The Egyptian Elvis

Jonny Greenwood likes his music obscure and global; informed by a long-standing respect for other cultures, many of which are not even recognised as legitimate alternatives to Western culture. Thankfully, he’s also started using Spotify – documented in this Dead Air Space post – as a result of which I’ve been made aware of a certain Abdel Halim Hafez, who was apparently one of the four great Egyptians musicians of the last century. Greenwood has in fact shared a small treasure trove of Arabic music, which I would highly recommend for cultural enlightenment.

Anyway, suffice to say that I find it intriguing how certain figureheads of other cultures never make the jump into mainstream success across the globe. So I only know about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan through Jeff Buckley’s love of him. So I’ve only heard of Gulzar because he wrote the lyrics for Jai Ho in Slumdog Millionaire. Frankly, it’s a bit alarming, and I don’t think it can be explained away under the reasoning that ‘We can’t understand what they’re saying’. Music from China and music from the Arabic world are based on entirely different scales and structures from our own, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it just as much as we do our own cultural icons. I’m gladdened to see the inroads African music is making – witness the comparative success of Toumani Diabaté, Amadou & Mariam, and even Konono N°1 – but we still have so far to go. Let’s hope Jonny Greenwood keeps us updated with his latest office playlists.

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