The Accolade Rocks Saudi Arabia

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Nov 24, 2008.

  1. Principessa

    Gold Member

    Nov 22, 2006
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    As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock

    JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom.

    But the members of Saudi Arabia’s first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.

    The band’s first single, “Pinocchio,” has become an underground hit here, with hundreds of young Saudis downloading the song from the group’s Web site. Now, the pioneering foursome, all of them college students, want to start playing regular gigs — inside private compounds, of course — and recording an album.
    “In Saudi, yes, it’s a challenge,” said the group’s lead singer, Lamia, who has piercings on her left eyebrow and beneath her bottom lip. (Like other band members, she gave only her first name.) “Maybe we’re crazy. But we wanted to do something different.”

    In a country where women are not allowed to drive and rarely appear in public without their faces covered, the band is very different. The prospect of female rockers clutching guitars and belting out angry lyrics about a failed relationship — the theme of “Pinocchio” — would once have been unimaginable here.
    But this country’s harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jidda, by far the kingdom’s most cosmopolitan city. A decade ago the cane-wielding religious police terrorized women who were not dressed according to their standards. Young men with long hair were sometimes bundled off to police stations to have their heads shaved, or worse.

    Today, there is a growing rock scene with dozens of bands, some of them even selling tickets to their performances. Hip-hop is also popular. The religious police — strictly speaking, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — have largely retreated from the streets of Jidda and are somewhat less aggressive even in the kingdom’s desert heartland.

    The change has been especially noticeable since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Saudis confronted the effects of extremism both outside and inside the kingdom. More than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25, and many of the young are pressing for greater freedoms.

    “The upcoming generation is different from the one before,” said Dina, the Accolade’s 21-year-old guitarist and founder. “Everything is changing. Maybe in 10 years it’s going to be O.K. to have a band with live performances.”

    Dina said she first dreamed of starting a band three years ago. In September, she and her sister Dareen, 19, who plays bass, teamed up with Lamia and Amjad, the keyboardist.

    They were already iconoclasts: Dina and Dareen wear their hair teased into thick manes and have pierced eyebrows. During an interview at a Starbucks here, they wore black abayas — the flowing gown that is standard attire for women — but the gowns were open, showing their jeans and T-shirts, and their hair and faces were uncovered. Women are more apt to go uncovered in Jidda than in most other parts of the country, though it is still uncommon.

    “People always stare at us,” Dareen said, giggling. She and her sister are also avid ice skaters, another unusual habit in Saudi Arabia’s desert.

    The band gets together to practice every weekend at the sisters’ house, where their younger brother sometimes fills in on drums. In early November, Dina, who studies art at King Abdulaziz University, began writing a song based on one of her favorite paintings, “The Accolade,” by the English pre-Raphaelite painter Edmund Blair Leighton. The painting depicts a long-haired noblewoman knighting a young warrior with a sword.

    “I liked the painting because it shows a woman who is satisfied with a man,” Dina said.

    She had thought of writing a song based on “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci but decided that doing so would be taking controversy too far. In Saudi Arabia, churches are not allowed, and Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed.

    Dina held out her cellphone to show a video of the band practicing at home. It looked like a garage-band jam session anywhere in the world, with the sisters hunching over their instruments, their brother blasting away at the drums and Lamia clutching a microphone.

    “We’re looking for a drummer,” Lamia said. “Five guys have offered, but we really want the band to be all female.”

    Although they know they are doing something unusual, in person the band members seem more playful than provocative. Unlike some of the wealthier Saudi youth who have lived abroad and tasted Western life, they are middle class and have never left their country.

    “What we’re doing — it’s not something wrong, it’s art, and we’re doing it in a good way,” Dina said. “We respect our traditions.”

    All the members are quick to add that they disapprove of smoking, drinking and drugs.

    “You destroy yourself with that,” Lamia said.

    Yet rock and roll itself is suspect in Saudi Arabia in part because of its association with decadent lifestyles. Most of the bands here play heavy metal, which has only added to the stigma because of the way some Western heavy metal bands use images linked to satanism or witchcraft. In Saudi Arabia, people are sometimes imprisoned and even executed on charges of practicing witchcraft.

  2. exwhyzee

    Gold Member

    Jun 5, 2005
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    That's one of the most encouraging statements I've heard from Arabia in a long time. I wish them a lot of luck, they will need it. Now we need another 4 million just like them.
  3. camper joe

    Gold Member

    Jun 2, 2006
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    North Carolina
    With the accessibility the interent, satellite tv, magazines, etc., this younger generation has been exposed to far more of the outside world than their parents or grand parents. You can not expect them to not want to parrot what they see their peers doing. Of course with them putting their own unique spin on it. They might be doing their live performances (in the near future) under their black abayas, yet they will be making their own type of music.
    #3 camper joe, Nov 24, 2008
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2008
  4. D_Fiona_Farvel

    D_Fiona_Farvel Account Disabled

    Nov 27, 2007
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    This is a wonderful NYT article, NJ! Nice to see others covering this phenomenon beyond academic journals.

    Miriam Cooke, Anuj Chopra, and Ishvak Dani have all written about Middle Eastern youth and their connection to Western musical forms for about 10-15 years. Most of these young artists perform HipHop (Tupac is very influential) or Reggae (Bob Marley, again, very influential), but Rock, Punk, and Heavy Metal are also important genres and can be found throughout the region.

    They tend to perform in underground clubs, but privates homes also host parties where these bands and djs can be experienced live. Most of the Middle East also have huge blogging and online networks as well, so there is definitely an easier import of Western culture for even for more remote regions.

    Love to read that women are taking the lead, as I wrote in a previous post, I feel they will be very influential in the next two generations.

    Also, Camper Joe, black is no longer the dominant color for abayas, or really any form of hijab, but especially for the "Hijab is my choice" women who make a point of being fashionable/colorful. :smile:
  5. B_hunkypeter

    B_hunkypeter New Member

    Aug 18, 2007
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    Crazy muslims! To hide away God's most wonderful creation: the human body.

    Hope it ends soon. Good luck to the younger Saudis.
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