Monday, April 20, 2009

Arabic Pop Recommendations (2006-2007)

Since I "discovered" the Arabic pop music industry about three years, there have been many albums that I have become attached to. Each of the following albums are full of talent and entirely merit your purchase of an original copy

If you are an enthusiast of Arab culture, or any culture for that matter, please help propagate the GOOD the media and poilitcs have polluted the Western mind through depicting the Middle East as a fanatic and backward region of the world. Unfortunately, beauties such as Elissa and Nancy Ajram are never seen/heard in the West...but every channel is just aching to replay the next bin Laden video. What a pity!

Enjoy the music:

Artist: Elissa
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Najwa Karam
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Asala Nasri
Album: Sawaha Galbi (2007) - Khaleeji
Nationality: Syrian
Label: Rotana

Artist: Ramy Ayach
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Nancy Ajram
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Art Line Music

This extremely short list is by no means definitive. Rather I hope it serves the needs of newbies to the genre of current popular Arabic music. These were the albums with which I started my obsession/journey into the intricate Middle Eastern pop industry. These albums are catchy, pleasant to the Western ear, and diverse in their styles of music ranging from Dabke to Western pop ballads. 

Find something that works for you...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jannat - Hob Emtelak (2009)

Artist: Jannat 
Nationality: Moroccan
Album: Hob Emtelak (2009)
Label: Good News 4 Music

As this is my first review of an Arabic-language album, I would like to explicitly state some things:
  • I am not an Arab speaker nor do I understand any of the lyrics - a song might have top-rate lyrics, but I may reject it due to my own lack of awareness.
  • I have become familiar with the Arabic music industry since two years ago; I am not a pro, but I am proficient
  • I LOVE Arabic music; it is second only to Bollywood :)
So let's start with some first impressions:

I must admit that I had never listened to even a single song by Jannat before the release of "Hob Emtelak." Through browsing Al Bawaba's entertainment section, I came across an article which read like an advertisement for the album, claiming Jannat's sophomore album a "master-piece." 
Secondly, I must also admit that I have a strong pro-Rotana bias. I seem, either consciously or subcosciously, to overlook a non-Rotana album unless the artist is very well known. Had I not read the stellar review by Al Bawaba, I might have ignored Jannat's Good News 4 Music-produced album. Fortunately...I didn't.

What about Jannat?

Another bias that I have is my feeling that all Egyptian male songs start sounding repetitive - same with the females. For this reason, I am not a great fan of megastars such as Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny. I seem to enjoy albums with a mix of Egyptian, Lebanese, and Khaleeji songs; I admire diversity. I also seem to disregard Egyptian-style singers because of their very
 soft voices. For example, Angham, Amr, and Tamer, and ZeeZee Adel all possess this quality. I found Jannat's voice to also seem extremely soft, but her songs in "Hob Emtelak" are NOT repetitive. And due to this, I've listened to her album at least 5 times since its release. 

Certain songs in the album definitely stick out to my ear:

Essmaa Kalami - This ballad style really suits Jannat. I really prefer her voice without all the digital alteration. The low-key instrumentals allow Jannat's voice to shine. The soft flow of strings and the saxophone (especially at the end) is effective.

Al Teflah Al Bareah - This is another ballad, except with a more pronounced background beat and piano. I was also charmed by the song's introduction using percussion (maybe a type of xylophone) that reminded me of a lullabye or a fairy tale. 

Ana Donyetoh - This dance/electronica style isn't one of my favorites, but I really appreciated the Oriental orchestration in combination with the synthesized beats. "Ana Donyetoh" is a great lounge track. 

Ashan Khatrouh - This is a full on pop song. The beats are very strong, but unlike some other singers, Jannat doesn't allow the music to overpower her voice. Very upbeat and fast, "Ashan Khatrouh" demonstrates that Jannat can do justice to both sensitive Elissa-style ballads and coquettish Haifa-style pop.


