Often when selecting music for an event – be it a private party, corporate event, wedding, art opening, fashion show, or almost anything else – the organizer will think about catering to certain guests by including a type of music they will like. But if these guests enjoy a style of music that the organizer isn’t very familiar with, instead of risking embarrassment by unknowingly choosing a song that’s inappropriate for the mood, or simply a lame choice in that particular style, the organizers of the event may simply play it safe and not include any of this more unfamiliar music at all.
Well, if that unfamiliar genre happens to be Arabic music, here’s a great classic to start with that will allow you to confidently expand the musical styles of your event. The song, “Salma Ya Salama,” is a traditional Egyptian folk song written in the early 1900s that was given a exhilarating “re-boot” in the late ’70s by Dalida, a singer who was (she died in 1987) and still is hugely popular and adored in Europe and Egypt.
“Salma” effortlessly achieves a perfect balance in so many ways: It has a lush, festive chorus that instantly creates a warm, relaxing mood that’s just as good for sitting down and enjoying as it is for getting up and dancing; the song’s arrangement – with a mid-tempo shuffling beat and a tight three minute pop structure – makes it accessible to Western ears, but at the same time the song never sounds bland or “emptied” of its native sound; and because it was a huge hit across Europe and in Egypt in the late ’70s and has spawned house music-style remixes as well as cover versions by the Gypsy Kings with singer Ishtar Alabina (go here for my post on one of her excellent Arabic-Spanish tunes), the song is familiar to both old and new fans of Arabic music. But beyond all these impressive qualities, the real reason the song works is simply because it’s infectious and fun and grabs you the first time you hear it.
Dalida, an Italian-born singer who grew up in Egypt and was unfortunately obscure in the U.S. but who had huge success in Europe from the ’60s through the mid ’80s, sings “Salma” here in Egyptian Arabic, but she also recorded the song in French, German, and Italian. Dalida is considered one of the first singers to have success with songs that fused Western and Middle Eastern cultural influences, long before singers like Shakira, Ishtar Alabina and Ofra Haza emerged and made these cross-cultural connections less unusual. Despite being recorded over 30 years ago, the production of the song and performance given by Dalida has aged remarkably well. Listen to the song, and I think you’ll feel it could’ve been recorded this year. (Keep in mind that during the late ’70s, it seemed every studio engineer across the Western world was putting a slick disco sheen on almost all genres of music, making the restraint and lack of “boogiefication” of this song all the more remarkable.)
So, while “Salma Ya Salama” is great for catering to guests who are fans of Arabic music, the song will also work great at any time during an event, regardless of the guests present – especially in the wake of the popularity of the Bhangra / hip-hop / house fusion of the song “Jai Ho” from the film Slumdog Millionaire. (Go here for my recent post on this song and Indian Bhangra music.) For those of you looking for another exotic multicultural song fix, Dalida’s invigorating take on this old Egyptian folk song may be the perfect find.
Dalida – Salma Ya Salama (Egyptian Arabic lyrics)