I recently started watching a show with mom called Arab Idol, the arabic version of American Idol, every week and I can tell you that the contestants are absolutely incredible. As the weeks went by and the songs continued to be sung, I noticed how many of them chose a very strange kind of music from the Middle East and North Africa. Seeing as these contestants are from my generation you would think that they would choose the more modern upbeat songs that we all love now but instead they went back to the classics our parents grew up on; and many of these classics were nationalistic and very slow and sad. To add to that, when it came time for the judges to comment on the performance, many of these comments were politically charged. It triggered a thought in my head and I began to wonder and look back on my upbringing and that of all the people from my generation, what did our parents teach us about who we are and where we came from? When my interest in politics blossomed back in my first year in university, I began frantically searching for books on history, I don't mean the pyramids and pharaohs I mean more modern history; Anwar and Gamal, the Balfour declaration, colonization and so on and so forth. I also took a liking to the music of that time; a kind unlike any other that discussed a nationalistic heartbreak. Even the instruments wept in these songs over war torn countries and displaced refugees. My parents noticed my peeked interest and encouraged it, hoping I would understand more and more where I came from and what it meant to be who I am. They were amazed at the sense of nationalistic pride their only canadian born child suddenly demonstrated and nurtured.
Back to Arab Idol. The arts always reflect the country it stems from and are always a great way to really understand the current state of affairs in any given area on the planet. Painters and musicians are left free reign to fully express what many of us are incapable of expressing and thus live through their work and hope that the message will get across. Arab Idol was more of a history lesson than a singing competition now. Each contestant came up to tell a story of a country and a people that have been left with nothing and have come out stronger every time. Even in a contest like this, politics and history and national pride find their way into the midst of lights and cameras.
With that in mind, arabs across the Middle East have known a great sense of loss and desperation both in the past and recently. From the tunes that the contestants belted out with as great power as the original singers, the pain of the people that these songs inspired could be felt instantaneously. Songs from one end of the region to the other speak of a sadness unlike any other, a sadness only felt when one is stripped of the place they once called their home. And somehow as the children and/or grandchildren of this sadness, we were brought up to understand it as well.
People say that the worst thing that can happen to a person is for him to have to leave his country of origin; let me rephrase that to say that the worst thing that can happen to a person is for him to completely forget where he came from and who he is. My search for my history will never end but in acquiring this much knowledge I've grown more and more proud of my people for displaying such resilience and strength time and time again throughout history.
In my particular case, the adage goes: You can take the egyptian out of Egypt, but you can never take Egypt out of the egyptian.