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10 Arab Singers You’ve Never Really Heard Of

The Middle East, or West Asia, has cultivated some of the most amazing art and culture that most people aren’t fully aware of, from movies like “Sa‘idi fil-Gama‘a al-Amrikiya” (A Sa’idi at the American University), starring Egyptian comedy legend Mohammed Henedi, to melodramatic Ramadan soap operas of the Gulf (Khaleej), to soulful and melancholic orchestral ballads that can last up to an hour. The music is one aspect of Arab culture that has influenced many forms of art around the world, from belly-dancing to hip-hop music, so you may have heard some names like Umm Kulthum or Fairouzbeing tossed around in conversation and being popular among Western celebrities like Beyoncé – who even cites Fairouzas an influence. Here are 10 phenomenal Arab singers that you might not have heard of!

Balqees

One of the most ragingly popular Khaleeji Arab singers in the Middle East (with 9.8 million followers on Instagram) is the Emirati-born Yemeni singer, Balqees. Fathi is a hit among the younger millennial Arab generation. She was first introduced to the general public with her hit single “Hawa”, which is a track about a jealous lover. Her first album, “Majnoun” (Crazy), was released in 2013 and had hits such as the titular “Majnoun” and “Hatha Meno”.

Her music is available on Anghami and Apple Music.

Recommended tracks: “Deqo Khebate”, “Ambeih”, “Yoi Yoi”

Ahlam

A modern giant in the Arab music world, Ahlam has been and continues to be wildly popular ever since her first album “Ahibak Mout” (I Love You To Death) dropped in 1995. With her fans dubbing her as “The Queen,” she truly is one of the Arab world’s finest singers and popular even around the world, participating in festivals such as the Ledo Festival in France, and performing to a sold-out audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London. She even sold out the Dolby Theatre in California in 2018! 

Her music is available on Anghami, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Recommended tracks: “La Tsadqouneh”, “Ayesh Hayatek”, “Ahsan”, “Nawilak”

Nawal El Kuwaitia

A voice like Nawal’s only comes once in a lifetime. Dubbed “the Harp of the Khaleej,” her old soul-like voice granted her a cross-generational appeal and wild success throughout the Gulf region of the Middle East. Her somber voice tears your heart into pieces on her ballads of heartbreak and romance but rejuvenates happiness in her more upbeat music – especially her patriotic Kuwaiti anthems. 

Her music is available on Apple Music and her official YouTube channel.

Recommended tracks: “Magolah Tensani”, “Ahawel”, “Shams Wa Qomar”, “Lao Salani”, “Behsedouni Alih”

Assala
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r759ZnpYP5Q

Debuting in 1991, Syrian singer Assala Nasri has dipped her toes in multiple different styles of Arabic music, her most popular being Khaleeji and Egyptian music. Her unique almost operatic voice has cemented her among the leagues of music legends, such as the late Tunisian singer Zekra. She also has incorporated Latin elements in her music, especially in her song “Tasawar” and “Ya Magnon,” which has helped her gain a worldwide appeal. She continues to sell out venues across the Middle East and has amassed up to 7.5 million followers on Instagram.

Her full discography is available on Anghami, and part of her catalog on Apple Music and Spotify.

Recommended tracks: “Meta Ashoufak”, “Ya Magnon”, “Tawek ‘Ala Bali”, “E’tif Habibi”, “Sawaha Qalbi”

Angham

Egyptian singer Angham is known for her soft, sensual voice and her cross-generational appeal. Debuting in the late 1980s as a child star with her father, she received the attention and acclaim of Egypt’s music industry, so much so that the legendary artist Mohammed Abdel Wahab allowed Angham to cover one of his tracks, “Basboussa,” for her debut record. She soon became one of Egypt’s most successful young artists, even more so with her hit “Ya Tayeb.” Around the mid-1990s, she gained widespread appeal in the Gulf with her records “Shay Daa'” and “Khalli Bukra L’Bukrah.” However, her biggest hit ever came in 2003, “Sidi Wesalak”, where she reintroduced herself with a more feminine and pixie dream girl image. Her album “Leh Sebtaha” had her regaining full creative control and allowed her to make the album she had always wanted to make. She has over 3.2 million followers on Instagram and remains one of the most popular singers in the Middle East/North Africa region.

