While music here is not as pervasive as it is back in the US where pop songs and musak are piped in throughout malls and stores, Oman has still maintained a distinct style of Islamic music which can be traced all the way back to the gulf’s early nomadic origins. Relying heavily on vocal instrumentals and percussion, much of this is a musical recitation of poetry and tales of seafaring and nomadic life from the country’s very diverse origins from Bedouin tribes and maritime explorers and traders. On top of that, there are the spoken word presentations of early Arabian poetry and the beautiful call to prayer of the Muezzins heard at intervals throughout the day.
This of course is the more traditional Omani music. However, amongst the well plugged in younger population, one can feel the hefty hand of western pop culture. Our bus rides to school in the morning are delegated strictly for the Quran, however on the way back some American pop is thrown in. Opinion on western or any music really depends on family background and religious observance however, as Islamic tradition regarding music is a Hadith (reports based on oral descriptions of Muhammad’s words and deeds) as opposed to written Quranic law. In many cases it is left to the interpretation of the family.
In many ways the music heard here reflects an eclectic mix of outside pop culture and media. You have your Bollywood hits, some Egyptian pop, a few local Kuwaiti jams, and if you’re lucky, a little Beyoncé. The Middle East is known for all types of popular music, however I would not say Omani is the most famous of these. The Egyptians have their thick upbeat belly dancing pop riffs, while the Lebanese might be known for their sultry romantic crooners; it’s really a mixed bag. Within the gulf there are definitely a few favorite genres represented in the industry. Rap takes on a big role, along with a cappella, as many people appreciate the lack of instruments. The less instruments the better according to religious and cultural practices, so the a cappella trend has really caught on. Very religious families might be uncomfortable with a guitar, however the oud, a traditional Arabic instrument, remains a long-standing symbol of heritage. You would be surprised to know the Middle East even has their own version of The Voice, although I’m very sure they wouldn’t film it in Saudi Arabia.
As for my poor bus driver, he is eternally stuck with this two-track mixed tape until someone delivers some new music other than My Heart Will Go On and Candle in the Wind. I swear every time I get into his car, he blasts the speakers until the whole car is shaking. Although it is quite curious how he stumbled across these two songs in the first place, I would not be surprised if he just came across a record store in a heated pursuit for the top American teenaged girl suited jams… So in the end, I would like to think he is looking out for me as I listen to Celine and Elton on my way home, hmm… However, I don’t know if there is really any plausible explanation here for his rather eclectic taste.