In 2002, a wispy 25-year-old Abdulrahman Mohammed walked into the Dubai studio of “Superstar”, the predecessor of the now famous “Arab Idol”. He timidly answered the judges’ questions and belted out a hurried rendition of “Amanah Ya Donia”, a classic song popularized by Abulhalim Hafez and later Nancy Ajram. The judges were unimpressed.
“We’d like to see another song,” they said, “one with a clearer tune”. Mohammed nervously composed himself, closed his eyes, and sang “Ibatli Gawab,” a classic Aleppo song. It was enough to convince the panel, and they told him he would be going to Beirut. Something about Mohammed’s geeky determination spoke to audiences, and he eventually made it to the top 10 of that season.
Something about Mohammed’s geeky determination spoke to audiencesAfterwards, he dropped back into anonymity, pursuing a degree in mass communications and radio from Abdulazez University in Jeddah. He worked as a cameraman for MBC and made some small-time videos, then went to Brunel University in London to receive an M.A. in documentary practices.
Now, with a renewed style—a sort of tortured cool, Mohammed is working with a ragtag bunch of musicians from Saudi Arabia. They record in what appears to be one of their sitting rooms with the furniture cleared out and replaced with chairs and microphones, where a Jimmy Page poster hangs next to an air-conditioning unit.
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This particular video is well shot; the sound clear and unique, blending Spanish guitar and Arabic melodies without effort. The song “Lamma Bada Li”, When I Realized (that she doesn’t love me), pulls from Arabic poetry and follows a simple, pleasing chord progression. It has 70,000 views on Youtube, a little over a fifth the amount of views his audition for Superstar has. Mohammed is trying his hand once again, trying to carve out the space for a Saudi voice amongst the growing Arabic Indie music scene, today centered on Cairo, Beirut, and Amman.