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exploring Spotify’s Arabic music playlists!

Published: February 3, 2019

It’s been a while since Spotify announced that it’s deepening its “connection to Arab culture around the globe.” While I was excited by this announcement, I’m not a big Spotify user and tend to just wander around YouTube when looking for music that I like. However, school was cancelled this week (yippee!) due to extremely frigid weather, and I was lost on what I should do with all of this extra time, so I convinced myself to finally head over to Spotify. Aside from being interested in whether I would personally enjoy Spotify’s selection of Arab music, I was also wondering whether the Spotify playlists would be helpful during our Friday night restaurant nights at Al-Wāḥa, since we were always concerned about whether we had enough dance songs for the night. Since I DJ’d a couple of times last summer, I was also interested in whether Spotify could help us identify great songs to make choreographies to, because I definitely felt the pressure from villagers to switch over from our Arabic songs to tried and true group dance numbers like “Soulja Boy” and “The Cupid Shuffle.” I used this Spotify article as a guideline for which playlists to visit.

a group picture before restaurant night!










I first headed over to the “Yalla Arabic!” playlist, because it promisingly translates to “Let’s Go, Arabic!” This playlist contained a whopping 70 songs. From what I could tell, it also contained music from artists all over the Middle-East and North Africa, and it seemed to switch between energetic, sentimental, and fusion energetic-sentimental songs. One of my favorite songs in this playlist was the catchy and cheerful “Mabrouk Alina” (which translates to “Congratulations to Us” and uses one of my favorite words “mabrook”), but I also found myself clapping throughout another song “Takkeh Takkeh Takkeh.” All in all, the more I listened to songs on this playlist, the more I got excited I got, and the more active I became (in terms of clapping and fist-pumping while huddled under my fluffiest comforters in my bed).

a musical performance organized by our artist-in-resident Ahmed El-Haggar!










Next, I headed over to “Women Wa Bas,” which translates to “Women Only.”  At this point, I started noticing that quite a few of the songs I had listened to so far started off sounding sad, but dropped a party beat only a few seconds into the song. One song, titled “Slay,” which I really liked from this playlist, came from the Morroccan singer Manal and featured the artist ElGrandeToto. The song was admittedly light on Arabic, but I was excited that it was a collaboration between different languages (in this case, Arabic and French). I also noticed that Mona Haydar’s “Barbarian” was in the playlist. Since her first song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab),” Mona Haydar has been both lauded and criticized for her feminist rap songs, which are in English, but have Arabic instrumentals. While I was surprised to see non-Arabic lyric songs in the mix, I did appreciate that Spotify acknowledged that Arab artists come from all over the world and sing in all different languages, not necessarily Arabic.

My next stop was at the “90s Arabic Hits” playlist, which was a shorter playlist that the Spotify article advertised as the place to go for Arab wedding music. What I really liked about this playlist is the sound of tambourine jingles, which I had not heard so far in the songs that I had sampled. I definitely felt that these songs were more wedding-y than the other ones I listened to, although maybe not what we needed at restaurant night. However, we have held wedding simulations the past two years, so we might use this playlist this summer for our next fictional wedding party.

a photo with the bride and groom!










Since the “90s Arabic Hits” playlist was perhaps not the best idea for our restaurant night dance parties, I hopped over to “Arabic EDM” for some dance-party music. Although the music on this playlist fit the restaurant night dance-party atmosphere a little more, I felt that some of the songs sounded similar to songs from some of the other playlists I had already explored. I did notice that they had a song in here just titled “Belly Dance” that I think was meant to be an introduction to belly-dancing music for non-Arabs, as there was a voice that played in the song that kept repeating for listeners to join them in a “journey to the Middle-East.” Belly-dancing incidentally was one of our popular sports activities this past summer, so maybe I can recommend these playlists for searching for fitting music for this activity.

Lastly, I headed over to the “Stargazer” playlist, which was a calming way to end my exploration into Arabic music playlists on Spotify, as it contained Arab classical (and other genre) music instrumentals.

Overall, I had fun exploring all of these playlists. As someone who doesn’t much listen to Arabic music (or much music at all lately), I liked having a list of songs to explore. It gave me a more organized way to re-foray into Arabic music and music in general. I also liked that there were playlists like “Women Wa Bas,” which I felt was a nod to some of the victories Arab women (and other women!!!) have been scoring for their rights in the Middle-East and beyond. Finally, I liked that a lot of the songs that I listened to had unexpected twists to them. For example, the first song I listened to on the “Stargazer” playlist, called “The Hanging Moon,” combined traditional instrumentals with what seemed like space-themed music. Thus, I would consider this a positive experience, and I think it will make things a little easier for me when I’m looking for specific types of Arabic music in the future.