even though she is Lebanese.  Boos Al Wawa (Kiss the Booboo) isn't a serious song obviously.  She's babysitting a kid and then her boyfriend wants to go out to dinner, but they have to bring the kid with them.



15. Ahl Al Hima - Omar Al Abdallat (اهل الهمة - عمر العبداللات) Jordanian

This is the only Jordanian song on the list.  When I visited Jordan I bought a bunch of their folk/nationalistic songs and started to like them.  Most praise the king and the country and the army, but they sound good so I listen to them.  Omar Al Abdallat sings a lot of these patriotic songs, but there are some really good ones.  This song in particular is about the strength of the Jordanian people.  Other good songs in this vein are دير بالك ع بلادك (Look after your country).  I imagine Omar isn't so famous outside of Jordan because of the subject of his songs.  Is a Syrian going to want to listen to how great the Jordanian king and people are?  Probably not.  I just care about how the song sounds though.

video

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although "Ween 3a ramallah" is an old palestinian folk song, the version in your post is actually performed by the syrian band kulna sawa.

Mike said...

Glad to see a new post. Your blog has been really helpful in learning Syrian dialect. Keep up the good work, it's much appreciated. Also, love the Haifa Wehbe video.

Anonymous said...

Woww ur the best can u do another post like this please! I liked allthe songs u posted :))

The Arabic Student said...

These were all songs that I had on my YouTube favorites.

Learn Arabic said...

What ever the source you use I think you have done great Job in ranking the songs in nice way.The USA people demand these songs but not to great extent except with those having good Music.

Tony Galán said...

No Nancy? You're really daring! Thanks for sharing, they're all hits, and many of them I hadn't even heard about them.

Keep posting, your blog is really one of a kind.

Andy said...

You might already be familiar with her, but if not, you should check out Youssra El Hawar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4oMi4pWv9o

She's more down-to-earth/ indie/ quasi-hipster, all of which I think appeal to the average American without an ear for the Arab scales (like myself) and who may be turned off by the poppy, plastic singers of Lebanon (no offense to anyone).

I'm among those who really appreciate your work in this blog! Thanks and keep it up!

Andy said...

Also, Mashrou' Leila:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HqHdBlQEe8&feature=related

Bailey Palmer said...

Yala is a great way to find more arabic music. Some good singers from the gulf are majid almuhandes (iraqi) and rashid al majid (saudi)

Andy said...

And check this guy out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=l0rCS8qpq20

HouariB said...

Didi even for an Algerian like me is not understandable. Khaled use a lot of slang word of Oran. So If you are not from the city you don't understand.
This is I think music understandable and very "western" from khaled
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amUfYHqWMhA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyG0DQWD-80

Zoë said...

"I've never found a western person who will say that they like Um Kalthum" - you clearly haven't met enough belly dancers!!!

But seriously, thanks for these songs and all the other content on this blog - it's a wonderful resource =)

مع السلام

Anonymous said...

Where is Ah W Noss? I know every Western person likes that song!

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great list! Among many, many others, I'd add Marcel Khalife (Lebanon), Ali Hassan Kuban (Egypt) and Cheb Mami (Algeria) - all of which are pretty accessible to the Western ear. What you say about Algerian is totally true: I sent one of Cheb Mami's songs to three friends from Lebanon and Palestine - not one could make head or tail of it.

Anonymous said...

you should definitely check this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAO7e9nn6G8

Anonymous said...

لست من اشد المعجبين بعمرو دياب و لكنه من اشهر المطربين العرب , فلماذا لم تدرج اي من اغانيه في القائمة , هل لم تعجبك اغانيه ام انك لم تستمع اليها

Anonymous said...

لا تقلق ليس كل العرب يحبون اغاني فيروز و ام كلثوم و ليس الكل من اشد المعجبين بهذه الاغاني فجيد انك لم تخترهم
ما رايك بطارق الناصر و فرقة رم الاردنية ؟

bamhm182 said...

