Grey skies, rain, snow and hail rule Hamburg these day. Are you, like myself, desperate for sunshine yet for some reason unable to fly south? These five superstars from the Middle East (ah well, one from North Africa..) offer a ready-made solution for your winter blues: just turn up the volume, close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself to be in a more exotic place!
Turkey’s most popular pop star is Tarkan (Germany, 1972). Combining traditional Turkish rhythms and instruments with Western pop music, Tarkan has been a dominant influence in the Turkish pop scene ever since his rise to fame in the early 1990s. And although Şımarık (1999) was Tarkan’s only real international hit his tours in in Europe usually sell out pretty quickly, revealing that he has a loyal fan base outside of Turkey as well. A controversial figure, his lifestyle and suspected homosexuality interest the Turkish public nearly as much as his music.
Tarkan – Şımarık
The Arabic King of Pop is Amr Diab (Egypt, 1961). Like Tarkan he combines traditional Middle Eastern influences with Western elements. Four times winner of the World Music Award (WMA) for best selling Middle Eastern artist, Amr Diab has been one of Egypt’s most popular pop artists since the 1980s. As an actor he enjoyed considerably smaller success, but as a singer he remains unrivalled in the Arabic-speaking world.
Amr Diab – El Leila
The youngest WMA winner to date is Nancy Ajram (Lebanon, 1983). Despite her relatively young age Nancy Ajram already launched eight studio albums, most of them hit parade successes. She mixes the traditional Arabic Maqsoum urban-folk style with modern dance music with great success. One of the most successful female artists in the Middle East of all times, Nancy Ajram is truly an icon of pop music. It was certainly no coincidence that she was chosen to sing the Arabic version of the 2010 World Cup song Wavin’ Flag, Shaggaa Be Alamak!
Nancy Ajram – Akhasmak Ah
Lebanon is a fertile ground for popular female singers. Next to Nancy Ajram Lebanon is also the birthplace of Elissa (1971), thrice winner of the WMA Middle East. Elissa sold over 30 million copies in a career that spans almost 25 years, mostly focusing on romantic love ballads that combine classical Arabic music with Western elements. Although their music is quite different, a comparison with Nancy Ajram is never far away: both Lebanese beauties serve as juries on Arab talent shows and promote international drinks (Coca Cola and Pepsi)!
Elissa – Hob Kol Hayati
Cheb Khaled or Khaled (Algeria, 1960) is Algeria’s most famous musical export product. Nicknamed ‘The King of Raï’, Khaled was the first Algerian singer to turn the traditional Algerian raï music into commercial success abroad. He revolutionized raï in the process, using Western instruments and techniques such as drum machines, synthesizers and guitars. Traditionally the music of rebels and outcasts, today raï is highly popular among the Algerian youth. Khaled’s Didi, C’est la Vie and Aicha all became major hits, although today’s younger generations abroad might not actually know that Outlandish’s biggest hit is actually a Khaled cover!
Cheb Khaled – Aicha