Should the Islamic Republic utilize the March 1 elections to end effective enforcement of the hijab law, it will remove a source of constant friction between state and society in Iran, but the regime will also lose an instrument of intimidating the urban middle class.
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On July 9, Muslims around the world marked Eid al-Adha, the biggest annual Islamic celebration. In Oman, many people turned to social media to extend their congratulations and well wishes to their followers and share photographs and videos of how they were spending the holiday. What distinguished this Eid from previous ones, however, was the song that many coupled their reels with, “Amatiyah.”
Meaning “my paternal aunt,” the song, which premiered on YouTube on Eid, centers on a woman – Omani singer Zamzam Al Balushi – telling her aunt about a man that she saw in a sekka (a narrow street that connects neighborhoods together) one afternoon and fell madly in love with. She expresses the emotional torment that she experiences being away from him, at one point comparing the enormous pain in her heart to the pain that the sacrificial lambs of Eid al-Adha feel when they are killed.
The song quickly circulated on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter not only among Omanis but also among Arabs across the region. The song has been viewed more than 850,000 times on YouTube and widely used on TikTok. While the sacrificial element certainly added to the song’s timeliness and resonance when it was first released, the song’s lyrics and the accompanying music video have continued to capture the interest of listeners and viewers.
The song was written in an Arabic dialect that is widely spoken in Suwaiq, a coastal province in Oman’s northern Batinah region, and some villages of Musannah, a province also in Batinah. The dialect is characterized by the addition of “yah” at the end of some words (such as in “amatiyah,” which in Modern Standard Arabic is pronounced “amati”) and the uniqueness of others (such as “nahaylbee” and “yobkeeh”). The dialect is not widely known, particularly outside of Oman, nor has it been popularized through music before. The use of the dialect sparked conversations around the meaning of the lyrics among Omani and other Arab social media users and also drew comparisons between other dialects that are spoken in the Arabian Peninsula.
Another topic of conversation has been the song’s music video. The video features scenes of Zamzam Al Balushi and three other young women, all of whom are clad in traditional thobes and dark-colored burqas, sitting in vibrant settings with colorful lighting. It also features scenes of young Omani men, donning traditional Omani clothes coupled with headphones, rollerblading through the farms and historical sekkas and souks of Oman. The juxtaposition between traditional and modern and young and historical, in the clothes, accessories, settings, and actors, create fascinating sequences, which have piqued the interest of viewers and illustrate how Oman is navigating today’s world by keeping with the times but remaining deeply rooted in its culture and identity.
The hit song is the brainchild of Bin Abady, a newly established Omani musical group that “aims to create contemporary Omani songs that are inspired by Omani heritage and that reflect the youth’s spirit that is in keeping with the times,” according to the group’s Instagram account. Its founders are Hameed Al Balushi (no relation to the singer), an Omani media personality and poet who is well known for writing songs sung by khaleeji stars; Ziyad Al Harbi, a 32-year-old composer and oud player; and Nibras Al Molahi, a 32-year-old composer, music producer, and oud player. The trio came together after having previously worked on national songs “Bin Abady” and “Shatfat Fuady.”
“We chose the name Bin Abady for the group because the song, ‘Bin Abady,’ came as a result of us three joining forces. It was through this work that our ideas were first transmitted to the general public and circulated. We named our group Bin Abady in recognition and honor of this work of ours,” Ziyad recounted. “In addition, Bin Abady is an old and traditional art form in Oman, and this symbolizes how we, as a group, take inspiration from our rich Omani heritage and present it in a contemporary style.”
“Amatiyah,” was the group’s first official song and their first love song, which marks a departure from the earlier works they collaborated on. “We present ourselves as reflecting the feelings of the average Omani, using their language, and re-presenting these feelings to them through contemporary songs that they can relate to and feeling a sense of belonging to,” explained Hameed. “So, it was necessary, since we are in the process of creating a musical experience, to relay what Omanis are feeling, including through love songs, in addition to national songs.”
The inspiration for “Amatiyah” came to Hameed some years ago: “The word ‘amatiyah’ was ringing in my ears for a long time, and the way it and other words like it are pronounced by the people of Suwaiq and some villages in the Musannah province was a point of fixation for me from a musical standpoint.” The poet, who is from Sharqiyah, said he could not help but notice the similarities between the dialect and his own. “I have always been of the opinion that the different dialects that are spoken in Oman deserve to reach the listener’s ears through song. Thus, the song ‘Amatiyah’ emerged in this context.”
Hameed, however, emphasized that the group’s work is not only intended for Omani music enthusiasts; its targeted reach is wider. “Through our work, we target Omanis first and foremost, but we also target those outside Oman, who may know some things about it but not others,” he noted. “Through song, we present our Omaniness to the other.” In this way, he added, “the Bin Abady Group is an independent national project for humanity.” Indeed, the group released a statement promoting regional engagement with the song using comments from social media users of various nationalities commenting on how the song highlights Omani culture: “With various segments of the Arab world interacting with ‘Amatiyah,’ we have achieved one of our group’s aims, which is to introduce Oman to the other artistically, linguistically, and spiritually.”
Oman remains mysterious to many, including people from other Arab countries, despite the country’s geographic proximity, long history, and deeply rich culture and heritage. In this regard, some of the goals of Vision 2040 are to promote Oman’s national identity, preserve its culture, and “diffuse its heritage worldwide,” as well as to become a leader in the promotion of mutual understanding across cultures. Media and civil society organizations are cited as important players in the process.
“Music is a form of soft power. It is an effective way of transmitting culture, and we think that Oman needs this kind of cultural diplomacy arm,” said Hameed. “One of the main goals of the Bin Abady Group is to contribute to the shaping of this important arm. When we receive questions from people in Algeria, Morocco, the Levant region, and neighboring Gulf countries about the meanings of certain words in ‘Amatiyah,’ for example, that means that we’ve reached our goal, and this is what we think cultural diplomacy is all about.”
The music video, which was directed by the Oman-based filmmaker Bani with the Bin Abady Group’s two younger members, has played an important role in promoting this cultural transmission. “Our focus was on creating a visual concept that reflected the soul of the song well. We included the burqa because we believe that it has not been represented enough as a beautiful component of traditional Omani fashion,” explained Nibras. “We blended elements of modernity and culture to indicate our direction as the Bin Abady Group; we seek to shed light on our culture while also giving it a contemporary spin to keep up with the target viewer.”
Throughout modern history, music has served as a valuable cultural diplomacy tool. For example, the U.S. Department of State sent American jazz musicians around the world on tours and cultural exchange programs from the 1950s to 1970s to promote mutual understanding. In South Korea, Korean pop music, popularly known as “K-Pop,” has played a significant role in introducing people around the world to Korean language and culture and has also promoted tourism to the country. “Amatiyah” has already sparked cross-cultural conversations in the Arab world, and the song, and Omani music more broadly, may be a powerful tool to promote Omani culture and heritage to a global audience.
is the founder of the Khaleeji Art Museum, where she serves as the director, and the founder of Sekka Magazine, where she serves as the managing editor. Alhinai is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Oxford and is the recipient of the Arab Woman Award 2020.
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