The Effect of Arab Culture on Popular Culture
Until the 7th Century, the Arab people were predominantly nomadic on the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula, but after Mohammed they united to form the largest land empire in history, stretching from North Western Africa, across the top of the continent through to the Persian Gulf, encompassing countries such as Morocco, Algiers, Libya, Egypt Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Oman to name but a few. The stereotypical view of the Arab world as portrayed in film and literature of the Bedouin people, with blood feuds, camels, tents, and Gulf monarchies is only a small part of the rich tapestry of Arab culture that has made its way into popular culture throughout the world.
Arab culture was able to survive almost two millennia due in part to the Arabisation of the areas they conquered, and where they were subsequently conquered, with men having multiple wives and families being large, thus managing to grow the Arab population throughout the region and ensure an enduring legacy. It is often said that it is culture, not politics and religion, that unites the Arab world. With the advent of technology and travel across the globe becoming common, aspects of history and culture from this part of the world has travelled far and wide and is now an integral part of language, films, literature, music, games, and food across the globe. Since the Arab Revolution in 2011, there has been an increased presence in mainstream media of Arab performers bringing a different cultural perspective.
Arab Culture in Popular Culture
Perhaps an unexpected place where Arabic influences can be seen in popular culture is in gambling, specifically in slot machine games. With games linked to Arabic history such as Cleopatra and Cleo’s Wish, both based on the legendary Egyptian Queen, and Lady of Egypt, a more generic theme rooted in Arabic imagery and the Egyptian cat worship. Additionally, there is Millionaire Genie, based on the magical Genie in the Lamp, found in 1001 Nights, a collection of Arabic Tales compiled during the Golden Age of Islam.
The quiet mysticism and charm of legendary leaders of times gone by, and the sense of wonder and luck associated with 1001 Nights lends itself well to slots, making them fun and engaging, and adding an additional element of music and design that makes them attractive to players.
The influence of Arabic Culture on popular music in the USA goes back over a century with the rise of immigration. In the 1880s, there was mass migration into continental USA, which saw people from across the Arab world relocate and bring with them their music. By the early 1900s there were Arab-owned record labels, and as second and third generation Arabs came into their own in the 1960s and 70s there was a growth in fusion sound, assimilating the local culture but bringing to it an Arab twist.
So ingrained is the Arab influence in American music that sometimes it is difficult to notice it or even identify it as being an external influence so ingrained is it in popular culture. For example, the 1963 song Misirlou is to all intents and purposes a surf rock song sung by Dick Dale; a song which he learned from his Lebanese uncle on an Oud.
Belly dancing, and the associated music also hails from the Arab world and is a common part of popular culture. Arabic music is also often sampled in American music, most notably Hip Hop. Jay-Z’s 1999 hit Big Pimpin’ sampled a 1957 song Khosara Khosara by Baligh Hamdi, and Egyptian composer. Additionally, there are many producers in the music world who hail from the Arab world, and bring to it a different perspective, imbuing their work with their culture.
When thinking of films inspired by Arab Culture, Wonder Woman may not be one that instantly springs to mind. Despite being portrayed by Gal Gadot in the most recent offerings, an Arab woman, it appears as if the influence ends there. However, in the film we see the Greco-Roman influences through a series of flashbacks to the island of Themyscira. These Amazons of Greek mythologies may actually have their roots in ancient Persia; female warriors whose DNA has been found across the Arabic Peninsula and beyond. Despite being the American Feminist Icon of the 20th and 21st Centuries, Wonder Woman has ancient roots in the Arabic warrior women who came before her.
Arabic food has always been popular, and has made its way into daily life, becoming popular across the globe. The most popular dishes include hummus, a paste made of tahini chickpeas and lemon juice which is popular as a dip, on bread, with potatoes, or in wraps. Halloumi, a cheese is also popular, and can trace its origins back to Cyprus and Lebanon. Kebabs, a popular hangover food, are also an Arab invention and are mentioned in a 10th Century Arabic cookbook.
It is clear that Arabic culture has influenced many areas of popular culture, and so effectively that it has become an inherent part of popular culture, not seen as different or a separate culture. The long history and assimilation of conquerors and conquered, as well as more recent immigration and technological advances has allowed popular culture to become enriched and continue to evolve.
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