Music and Dance in Kuwait
Kuwait shares with the wider Gulf region the musical traditions of Bedouins, from the land, and fishermen, from the sea, including the famed pearl-fishers’ chants. Kuwait also had some tradition of urban music when Kuwait City was a not unimportant port city lying between the Gulf and the hinterland. Kuwaiti music and dance show connections with the music of southern Iraq and south-eastern Iran, which were once part of the same region, before borders were drawn. The music of the Gulf also has roots in African music, due to the extensive connections with East Africa, including the slave trade and immigration. Nearby Oman was long part of a large empire that included Zanzibar and Baluchistan. Kuwait’s musical traditions were well recorded until the Iraqi occupation, during which the music archives were destroyed.
Because of its early cultural development, Kuwait, along with Bahrain, entered the 20th-century Arabic music world much earlier than the other Gulf States. With Bahrain, Kuwait is the centre of sawt, a popular musical style with its roots in several traditions, including, for instance, the African-sounding Khaliji (Gulf) rhythms. Kuwait has produced – and still produces – major Arabic pop stars, many of them drawing inspiration from local traditions, mixing sawt with Europop influences. Nawal al-Kuwaitia (b. 1961), Nabeel Shoail (b. 1962), and Abdallah al-Rowaished (b. 1966) are the most popular modern performers. During the 1980s, they were all household names in Iraq, too.
In 2001 Abdallah al-Rowaished was censured in a fatwa issued by a Saudi cleric, who accused him of ‘insulting the Koran’ by putting its opening chapter to music. That ruling was, however, overruled by a fatwa of the leading Kuwaiti cleric. This clip from 1978 by a popular Lebanese group of the time, the Bendaly family, shot in Kuwait, illustrates the cultural climate of Kuwait in the 1970s. The song is trivial, but it is a unique mixture of an Arab sound, including Khaliji rhythms, combined with Western-pop-style close harmony, and even sometimes a funky bass-line – it was the height of funk and disco in Western music – English lyrics, and the, for some, quite un-Kuwaiti dancing by women.
The Miami Band became popular during the first decade of this century, starting out as a Kuwaiti boy band. Khaled Miami became the face of the ensemble, which was popularized when the group was embraced by Rotana TV.
Kuwait itself has no proper performance hall and no organization for Western classical-music concerts, although embassies sometimes organize events in collaboration with hotels. Kuwait, unlike other small Gulf States, has no important international cultural festivals.
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