When we cast our minds to the Middle East, we may think of many things. Regrettably, today we are most likely to picture unrest, revolution, conflict. But in the not-so-distant past you may have thought of vibrant hubbub, ramshackle bazaars or squares full of people soaking up the heat of long Arabian nights. Whatever you think of, it is unlikely to be of a burgeoning Iranian rap scene or of an infamous Tunisian DJ.
But, for millions of young Arabs around the world, “underground music” is the lifeblood of everyday youth culture, just as it is in London, Berlin or New York.
In fact, what the international media have failed to highlight in their round-the-clock reportage of the Arab Spring, Revolutions, League (call it what you will), is how profoundly hip hop music characterised pro-democracy protests for many of the youth involved.
Rap crews emceeing on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Tehran existed long before the onset of demonstrations in the region, but in recent times their lyrics have encouraged an even tighter solidarity, a sense of hope amid political chaos.
Not so long ago Middle East LDN attended an event at the University of East London at which three rappers, Ibn Thabit (Libya), The Narcicyst (Iraq/Canada) and El-Deeb (Egypt) discussed the role that hip hop music played in the uprisings. You can read our summary of the event here and listen to #Jan25Egpyt, a collaborative track inspired by the Egyptian revolution here.
But it doesn’t always have to be as serious as communicating social injustices and hardship. Late-night clubbing and dance music of every genre are hugely popular in plenty of Arab cities – Beirut is famous for its hedonistic party scene.
It is fairly easy to find hip hop and techno coming out of the Middle East by doing a simple Google search (the miracle of the World Wide Web), but what about the music on the streets? What about the bedroom DJs?
Cue Soundcloud. Here I have put together what I hope is a comprehensive list of groups, all of which let you stream cutting edge music coming from bedrooms across the Middle East. Some of them have been set up by record labels from the region, some are groups of aspiring hip hop producers and DJs that want to promote their sound, and all of them are worth a listen.
Don’t forget to leave a comment if you know of other Middle Eastern music which our readers may be interested in.
By Monique Rivalland