Arab Music Awards Show Starts Out on False Note

While we’re still on the subject of song contests – and, actually, while we’re still apparently on the subject of the evening of May 15 – the very first presentation of the Arabic Music Awards also took place then. But whereas the Eurovision Song Contest mainly bogged down in the usual morass of camp and hype that we long ago came to expect, the Arabic version encountered rather more serious technical difficulties, as reporting both in Flanders’ De Standaard and the Netherlands’ own De Telegraaf attests.

(Linguistic detour: I couldn’t give you the English translations of the article headlines there, as I usually like to do, because if I did I would have run the risk of totally confusing you. De Standaard’s headline literally is “First Arabic Music Awards Runs to A Hundred,” while De Telegraaf’s is “First Arabic Music Awards Show Runs Into the Soup.” Both of these expressions, naturally, are ways of saying “got all fouled-up” in Dutch.)

(Comments-related detour: I’m indebted to “Srdjan” in my previous Eurovision post for pointing out to me that the Turkish act almost certainly won top-votes from Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands because of the influence of the Turkish populations living there, submitting overwhelming numbers of votes to the Eurovision Song Contest by telephone and SMS. With this new Arabic Music Awards program in place, seemingly deliberately scheduled to conflict directly with the Eurovision contest (assuming it ever works the technical bugs out; see below), maybe Western Europe’s Turkish populations can watch that instead. Yes I know: they are all good tax-paying European residents, in many cases citizens, with therefore the “right” to vote for their favorite country resp. favorite campy song in the Eurovision Contest. But really, when you get down to it, aren’t they more “culturally attuned” to the sort of Arabic music that is supposed to be the subject of the Arabic Music Awards? Isn’t genuine Turkish music more in that line, so that the songs Turkish groups have worked up to submit to Eurovision Song Contest competition – including last year’s entry, which of course won it all – are actually bastardized along Western musical lines, and so constitute a denial of authentic Turkish musical culture? In any event, these people clearly don’t have enough to occupy themselves with otherwise on Saturday evenings in May.)

Anyway, “what was all that that happened at the Arabic Music Awards?” you ask. It was truly a botched-up affair. Yes, I know that the more-well-known ceremony being held in Istanbul was itself hardly a model of technical perfection with, among other things, a female presenter who was supposed to report on the cheering crowds of spectators in public squares in her country instead unaware that she was before a live camera and picking her nose. (Once again I’m indebted for this information to the Guardian’s outstanding review article.) But the Arab gala held at Dubai’s Congress Center really has yet to ascend its technical learning curve. First of all, it started two-and-a-half hours later than it was supposed to, after midnight. Microphones would stop working and then start again unpredictably – not that the presenters were aware of what they were supposed to announce next. In any event, most artists who were supposed to receive awards stayed away. The plan was for up to 290 million television viewers throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to be able to follow the proceedings live, but those in charge wisely pulled the plug on the televised broadcast only eight minutes after it began.


There were some semi-bright spots, though. A certain Lebanese pop-star, Nancy Ajram, who was nominated for awards in four categories and was also slated to receive a special award as “Best Performer in the Entire Arab World,” did show up and was even able to perform a number. But she stopped short of offering many spoken comments to the audience, pleading fear that her microphone would go dead at any moment. Strangely, a pair of Danish bands – that no one else has ever heard of, namely “Michael Learns to Rock” and “Outlandish” – did show up to entertain the dwindling audience, as the clock crept toward three in the morning.

This Arab Music Academy is apparently a rather new organization, formed to protect the creative rights of Arabic audiences – and, to stage showcase-shows like this, hopefully rather better next time. The winners here were also chosen by votes submitted via Internet and “televoting” – so Western European Turks, check it out! Assuming this thing gets its problems sorted out, it will be much better to watch your own version of the Grammy awards than another culture’s farce that the Eurovision Song Contest has become, no matter how much faux political satisfaction manipulating the latter’s results might give you.

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