Andy, thanks for Youssra El Hawar, I'll have to look into more of her songs. I've been looking for Arab music since I started learning Arabic a little over a year ago, and although I haven't found much that I like, I've found a few bands that I really like. I'd say my most favorite band is Jadal. They're from Jordan. They're pretty "American" and I love that. Haha.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwLbdmA1a4w

Another good one, especially for the "Indie" crowd, would be Soap Kills.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM2LRDYOU40

Another band that's still pretty new, but awesome, and similar to Jadal is called Akher Zapheer. I can only find their songs on youtube though. They don't appear to actually be selling a CD yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkP2PaTkZbk

A band that I liked for a while until I could understand them, then I found out they're a bit of a chick band is UTN1.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m9F2GNigYg

Amr Diab is also good, but he's a bit too "poppy" for my normal tastes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AA964Xtsn0

Anonymous said...

All your youtube videos, may I know which dialect youre using?

Anonymous said...

Brigitte Yaghi is Lebanese not Egyptian.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigitte_yaghi

Anonymous said...

(re Bridget Yaghi) I know she's Lebanese, but she sings in Egyptian, which is quite common. This sounds totally Egyptian to me.

Anonymous said...

:( amr diab should have 'atleast' appeared on this list. A big fan of his, actually. Anyway, awesome list ;) Will be glad to download them.

Anonymous said...

Hey man I don't blame you for not loving um kalthoum and fairouz I'm Arabic and I think they are annoying and stupid

Michelle said...

mohamed hamaki ahla enas is my favorite arabic song. also i love allah wa allan by fadl shakr even though it's very old.

roudy said...

14 haifa wehbe is lebanese not egyptian

binu narayanan said...

Love your selections - opened up a whole new world for me although I been listening to Arabic pop on and off

Anonymous said...

strange..no songs of nancy ajram?? and i suggest u to include more saudi songs..btw im saudi :)

Sara said...

In regard to the song (Helm Romanci) I'm very surprised that you know it and even like it :D

Though the lyrics written under the video is totally missed up and wrong.

Here is the right lyrics:
http://lyricstranslate.com/en/el-wasmi-helm-romanci-%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D9%8A-lyrics.html

I hope it helps.

Salam :)

Sara said...

Check this video too :) it's an Ad by Kuwaiti company on the occasion of the Kuwaiti National Day 2014, I hope you like it.

http://lyricstranslate.com/en/zain-kuwait-national-day-ad-2014-lyrics.html

Trystan Don De Los Reyes said...

Good collection of Arabic Songs for Americans. For me, Arabian music and arabic music video always tell a story of their culture, love, childhood, success and failure.

Corazon de Ratán said...

This is great!! I lived in Amman for a year, learned a little arabic, and already forgot a lot...I am so gald to find this post :)

SHAM MHD BN BSHR said...

thank you for the useful resource . all your favorite songs are mine too :D

Best regards .
SHAM MHD BN BSHR

Anonymous said...

I've been studying Modern Standard Arabic for a couple of years, but I'm not into Arabic music as of yet except for a few songs. However, I am so in love with Sudanese music. Their music is distinct from the rest of Arabic music. They have many great artists who made me love Sudanese music more than I love my own county's music. I am even thinking of learning Sudanese dialect just to be able to fully understand their music.
My favorite is a group called ﻛﻮﺭﺍﻝ ﻛﻠﻴﺔ ﺍﻟﻤﻮﺳﻴﻘﻲ ﻭﺍﻟﺪﺭﺍﻣﺎ (Koral Kuliya Musiki wa Drama). I was hooked ever since I heard their music for the first time. If I have to liken their performance to a Western musician, I would put them in the same category with Enya - so soulful and beautiful! They know how to turn up the tempo too!

Lucy Lucy said...

Thank you for this list!

I'm really surprised that you think westerners don't like Umm Kulthum's songs, though - I find her amazing. Here is a nice cover of Alf Leila wa Leila for those who are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_1xUu2n3w It is shorter than the original I think ;)

Anonymous said...

FYiI, Brigitte Yaghi is actually lebanese. She's the daughter of another famous lebanese singer (1970's) Abdo Yaghi.

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, and see this post is old, but I am seriously shocked there is no NANCY! I'm a big fan of Tamer Hosny, Amr Diab, Hossam Habib, Elissa, and Nawal AL Zoughbi. I'm an avid follower of Toni Bayeh as well. I'm mostly interesting in fine tuning my levantine accent. I appriciate your explanations of MSA vs other dialects as I never learned MSA.