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The Strike Zone: Gender and Modernity in Middle Eastern Music Videos

The technological advancements of the twentieth century led to the modernization of pan-Arab music. The musicians used improved microphones to cultivate the sensation of ‘atifiyaa’, an artist-centered sense of sentimentality and sensuality characteristic of modernist Egyptian music.. Other technological changes led to the popularity of the tape, which helped deviant underground music reach millions of Pan-Arab listeners. Underground cassette recordings have been used by Dana International, a transgender Mizrahi Jewish pop singer whose music has sparked controversy due to her sexual lyrics and provocative dancing. Modernist changes in musical style allow artists to push the traditionally rigid boundaries of the genre in Middle Eastern culture.

The music video for Dana International’s hit “My Name is Not Sa’ida” (“Sa’ida Sultana” in Arabic) (1993) embodied the underground nature and sensual themes of her music. The clip has a low-quality home vibe, reminiscent of contemporary MTV music videos. The video features Dana belly dancing in a crop top, a jumpsuit considered taboo by contemporary traditionalists. Dana evokes a feeling of “atifiyaa” by addressing the viewer directly, in particular by pointing the camera and proclaiming: “I fell in love with you”.

The foreground of the video succinctly captures the feeling of “atifiyaa” embodied by Dana. The video opens with a close-up of Dana wearing a blonde wig and glasses, recalling the image of a prototypical contemporary American actress. Dana seductively hums in the opening stanza, exclaiming “uh le le” (reminiscent of “ooh la la”) as she gives the song a sensual tone, an approach that is typically associated with western music. Dana’s music incorporates phrases in English and Arabic, which often convey different meanings to speakers of each respective language.

In a following stanza, Dana pronounces the expression “bussu bussi”, which translates to “kiss, kiss” in Arabic, but which sounds much more sexual to an English speaker. Dana’s lyrics were playful and open to multiple interpretations, which contributed to her sexual appeal. Despite her English lyrics and erotic themes, Dana’s musical style was akin to contemporary Egyptian pop music and her unique combination of strangeness and indigeneity made her particularly appealing to young Arabic speakers.

Middle Eastern artists have continued to embrace alternative gender roles in their music, as evidenced by the song “Fasateen” (Dresses) by Mashrou ‘Leila (2010), which focuses on the theme of rejection of traditional norms of music. wedding. The music video begins with a man in a tuxedo driving a car, which the viewer eventually realizes is attached to a tow truck. Eventually, the man’s alleged wife gets into the car, followed later in the song by a man in a wedding dress and finally a same-sex couple. Each person enters the car after destroying a common symbol of marriage – flowers, a cake and a bed – which implies that they each rejected the marriage.

The car serves as a metaphorical symbol of mobility and modernity, implying that people today have increased autonomy vis-à-vis their identity. The three people who get into the car at later points in the song are all people who would be marginalized by the traditional system of heterosexual and arranged marriages. The car, however, is towed, which implies that none of its occupants is totally in control of their own path. However, they all choose to get in the carbecause they have faith that the powers of modernity will lead to a more tolerant future.