Beyoncé Appropriates Oum Kalthoum Song on Tour
BY: Tamara Wong Azaiez/ Contributing Writeer
Beyoncé, a world superstar, has chosen to collaborate with Arab sensation Oum Kalthoum on her “On the Run” tour. In the beginning of her “Naughty Girl” sequence, Beyoncé uses “Enta Omri” (you are my life), one of Kalthoum’s biggest hits and most famous musical pieces of all time in the Arab world.
Kalthoum’s lyrics translate to: “They brought me back, they taught me to regret the past and its wounds, I start now only, to love my life.” The song is about a woman who regrets her “wasted past” that was not spent with the love of her life. Enta Omri depicts the emotional pain that comes from both falling in love and the fear that comes from losing the right person.
With this assortment of lyrics, it is clear that the original song’s meaning is totally unfitting in relation to how it is appropriated by the pop star. Beyoncé’s intentions were to create a sensual, exotic mood in the transition into her “Naughty Girl” persona, which is a woman who yearns for a night of partying and giving up control over her body in order to please her sexual partner. In the western world, it is comparable to gyrating to an Ella Fitzgerald song, which would be disrespectful to the singer’s legacy.
Beyoncé is appropriating Arabic music for her commercial use, and exoticizing Enta Omri with her choreography. For a century, the Arab world has fought to relinquish the region from exotic, Western portrayals in art, television, and film. Exoticization was a tool used by Western imperialists to rationalize their abuses on the people of the Middle East, or those in need of “rescuing” by the smarter, white colonizers. In the Arab world, exoticization was largely used as a method for “unveiling” religious women. Western imperialists believed that the women were not free because they were not being hypersexualized like white women.
Oum Kalthoum is a legend in the Arab community, and to have her most famous song used in the introduction of Beyoncé’s tour is both innapropriate and defeats the purpose of the original song. Kalthoum’s song is centered on deep love and discovering a type of joy which comes from finding “the one.”
Beyoncé is exoticizing Arab music to show what she thinks the Arab world is – a region of dark-haired beauties serving the needs of men. This is insulting to Arabs everywhere. As a black woman, Beyoncé should understand this concept well, but she chooses to play into antiquated Western ideas of the East for her personal gain in wealth.
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