Oh joy! Oh goody, goody sonic gumdrops! ‘Tis music to my ears to hear The National feature Next Music Station, a new series on Al Jazeera that explores the musical soul across the spectrum of the Arab world.
NMS spans 11 episodes, nine countries and 80 musicians to reflect the diversity of Arab music, reaching around corners and behind closed doors to brush with bands and artists who might otherwise have remained undiscovered.
Eleven weekly one-hour shows beam the lesser-known sounds of Sudan, Tunisia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen to a TV set near you, to mingle with more familiar sonic flavours of Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon.
Join me in joyous hairbrush karaoke and jump up and down on your beds, dear readers: this could get loud…
Tune In, Turn Up and Tap Your Toes.
Next Music Station is already airing on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, while those of us that tune in to AJ English will have to sit on our hands until the beginning of April.
In each episode, Basque director Fermin Muguruza and his small crew journey to an Arab city or charter an entire country to interview musicians and hear them perform. Muguruza, an acclaimed musician, is no stranger to Arab sounds. His documentary Checkpoint Rock: Songs From Palestine saw him boldly go where few have gone before him: through the streets of the Occupied Territories in search of music, musicians and muses.
The Next Best Thing
NMS dances to a similar tune. Egypt gets two episodes, the first of which sees our intrepid tune-hunter groove and jive around the “mother of all cities”, Cairo. The second is a journey up the Nile, starting in the south and carrying up to Alexandria and Port Said. Kuwait shares an episode with Bahrain and fuses the traditional songs of the pearl divers with Bedouin-style a cappella.
“When you meet these artists, it’s amazing,” Muguruza told The National. “Because of their background, that they’ve lived through wars, their different stories, you really feel like you’re learning a lot.”
Never too Young or Old to Play
Next Music Station also serves as a platform for the Arab world’s younger, less-established musicians to get their voices heard beyond their own back yards.
Filming in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco was interspersed with trips home for editing, while Muguruza set up a base in Beirut for three months to film the Lebanese and Syrian instalments. Friends, producers, managers and musicians from all corners of the globe were called on to help during the research phase.
“I didn’t sleep a lot last year,” Muguruza admits. “I worked every day and night, checking different things, especially the Internet and YouTube. It was amazing. Very passionate, but very obsessive.”