When I first picked up this album, I wasn’t sure what to think. I knew the title was a spoof of Trainspotting, and the album cover only strengthened this view-it has the exact cover design, sporting camels instead of Mr. McGregor and the gang (actually, the design is based more on the cover for Trainspotting 2 than for the original soundtrack, which gives me hope for a sequel to Camelspotting). I didn’t know what to expect-Arab spoofs of Iggy Pop?, Screaming Trees done with sitar? I was pleasantly surprised to find the wealth of Middle Eastern pop music on Camelspotting, that’s for sure.
To begin with, the liner notes are outstanding. Each track is listed with accompanying lyrics, translated into English, and a short bio on each artist, most of which hail from Lebanon and Syria, with others from Egypt and Yemen. The inclusion of the bio’s is a nice touch and serves to give the listener an idea of where exactly this music comes from, not just from the “Middle East.”
To attempt to describe the music on Camelspotting with a single word is, of course, impossible, but let me give it a shot: exciting. All of the music is exciting. I found myself belly dancing across the living room floor, flapping my fingers and thumb together like there were invisible finger cymbals between them. The modern Middle Eastern urban pop on Camelspotting is anything but stay-your-ass-on-the-couch music. This is happy, liberating listening, not to mention addictive.
My favorite song, which has suffered through many listenings and watched me as I looked stupid back and forth across the living room floor, as described above, is Amr Diab’s “Nour el Ain.” The song’s English title is “The Mind’s Eye,” a simple song about love for one fella’s “darling,” with almost Spanish sounding acoustic guitar and a Mediterranean beat. According to the liner notes, “Nour el Ain” is the biggest selling single in the history of the Arab world. It’s easy to hear why. The song is addictive-like Middle Eastern crack-pop poured into your ears. One of those songs that just won’t leave your head, long after you’ve turned the car off and gone to work.
While no other songs particularly meet the pop addiction of “Nour el Ain,” most come damned close. Osama Al Attar perhaps comes closest with his more traditional sounding “Ma Ariflak Makan”, translated: “I Do Not Know the Way for You.” As a whole, the 11 tracks are fine Middle Eastern listening and offer a fine slice of modern Arab pop—I already have my import copy of Amr Diab’s album Nour el Ain on order! A wonderful album full of Mediterranean delight, sure to surprise and prove filling.
// Notes from the Road
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