Middle Eastern Song Lyrics

Although you can "belly dance" to Western music it adds a certain something to perform to the "real thing". Problem is how do you know what you are dancing to? There are a number of pitfalls for the unwary.

Arabic (and Turkish and Persian) music has at least two levels. On one level the maqam chosen transmits information about the mood of the piece. On another level the lyrics add and expand this. Dancing cheerfully to a song of deep loss will only make a dancer look bad.

But the lyrics will be in a foreign language! Sometimes they may be in slang. With Egyptian rap the emphasis is often on sound at expense of meaning – the singer fills the sounds with their own innuendoes (usually of a sexual nature).

Trying to work out what is going on with a foreign song using a dictionary is not recommended – there are just too many pitfalls. (For an amusing literal translation of a short Lebanese story check out Gilded Serpent's A Story Written with Arabic Idioms or Why it is Difficult to Translate Arabic songs into English

The answer initially may be to avoid music with lyrics. But there are a lot of traditional standards that everyone knows – even if it is an instrumental version the words are still (silently) attached.

Some CDs are now released with liner notes that at least indicate the nature of the song. The other alternative is a translation from someone who knows the language well.

Also consider is cultural difference. Much of the music encompasses a very different culture to that in the West with strict and traditional limits on social interaction between the sexes for example.

A final point is that some music is not for dancing to. It is inadvisable to dance to political or religious music. Never, never dance to the Call to Prayer.

For the best selection of on-line lyrics check out Shira’s site - some songs also have RealAudio clips.

For an index of where you might find a translation, try Iliana's Arabic Song Translations

also try: The Egyptian Academy Site

This site will only contain those translations that I run across from other sources.

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