Her music is available on Apple Music, Anghami, and Spotify,

Recommended tracks: “Bukrah”, “Omri Maak”, “Yaretak Fahemni”, “Sidi Wesalak”

Maram

Considered one of the singers of the “Ayaam Al Tayebeen” (The Good Old Days), Kuwaiti singer and actress Maram is a staple in the late ’90s and early 2000’s Khaleeji music – her most popular hit to date being “Alamoh,” one of the singles off of her album “2002.” After releasing two more albums in 2004 and 2007, she has taken a back seat from singing to become an actress, acting in multiple Khaleeji TV dramas, her most well-known roles being Sabika in “Zikrayat La Tamout” (Memories Don’t Die) and Amina in “Zwarat Khamees” (Thursday Gathering).

Part of her discography is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

Recommended tracks: “Tewa’adni”, “Dalaa’ Banat”, “Aalam Al Nesyan”, “Khala Yarouh”

Diana Haddad

Growing up in Kuwait and spending her teen years in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates has given Lebanese singer Diana Haddad much to work with in terms of her music. Her discography spans 13 studio albums and several singles, all featuring a unique blend of Arabic music, from Egyptian styles to Khaleeji to Lebanese, even dabbling in New Jack Swing! She has an international appeal across the entire Middle East due to her musical versatility, and her youthfulness has earned her the title as the “Princess of Arab Song.”

Part of her catalog is available on Apple Music, Anghami, and Spotify.

Recommended tracks: “Ya Maya”, “Weily”, “Law Yesalouni”, “Mani Mani”

Sherine

Born Sherine Abdel Wahab, this Egyptian star remains one of the most popular young singers to ever come out of Cairo. After meeting acclaimed Egyptian conductor Selim Sehab at the age of 9, she began singing at the Cairo Opera House as a choral member. She debuted with fellow singer and labelmate, Tamer Hosny, in 2002 with a collab album, which sold over 20 million copies, followed by her debut solo album, “Garh Tany” (Another Wound), in 2003. She has gained widespread appeal and acclaim throughout the Middle East and Gulf region, performing at several festivals and concerts and racking up 9.7 million followers on Instagram. Unfortunately, she has since deactivated her social media due to backlash over a tweet criticizing Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Rafik Hariri, for not supporting victims of the 2019 Lebanon forest fires.

Her discography is available on Apple Music, Spotify, and Anghami.

Recommended tracks: “Garh Tany”, “Sabry Alil”, “Masha’er”, “Ah Ya Leil”, “Lazem A’ish”

Samar

Emirati doctor-turned-singer, Samar, was one of the most popular singers of the 2000s. After appearing on a radio show and participating in an international singing festival, Samar was immediately launched into stardom. Releasing 5 albums over 7 years, she has performed in numerous festivals throughout the Middle East, most notably Hala February in Kuwait. She retired in 2007 to continue her medical career but is making a musical comeback, having released 3 new singles in 2018 and continuing to put out new music. 

Her singles are available on Apple Music.

Recommended tracks: “Agab Fi Al Waqt”, “Ma Abeik”, “Aboos El Ard”, “Ama Asheqtoh”

Ruwaida Al Mahrouqi

Also known as Ruwaida, this Emirati singer is also considered one of the “Ayaam Al Taybeen” generation. After impressing the judges with a Fairouz cover on a Lebanese talent show, “Studio Al Fan”, she was signed to Rotana where she released a number of successful albums, including hit singles such as “Hattetak Fi Bali” (I’ve Got You In My Mind), which is her most well-known song. Aside from being a singer, she is also a television director with Abu Dhabi TV and has studied audiovisual and theater directing at the American University in Lebanon. 

Her music is available on her official YouTube channel.

Recommended tracks: “Hattetak Fi Bali”, “Ely Methlak”, “Yeqoloon”

These ten women are only a small fraction of the immense talent that the Middle East/North Africa region has put forth over decades. While artists like Asmahan, Umm Kulthum, Fairuz only come around once in a lifetime and their artistic platforms will forever remain hallowed ground, these ten women breathed new life into music and rejuvenated a beloved art form for a newer generation and for generations to come. 

Tariq AlObaid is an international sophomore student at Hofstra University, majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Design. Aside from writing, he has a side gig as a visual artist and an affinity for concerts. Find him on Instagram @talobaid.
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