After less than a week with this album, I am not sure whether "Hob Emtelak" can be considered a masterpiece, but the album is definitely worth $10. Considering the popularity of her debut album "Elli Benni Wa Benak" and the variety of songs on this album, "Hob Emtelak" deserves the success that it will surely meet.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Luck By Chance Music Review

Film: Luck By Chance (2009)
Music Director: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Lyricist: Javed Akhtar
Length: 34:31
Label: Big Music

After an immensely successful album in 2001's trend-shifting Dil Chahta Hai, S-E-L had reunited with Farhan Akhtar to produce India's critically-acclaimed Rock On in 2008. While that album appealed only to one section of the Bollywood audience in terms of musical genre, 2009's Luck By Chance provides a more diverse collection and laid-back ambience. Its soundtrack is musically complex. The album blends East and West, old and new - all to provide quality music. And in a film which itself is dedicated to demystifying the "smoke-filled room" of the modern Indian film indsutry, not to have first-rate music would have been blasphemous. Fortunately for the audience - and Farhan Akhtar - SEL deliver to provide the best soundtrack yet of 2009.

The album contains six tracks with one remix:

1. "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" 

"Yeh zindagi bhi kya kya humko dikhlati hai...?" 
"What does this life show us....?"

The song begins on a reflective note complemented only by a lone beat in the background. But it quickly picks up pace. The track is soothing and effectively uses piano instrumentation to produce a track that is subtle, yet charming upon first listen. The track might seem "empty" to those used to more pedestrian Bollywood tracks, but "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" is simple and allows the mind to ponder its lyrics - it is absolutely devoid of "noise". Javed Akhtar's words are extremely colloquial and simple, yet profound. The chorus is mesermising with its uplifting "Chhune hai..." and a last mention goes to the interludes (for example at 1:23).

Overall, this track is as transendental minimalist as Bollywood can get.

2. "Baawre" 

If "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" was minimalistic, this second track "Baawre" is a gaudy, colorful, overacted funfest. This song is extremely deceiving. The first 45 seconds of the track is in traditional, classical ghazal style. At this point, the listener is expecting a track similar to Rahman's Bhor Bhaye from Delhi-6. But then the beat picks up and the song really begins. The theme is largely Rajasthani, so one can expect colors and grandeur with the song on-screen. Also, SEL inovatively included a Latin-styled interlude (2:55) complemented by Hindustani vocals which, surprisingly, works. The interlude is then followed by a Panjabi theme which closes off the song.

"Baawre" is likely to be a visual spectacle on-screen, but is still rather ordinary.

3. "Pyaar Ki Daastaan"

"Jab hawaein sunati hain tere mere pyaar ki daastaan/Sunti hai yeh fiza/Sunti hai yeh zameen/Sunta hai aasmaan"
"When the winds announce our love story/The two of us listen/This earth listens/This sky listens"

And we definitely listen as well! With the album's third track we return to another simple melody picking up where "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" had left off. "Pyaar Ki Daastaan" also heavily features piano instrumentation; the piano is most bold when the lyrics "...pyaar ki daastaan..." are sung - the piano accentuates each word perfectly. Once again, Akhtar's lyrics are extremely accessible and effective. Mahalakshmi Iyer's female part of the duet is rich and satisfying. This track is clearly romantic in an escapist sense. The songs grand orchestration contributes to a feeling of fresh wind and clean mountain air. 

"Pyaar Ki Daastaan" is a refreshing track which takes the best of Indian escapist film and the best from Farhan Akhtar's arthouse sensibilities. In the end, the credit goes to SEL for making it all happen in this track.

4. "Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya"

"Jaane yeh sab kya hai/Jo bhi hai naya sa hai/Hairat mein dil kho gaya/Yeh aaj kya ho gaya"
"Who knows what this all is/Whatever is new/In the confusion, my heart was lost/What's happening today?"

"Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya" is the necessary rock-themed song. The song itself doesn't seem very innovative or new, but nonetheless is extremely enjoyable. After hits like Bachna Ae Haseeno's "Lucky Boy," listening to Sunidhi Chauhan singing a melodious, innocent song was pleasing. However, this track reminded me of the Hindi release of the High School Musical soundtrack which also features Sunidhi and compositions by SEL. Javed Akhtar's lyrics are fun, and once again colloquial, yet satisfying.

Listeners will definitely enjoy this track, especially its energy and youthful vibe. But with "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" and "Pyaar Ki Daastaan" setting such high standards, "Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya" slightly disappoints.

5. "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina"

"Sapnon se bhare naina/to neend hai na chaina"
"Eyes full of dreams/That sleep is not peaceful"

Another one of Shankar Mahadevan's inspirational songs set on the film's leading man, "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina" is a fast, plusating song. An eeriness and darkness is present in the song, perhaps paralleling the nature of Mumbai and the film industry itself. This track does not stand out for any reason, although Mahadevan's Hindustani classical interlude (3:00) is appreciated and enriching. One point to note is that the literary value of the album jumps with this track, and Javed Akhtar is to be thanked for that.

6. "O Rahi Re"

"Kisi ko nahin hai pata/Rahi re O rahi re/Kahan ja raha hai bataa"
"No one knows/O companion/Tell me where you are going"

Upon hearing this track, it immediately reminded me of another SEL track from the 2006 film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - "Mitwa." Both tracks have a similar theme of companionship. "O Rahi Re" stands out with its acoustic guitar instrumentalization. Shankar Mahadevan is also very appealing in this track, especially with the line "Bol tera kaunsa rastaa" to which he adds some Hindustani flavor. In terms of lyrics, Javed Akhtar chooses mostly from Urdu which gives the track an ambience of acoustic Sufi rock. 

This last original track of the album is very enjoyable and complex. Although one might need a few listens to appreciate the song, "O Rahi Re" makes up for a somewhat dull "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina."


"Luck By Chance" is a marvelous album targeting today's youth. Furthermore, it complements a film of international standards and appeal. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy had established themselves in the industry years ago, but at this moment - their presence is second only to AR Rahman. But with a few more consistently stunning, diverse, experimental albums, SEL have a great chance of becoming India's premier musical geniuses. 


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Romance

4. Thursday - Romance
Starring: SRK, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee

Veer-Zaara is master director Yash Chopra's most recent effort and can easily be named an eternal story of not only love, but also of dedication, perseverance, and humanity. With a backdrop of tensions between India and Pakistan, Chopra tells the love story of an Indian Air Force pilot being detained at a prison in Lahore, Pakistan for over twenty years. One day, an ambitious female lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui (played by Rani Mukherjee), arrives to defend Veer and try his case in court. It is during this period, that Saamiya is able to probe Veer's brain and extract an unbelievable love story. The love story between Veer and Zaara (played by Preity Zinta) is crafted second only to the love story between India and Pakistan - their people, their villages, their colors, and their traditions.

This film, being from the Yash Raj camp, has the gloss, necessary song-in-the-mountains, Lata & Udit duets, and corny lyrics - yet it retains its heart. Veer-Zaara is an intellectual's film in a masala film package. Needless to say, the 2005 Filmfare Award for Best Film went to Veer-Zaara.

The soundtrack by Madan Mohan is amazing and reminds one of older Bollywood soundtracks from the '90s. 

Other ROMANTIC films include:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Family Drama

3. Wednesday - Family Drama
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, SRK, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor

The glossy, sentimental, cotton candy family drama has always been a mainstay for the Yash Raj camp - and of the Indian film industry itself. Directed and produced by Karan Johar, K3G is Johar's magnificent follow-up to his 1998 classic, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is the story of a family which holds tradition with utmost importance...and this causes familial rifts and fractures the once khushi family, leading them to years of ghum. Although the sets and wealth, though beautiful, clearly lack conviction or any sense of reality, the heart of the film rests with Johar's portrayal of Indian culture. The viewer notes that in a world where (metaphorically) families live in castles, dance in Egypt, and return home by private helicopter - the mellennia-old Indian, specifically Hindu, culture still prevails in determining an individual's identity and perspective on the world. And in an era of Indian commercial boom, Johar's K3G shows that Indian culture must not consequentially suffer a bust.

Once again, most great films also feature great music - this time composed by the duo Jatin-Lalit. Notable tracks include Suraj Hua Maddham, Bole Chudiyaan, Yeh Ladki Haai Allah.

