Playlist #28: Your Arabic Valentine

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube and Spotify.

Whether you’re looking for ballads of devoted love, amorous yearning or melancholic tenderness, tune in to our latest playlist for the Arabic-speaking world’s most iconic, unique and heart wrenching love songs. It’s no secret that the region’s music is known for the intense and evocative lyrical representation of love; over centuries artists have shown how deeply this universal emotion has been embedded in the very fabric of their music.

Yet often, their English translations will fall short. The Arabic language doesn’t just have one word for love, it has ten. Beginning with حب (hub), a humble type of love, these ‘degrees of love’ go all the way up to the highest level عشق (ishq); a deeply passionate devotion. While modern Arabic pop focuses on one form of love, we’ve gone back to look at the different types of love and relationship woes sung across the decades, from the loss of a loved one to unrequited love, being drunk in love and to fear of commitment.

The playlist begins with Sayyed Darwish’s “Ana Haweit – أنا هويت” which he composed and recorded in 1923. One of the most prominent innovators of the Egyptian Nahda (Arabic Renaissance period), his music and compositions left an invaluable legacy for generations to come. From Abdel Wahab to Fayrouz and most recently, Massar Igbari,  many singers have rendered their own versions of the timeless piece, each paying their own homage to the heartfelt passion of falling deeply in love.

Algerian singer Warda recalls the deeply spiritual love story between two pioneering singers and composers of the 19th century; Abdo El Hamouli and his lover Almaz. Considered one of the most famous love stories of the century, the two went on to form a highly sought-after duo in Egypt and beyond. Their journey came to an unfortunate end with Almaz’s passing from which Abdo suffered greatly.  The duo’s love story was also immortalised in the 1963 eponymous Egyptian film ‘Almaz and Abdo El-Hamouli’.

It is also very common for a loved one to be evoked through song in the same gender as the singer, to keep their identity hidden. In Lotfi Bushnaq’s song “Law Kana Li Qalban” (If I had two hearts), he sings the poem of 7th century romantic poet Qaws Ibn Al-Mulawwah who wrote this poem to his beloved Layla. In Arabic literature Qais and Layla are the older equivalent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the poem, Qays addresses Layla in the masculine to conceal her identity and preserve her honour.

The ellating musical form of Tarab and the Andalusian Muwashahat موشحات, which appeared as a poetic genre in Andalusia around the 9th century, live on in the works of iconic Syrian tenor Sabah Fakhri’s timeless “Khamrat Al-Hob – خمرة الحب”. As you listen, take in the bold lyrics “Pour me the wine of love. Make me forget the worries of my heart. A life without love is like a spring without water”. Equally prominent on the love scene is Iraqi ‘Caesar of Arabic Song’ Kadim Al Sahir whose romantic ballads feature in many a lover’s soundtrack. In his 1997 song “Zidini Ishqan – زيديني عشقا” he melodically and elaborately sings the poem of acclaimed Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani. 

The melodious voice of Egyptian singer Najat Al Saghira as she sings “Oyoun El Alb – عيون القلب” written by prominent Egyptian poet Abdel Rahman el-Abnudi resonates with all the lovers who can’t sleep, as they yearn for their distant loved ones. 

From the 80s onwards the Arabic-speaking world saw a rise in popular Arabic music bringing to the forefront a huge array of romantic singers including Lebanese singer, composer and philanthropist Ragheb Alama, the King of Romance Wael Kfouri, and accomplished Egyptian singer Amr Diab whose innovative approach to music brought new blends of Western and Eastern music into Arabic pop music. 

The arrival of the 00s saw the foundations of a nascent independent music scene, spearheaded by now-iconic artists across the region. This included the formation of Beirut Underground by the legendary Zeid Hamdan, also who founded the groundbreaking band Soap Kills with Yasmine Hamdan. In “Ahwak – أهواك” the duo remade Fayrouz’s classic song from her album “Fayrouz Sings Zaki Nassif – فيروز تغني زكي ناصيف”. Zaki’s genius compositions and constant efforts to preserve but also innovate Lebanese folklore shine through this piece that expresses disappointment and loss of hope in love. Further down the line there’s a love song to please every taste and different types of love, including Ghalia Benali’s Andalusian muwashah “Hayyamatni – هيمتني” (She Drove Me Mad with her Love), Mashrou Leila’s “Shim El-Yasmeen – شم الياسمين” (Shim El Yasmine), and Jordanian grunge rock band, Akher Zapheer’s “Akherto Lahen Hazeen -أخرته لحن حزين  ” (It Ends in a Sad Melody). 

In her 2013 song “Two Kinds of Love”, the late Palestinian musician, singer and composer Rim Banna talks about two kinds of love by reworking the poetry of the Egyptian Sufi poet of Godly love, Rabiya Aladawiyya. Rabia’s words don’t just praise love, but instead transport it to the heavenly realms. This playlist also features Nai Barghouthi, another unmissable Palestinian singer and composer whose rendition of “Ana fi Intizarak – أنا في إنتظارك” expresses the long and aching wait for love. The song was originally composed for and sung by Umm Kulthum and has been remade several times.

Sit back and enjoy the riveting music, lyrics and genres from over a millennium of music and poetry and shows that love is colourful, varied and cannot be normalised in one genre, one style, one word or one emotion.

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.