Playlist #38: A Taste Of Music From Amman

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube and Spotify.

For the thirty eighth MARSM Digital playlist, we have invited Al Balad Theater’s Executive Director, film producer and all-around creative Aya Nabulsi to curate a special selection of music made in Jordan. Amman in particular has played a significant role in the emergence of indie Arabic bands; having worked on the scene since 2009, Aya has witnessed the indie music scene in Amman both flourish and expand. She brings this knowledge, and her personal insights to her musical selections in this playlist. 

The alternative Jordanian music scene was born from an urgent need for the people to create their own voice and music. It is a reflection of the uniqueness of Amman, which lies in its facade; it intimidates you, yet you develop a romantic relationship with it. Amman has its own sense of humour, its own personality and its own strength. Through the Jordanian music scene, you can get a sense of the bustling city and the ongoing conversation between a place and its music and sounds. 

The similarity and the intersection between the Jordanian and Palestinian community that exists in Jordan is strongly reflected in the music that is now known as the alternative Jordanian music scene. The songs carry deep inspiration from the local musical heritage, mixed with the pulse of the local communities with all their political and social worries that are expressed intensely in the music. Music became a cultural form of expression and a reflection of the artist’s vision on the creative capabilities innate in the social movement accelerated in the modern city, in its harmonies and disorders. This was strongly visible and audible after the 2011 events that swept the region. The role of “Ammani” music comes as a subtle form of rebellion against many social and political norms. The deepest root, and most pressing incentive for many bands and artists is Palestine. The widespread use of the Internet, YouTube and other social media platforms enabled young artists to publish their works to a wider audience, which enabled them to make a strong imprint on the regional and international music scene.  

In this playlist, Aya’s specially-curated selection takes us through a Jordanian and “Ammani” journey with a very strong local taste filled with hope and worry, fear and love. The lyrics in this selection are a mix between a contemplative look at the Jordanian identity, the country’s rural nomadic characters and mystic Sufi poetry.  

We start our journey with Yazan Sarayah’s “Erhib”, a Bedouin rhythm mixed with modern electronic melodies. The piece is a reflection on the Bedouin culture of hospitality, welcoming listeners into the journey that this playlist will take you on.

The playlist also includes works by Jordanian singer and composer Sahar Khalifeh, whose unique style blends songs from local folklore with jazz. Graduating from the Jordanian Music Academy, her career started with Rum Band, one of the oldest Jordanian bands formed in the 90s by Tariq Al Nasser. Her piece “Hayyed An El Jeeshi – حيد عن الجيشي” is built on a love poem from the 1940s about Ghbeishi and Hasna who were from different Bedouin clans – when their clans refused to allow them to marry, the two ran away and hid.

Another prominent pioneer is Yacoub Abu Ghoush, the composer, arranger, producer, performer and entrepreneur who has been active on the Jordanian and regional music scene for more that 20 years. His 2016 “Blue Car – السيارة الزرقاء” blends different harmonies with the disorder of the city, a reflection on Amman’s identity. 

El Far3i, the songwriter, rapper, drummer, and producer is another one of the Amman pioneers. His Arabic acoustic folk and hip-hop is represented in “Tghayarti – تغيرتي” one of his most popular songs.

Amongst the other early bands who helped lay the foundations to the scene are bands like Autostrad, Jadal, Akher Zafeer. More recently, there has been a new generation of electronic  music producers like Emsallam with his edgy and riveting trap and electronica and Ayloul band, whose Irbid roots are reflected in their unique take on the environment and relationship to agriculture, land and water, such as in their rock-infused “Nazel Al Ghor – نازل الغور” (Going to the Jordan Valley). 

This playlist covers all the stops, including the evolution and ongoing changes that the alternative music scene has been witnessing. The increasing presence of women’s voices as they carve their own spaces to express themselves should also be commended. Multi-talented singer, actress, radio presenter and storyteller Hind Hamed certainly belongs to the beautiful voices heard within this selection, with her Sufi inspired “Wallahi Ma Tala’at Shamson” based on a poem by the late Persian mystic, writer and Sufi teacher Al-Ḥusayn bin Manṣur Al-Ḥallaj contemplating the love of the Divine. 

A unique voice and an exceptional composer is Amman’s Yara Al Nimer. “The Rebel Symphony” is based on her grandfather’s poetic and theatrical piece “Al Thaera – الثائرة” (The Rebel). Yara is also the first female orchestra conductor in Jordan and one of the few female maestros in the Arabic-speaking world. 

The playlist culminates in Shamsa’s electronic mix for Hor Berlin. The Jordanian DJ Farah Albi Tar who goes by the Bedouin name Shamsa has been establishing herself on the electronic music scene over the last two years and is reportedly the first female DJ from Amman. Blending organic upbeat house tunes with regional sounds the DJ closes this exceptional acoustic voyage with her upbeat set. 

Fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for a musical take-off. With multiple musical stops through Jordan’s music scene, this playlist gives you a true taste of the sounds of Amman, from a voice imbibed in the environment’s heritage. 


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.