Photo by Carina Najia
London-based DJ and producer Nooriyah is on a mission to make Arabic, South West Asian and North African (SWANA) sounds known globally through her decks, and all I can say is: mission accomplished.
Many people from the SWANA communities, including myself, have a deep connection to and appreciation for their culture, which they love to share with others. Their famous cuisines, cinema, and traditions are loved and celebrated all over the world, and are truly given the spotlight that they deserve. But for some reason, Arabic music doesn’t really seem to follow this trend — which truly is a shame, because for many of us, Arabic music is the soundtrack to our childhoods, reminiscent of long car drives with mama and teta, Karak or Turkish coffee in the garden, and celebrations of love and life at weddings and parties.
Unfortunately, an artist's success is often determined by their ability to break into western media, simply due to the latter's immense scale in comparison to other markets. Because it has only just started breaking into this sphere, Arabic music has not (yet) been a major player in the world music category, because it has not often catered to western audiences in the same way that Spanish or Korean music has been able to. Luckily for us, DJs like Nooriyah are at the forefront of this beautiful intersection between Arabic and western pop music, bringing SWANA sounds to global audiences for everyone to enjoy.
Walking into Camden’s one and only Jazz Café on Friday night was enchanting. Although I had already known the SWANA community in London was massive, I was still in awe of the number of Keffiyehs (traditional Arabic scarves) and coin-embroidered shawls that filled the dancefloor. Before Nooriyah’s entrance on stage, fans were invited to dance and enjoy classic Arabic pop hits like Warda’s 'Haramt Ahebak', and my personal all-time favourite Arabic pop song, Nancy Ajram’s 'Ah W Noss'.
When she finally took the stage, Nooriyah was met with zaghroutas (the Arab way to express happy emotions; translating to 'ululation') from an ecstatic crowd. Fans cheered her name, eager to watch her set. The decks were up on a small stage, with fans crowded across the dancefloor as well as around and behind the decks, emulating the DJ's famous London Boiler Room set, which garnered international attention for its celebration of SWANA sounds in London and beyond.
Opening the show with 'Disco Maghreb' by DJ Snake, a song that was written with the intention to show off North African sounds, Nooriyah chose the perfect introduction for what was to come. Swiftly moving between tracks, she was somehow able to merge together Arabic sounds with pop classics like 'The Ketchup Song (Asereje)' by Las Ketchup, and even Kanye West tracks like 'In Paris'. The way she was able to complement the traditional sounds of the darbuka (traditional Arabic drums) and mizmar (Arabic wind instrument similar to a flute) from Arabic pop hits like Khaled’s 'Abdel Kader', with modern rap hits such as 'Dior' by Pop Smoke, house hits like Fisher’s 'Losing It', and even cult classics like 'I Like To Move It' from the film Madagascar, was entrancing; Nooriyah always succeeded in capturing and highlighting the best parts of every type of music she played.
As a Palestinian, it was incredible to watch the SWANA community come together, but also to be able to watch people from outside of those communities enjoy and appreciate our music. Nooriyah is taking the world of modern Arabic music by storm, and we are so excited to see how she continues to pioneer the field as a role model to many young SWANA DJs and artists.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor