As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to sound. Some people have acute senses of smell, or vision, or touch, and their memories are all impacted by this. For me, it’s audio. Whenever I visit a new place the things I remember most are the sounds: ravens in a Kyoto park, scooters on the streets of Saigon, camels at the Pyramids of Giza, angry taxi drivers in New York City, buskers in the Paris Metro, hubbub in Cairo’s Khan el Khalili market.
Being drawn to music is a natural extension of my sensitivity to sound: I’ve always thought of music as the language of emotion. Who can deny the emotions communicated by Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War”, Philip Glass’s “Koyaanisqatsi” soundtrack, Bobby McFerrin’s version of “‘Round Midnight”, Dexter Gordon’s version of “The Peacocks”, the haunting melody from the movie “Million Dollar Baby”… even Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Toxic” or Missy Elliot’s “My Struggles”. A lot of pop music communicates simple joy or loss or exuberance or lust, while jazz and classical music typically convey a broader emotional palette.
So it’s probably no surprise that every time I travel I come home in love with some new music. On this trip I unfortunately aquired two sonic memes due to frequent repetition: Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” and Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha”.
The real winner on this trip though was Nancy Ajram. She’s a Lebanese pop singer whose concerts have been banned in several middle eastern countries for being too lewd, but her music can be heard far and wide. They play her videos in my San Francisco neighborhood “Naan ‘n Curry” shop, and in Cairo our mini-bus driver and our tour guide Hend both knew her lyrics by heart. On an evening where we were stuck in nasty Cairo traffic for over an hour, I couldn’t have been happier, just grooving to Nancy tracks and gazing out at the insane highway spectacle before me.
So now, listening to Nancy Ajram brings me back to Cairo, and I look forward to the many connected musicians who I will discover in the future as a result of being introduced to her music. It’s hard to find her albums in the U.S.; however, you can listen to low-fi versions on the Music of Lebanon site. I particularly recommend this tune “Aah w Noss”. Here is a link to the whole album.