Buy the DVD Here - Currently Out of Stock 

Other DRAMATIC films include:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Social Commentary

2. Tuesday - Social Commentary
Starring: Aamir Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth, Madhavan, Alice Patten

Rang De Basanti (Color It Yellow) proposes to bring the voice of India's youth to the international spotlight. RDB's characters are Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, light-skinned and fair-skinned - yet together they represent an India tired of corruption, fighting, and deception by society's ad antiquitatem rhetoric. Furthermore, director Rakeysh Mehra (of Aks and Delhi-6 fame), creates a haunting parallel between the state of today's Indian youth and the eternal freedom fighters of India's Independence movement. This film is preachy to an extent and has an unconventional ending which may not appeal to all viewers. Yet, Rang De Basanti was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2006 and it fully merited its Filmfare Award for Best Director and BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. For those politically-minded or wishing to view an antithesis to the stereotypical Bollywood film - I strongly suggest Rang De Basanti.

A.R. Rahman's soundtrack, for which Rahman won the 2007 Filmfare Award for Best Music Director, once again deserves a very special mention.

Other THOUGHTFUL films include:

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Best of Bollywood - Historicals

1. Monday - Historicals

Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwariya Rai

A film of epic proportions arrives as a prequel to 1960's classic Bollywood film, Mughal-e-Azam. Almost fifty years later, director Ashutosh Gowariker (of Lagaan famestages a beautiful costume drama recounting the love story of beloved liberal Mughal Emperor Akbar and his proud wife, Rajput princess Jodhaa Bai. The film follows both the political alliance as well as the marriage alliance, and for this, Jodhaa-Akbar won the 2009 Filmfare Award for Best Film. Another note of appreciation should go to composer A.R. Rahman who gifted this film with songs that held the appeal of twenty-first century youth yet stayed true to the sixteenth century Mughal courts of northwest India.  Definitely a historical that is not-to-miss!

Other SPECTACULAR historicals include:

The Best of Bollywood

As I hope to focus this blog on global events and entertainment, a quick introduction to the world's largest film industry is quite necessary.
Hollywood + Bombay (now Mumbai) = BOLLYWOOD

Some in the industry find this term rather offensive as it hints at a culture devoid of originality. I, on the other hand, see Indian film as a medium separate from Western film. Indian directors utilize drama, dance, music, and vibrant aesthetics to deliver what Western audiences could only witness in the grand escapist films of the early 20th century. To say that the industry produces movies is a great understatement; Bollywood produces an experience.

More about "Bollywood theory" will be discussed as this blog evolves. For now, I shall leave you with a week-long look at my favorite Indian films from various genres. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reactions to "Jesus Camp"

“THE JESUS CAMP”: Through the Eyes of an Atheist
Observations by Niknan

Watch it here:

This film SCARRED me. Moreover, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a film, but a documentary – documenting events happening in the richest nation on Earth. This was happening in the United States! I also have come to the conclusion that what these people are practicing is not religion. As far as I know, it’s far from the peace, love, acceptance, and harmony taught at the core of each belief – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, AND atheism.
An atheist ponders religion.
Nonetheless, I would like to provide a critique of the community/sect/cult presented in the film. I provide that this critique, like the documentary, will appeal to both conservatives and liberals. But I will NOT restrain any of my own opinions for the sake of being less offensive.

Subjects: Becky Fischer, Kids in Ministry International , leader of the “Jesus Camp”

Levi, a 12 year old boy with ambitions of becoming a preacher

Rachael, an 8-ish year old “mall missionary”

Mike Papantonio, a radio host critical of the Christian right, provides a moderate perspective – a voice of reason.


The documentary opens up with a “song and dance” program held at the Christ Triumphant Church. The children are wearing Military camouflage with their faces painted. They brandish sticks and dance to lyrics: “Arise, Arise…He will shake the nation”. This image is enforced throughout the documentary’s 90 minutes as Fischer calls for a generation of Christians to retake America for Christ. She calls for an army of Christians to counter the Muslims in “Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine.”

This is troubling. It’s extremely difficult not to see the similarities between these camo-covered children and those children seen on rough archived video of Al Qaeda training its militants. In fact, this form of militant Christianity is much more powerful than Al Qaeda’s; it had the Bush Administration’s blessings and also those of Ted Haggard (weekly advisor of Bush). Further, this Christian right has the money and resources to achieve its goals, whatever they might be.

This act has shown up multiple times in the documentary, yet I am still not clear what it achieves. If only those hundreds of children took the opportunity to learn a real language to “hook up with” real people – our world would be a more peaceful place. 

“I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity, lead them to the Lord in a matter of just no time at all. And just moments later they can be seeing visions and hearing the voice of god because they’re so open. They are so usable in Christianity.” – Becky Fischer
This is disturbing enough and doesn’t need commentary.

“President Bush…has brought some real credibility to the Christian faith.” – Becky Fischer
President Bush plays a huge role in the lives of this community, although he never actually appears personally. We see his picture posted on a family’s refrigerator. We see a life-size cardboard cutout of Bush being brought to a podium and being blessed by hundreds of children. Seriously… if you need Bush to bring credibility to your faith, there is 1) something wrong in your faith or 2) something beautiful in Bush. Your choice.

The documentary also shows families at Ted Haggard’s evangelical church in Colorado Springs. Levi, the ambitious preacher, is in awe of Haggard and speaks with him personally after the sermon. Haggard then continues to explain how “kids love the Evangelical message” and how churches like his can “sway every election.”

Ironically, in 2006 Haggard was removed from leadership positions after soliciting a male prostitute and dealing with meth. Not exactly the winner of “Evangelical Idol.”

“If you look at Creationism, you realize it’s the only possible answer to all the questions.” 

“Science doesn’t prove anything.”

– Mother of home-schooled Levi.

I was very confused by these comments. Overgeneralizations aside, I assume that when one says that Creationism has all the answers, we are entering into the cycle of circular Biblical reasoning. The Bible might provide a story, but not facts. Science provides facts which must be built into a story.

Let’s take into account that the Ancient Egyptians believed the flooding of the Nile was attributed to God. We no longer believe so because of a certain level of scientific attainment (satellites, radars, patterns, etc). In fact, we find such reasoning foolish and naïve. We now have reasons; we now know that floods are not random acts of God. I am sure that generations of the future will find today’s religion just as foolish and simplistic as we find those of the Ancient Romans or Greeks. 

Having never been a part of the “Judeo-Christian” heritage, it’s this supercilious sentiment which I find most harmful to our world. As an outsider, I don’t see why people can’t be content with their own beliefs rather than trying to force them on others as well. It’s a question of quality over quantity.

A scene at a bowling alley, shows Rachael praying as she bowls the ball. While waiting for her turn to bowl, we also see her reading a Christian tract. Although I don’t agree with this, I found it as acceptable private practice of religion. But this sentiment changed when Rachael walked over to the neighboring lane and handed the tract to a woman in her twenties claiming that:

“God’s just telling me that you’re on his mind and that he wants to take you…and love on you and he has special plans for you.”

Rachael then returns to her father and proudly explained how God drew her to the woman. Needless to say, the father was full of smiles and encouragement for his missionary daughter. 


Interestingly, when Levi attended Ted Haggard’s church and rock concert, he was wearing a black shirt with a clear image of the Taj Mahal on both the front and the back. Has anyone explained to him and his family that the Taj Mahal was built as a monument for eternal love by a MUSLIM Mughal Emperor *gasp*!!! Burn that shirt!!! Cleanse his soul of Satan!!!


Overall, this documentary opens Americans to the radical extremists in their own nation. It asks the religious moderates to debate the radical factions of their faith. And it asks the nonreligious to cooperate with the moderates in order to preserve America’s image of secularity. 

Personally, knowing that a cult faction of the extreme right is intent on a twenty-first century Manifest Destiny is not comforting. 

Moreover, in a globalized society, a United States overcome by such Evangelical rhetoric in practice will be unsustainable. And we were witness to only the tip of the iceberg under the Bush Administration. 

Rather, we must lose the ethocentricity and xenophobia which have conquered the nation for the past decade. And bring together once again the fractured society of the United States to its original, intended equilibrium.