Ethar El-Katatney

Turn It On

Posted in Uncategorized by Ethar El-Katatney on June 15, 2009

Turn it On
et Guide
Egypt Today
June 2009

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Photo Credit: Jad

Racy music video Funky Arabs is provoking angry responses

By: Ethar El-Katatney

“Sexy Girls. Arab beauty that’ll rock your world. Sea, sex and sun. Let the funky Arabs turn you on!”

The new ‘funky’ single by Jad Choueiri, the Lebanese singer known for crooning love ballads, has had nearly 100,000 views on YouTube in one month. Choueiri spends around four and a half minutes singing about how Arabs are not the evil figures typically portrayed in Western media. “We’re not what you see on CNN and the BBC. […] Ain’t no bombers, we’ve got the guts,” starts off the track. So far, so good. But then the main message of the video really unfolds, which, when translated from pop star-speak, can be summarized:

‘Arabs aren’t terrorists! We’re just like you, the all-wonderful West. We too have sexy blond girls with silicone boobs dancing in next-to-nothing clothes in smoky nightclubs, gyrating their hips and filing their nails. Our guys are all cut, and walk around wearing bling. We love to smoke, drink, and take drugs. We party all night and we are oh so cool.’

A disclaimer at the beginning announces that everyone who participated in the music video is an Arab, just in case you can’t possibly believe that such beauty, sexiness, and botox addiction exists in our countries.

With its over-the-top scenes such as Choueiri arriving at a nightclub red carpet and women injecting themselves with botox in the bathroom, Choueiri’s Funky Arabs music video seems to be the posterchild for a parody. The singer’s handlers insist he is quite serious — inasmuch as pop can be taken seriously.

“The idea behind Funky Arabs is to show a different point of view of a segment of the Arabic society,” reads an email statement from Choueri’s management. “It doesn’t have the pretension to represent the real face of the Arabs like some media has suggested. In a pop song, which is meant to be entertaining and fun, it would be probably inappropriate to display the cultural and social achievements of the Arabs in different fields. So the side that was chosen to be represented is the side that has to do with partying and fashion, which is adequate when you are a member of the pop culture community. Although it may sound superficial to some, it is supposed to make uslook more appealing to the West by showing that we endorse that type of ‘culture.’ You cannot follow these trends and be a terrorist or a close-minded person because they are a representation of a deeper matter, the one of tolerance and openness.”

If not a parody, then the video is certainly a textbook case of cultural appropriation. Listening between the lines, you could well take home the message: The only way we can prove we are not evil is if we try to erase our identities and emulate selective (re: the most materialistic) aspects of Western culture. Choueiri’s only concessions to Arab culture: bellydancing and shisha smoking, of course.

Some have applauded Choueiri for trying to highlight different aspects of Arabs. Others have blasted him for portraying Arabs this way. Others shoot him down for the lukewarm lyrics and music — there’s even a dreadlock-sporting rapper who pops up throughout the track, perhaps aimed at upping Choueiri’s street cred.

Egypt Today hit Cairo’s streets to check out Choueiri’s cred outside the bling of Beirut.

AstaghfurAllah (Forgive me God). How horrible. It’s no worse than the other lewd porno clips we see on TV, but the fact that he’s telling the world that this is what we Arabs are like […] makes it 100 times worse. […] We have so many amazing things in our culture — our food, our music, our unity, our dress, so much. Nothing the West has can compare to it. How have we come to this? Why are we throwing away the very things that make us who we are to copy some idiotic, goddamned country? —Mohamad Samy, 44, kiosk owner

I think he is not doing anything for Arabs, he is just sending a message to Americans. As an Arab singer this song is not suitable because of our culture. The girls are half-naked, and look cheap and ridiculous. What’s with the girl with the martini glass? But Jad knows Arabs want these kinds of songs, so it is very appealing. Who does he think he is? —Aisha Ghaly, 20, GUC student

We (Arabs) are a people renowned for our chastity, the grace of our language, our hospitality when it comes to treating guests, and for being a true cradle of civilizations, both past and present. This sad excuse of a video clip is another smattering of Hollywood pop culture that has nothing to do with Arabs in any way, shape or form.

It seems the battle for the Arab identity has taken a new twist. Instead of being portrayed as AK-47 toting bearded men on a rampage, we are now — in music videos such as these — becoming the next flavor of the month in American pop culture’s list of eye candy, fodder for the screen, and have been reduced to play things of a shallow and sex-crazed industry. —Mohamad Kazaz, 23, founder of GameRevo

Amid the general ridiculousness of the video, I appreciated hearing the artist combating Arab stereotypes — for example, being terrorists. The blending of club-friendly sounds and a simple, yet compelling social message is the song’s greatest strength. —Andrew Clark, 22, American, AUC graduate student

The song sounds how I imagine 50 Cent would sound if he were to attempt to sing a Celine Dion song, and it screams “inferiority complex.” [] I’m willing to bet that Jad’s been receiving thank you letters for fulfilling every Orientalist’s fantasy through that scene with the woman belly-dancing for a group of men. Apparently Jad sees women, or perhaps only Arab women in particular, as no more than half-naked, Botox-shooting, mindless beings? Sadly, the picture he paints of Arab men is no more flattering. —Deena Khalil, 25, Development Management Specialist at Infonex Corp

I’m all for self-expression. I’m all for Arab musicians experimenting with new genres. I have no real problem with Arab musicians Arabizing genres that are Western in origin. I understand that many Arabs, especially our youth, feel a need to communicate a message to the rest of the world that the image that has been injected into their heads of Arabs as terrorists or fanatics does not portray who we are. It’s been tough on all of us for the past few years. I also understand and know that Arabs are a very diverse group of people and we lead very diverse lifestyles.

Are we trying to “fit in” with other cultures too much here? Has this video clip gone overboard in trying to get what I’m assuming the message is across? If we want to brush away the terrorism image, do we replace that with an image of sex and drug maniacs? —Nadia El-Awady, ICFJ program manager

Honestly, this is such a disgusting video to watch, I didn’t even continue it. I don’t know why we have to copy what Western life looks like to prove to the world that we’re civilized. Yes, I’m Lebanese and hell yeah, very proud. Yet, I didn’t relate to this video and I think the majority of Lebanese, even the non-Muslims, would agree. It’s as if […] being a developed country means nothing but being cheap. —Zeina Awaydate, 22, Assistant Manager, Overseas Agency

This video is utterly horrid. From the completely outdated beat and appalling lyrics to the statement it is trying to make. […] These guys might have Arabic names and Arabic genes in them, but they are not Arabs. They are just a bunch of star wannabes that are trying to represent Arabs although they have no respect for Arab culture and traditions. […] If this guy is trying to prove anything, it’s how far some people are willing to go for attention.

I sense that this music video is made specifically for the Western audience and I highly doubt that he will succeed in making it anywhere near popular among them. —Maitha Khoory, a university student and UAE citizen

As far as I can tell, Funky Arabs has three main purposes: 1) to establish that Jad Choueiri spends an inordinate amount of time in the gym and really, really likes himself, 2) to invite those awesome partying Westerners to shoot up some Botox with us in club restrooms, and 3) to get everyone talking. Considering the number of links, messages, and emails I’ve seen about the video — Choueiri has certainly nailed number three.—Nora El-Tahahwy, an Egyptian graduate student studying Comparative Literature at the University of Texas in Austin.


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