Growing up in a country perpetually at war, sound takes on an immense social significance. You learn to tell the difference between the sound of fireworks, loud crackling sharp successions of beats in the distance, and gunshots, which sound almost the same but echo differently as the bullet breaks the sound barrier. You learn how sound has a Pavlovian affect on a society when you see mothers frantically telling their kids to stay away from windows as soon as they hear a loud thud that sounds like a car bomb. And you learn about the musicality of conflict, when you watch restlessly frustrated, politically castrated bodies swaying to the beats of a Scissor Sister’s track in a bar to drown out the noise of militia-men killing each other amidst the storm right outside. What continuously inspires me is how quickly music can generate a community around itself, a sea of individuals searching for melodies to quiet the all-too-familiar beats bouncing off the Mediterranean Sea as a warship bombs the southern district of their city, and for a lyrical cure to their social anomie, lost in the cadences separating one string of violent beats from the next.
Growing up in a conservative Muslim family, my aunt often told me that singing would result in my eternal damnation. I sang anyway. Music for me is that moment of confrontation with your family, when you discover Nietzche in freshman year listening to The Doors, when you fall in love for the first time listening to Aretha Franklin, when you find out about social justice listening to Tracy Chapman, and when you realize that a completely foreign sound emanating from the speakers of an old stereo can offer you the comfort of knowing that you are not alone in a city where mosques and churches compete to make the loudest sounds, trying to colonize the urban sound-scape of a post-war nation. It is that moment of self-realization that happens when you listen to Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind” at five in the morning while watching the sunrise after a long night of crying over existential angst. It is the intellectual ecstasy of the death of the author in the fragmented meanings of Kurt Cobaine’s lyrics, the fuel for youthful rebellion listening to Patti Smith’s Gloria, and the sensitivity of gender performance separating the emotional Abdul-Halim Hafez’s westernized ballads, from Abdul-Wahhab’s stern adherence to oriental modes and scales.