Ruba Saqr: when “experimental” is just too much!

Ruba Saqr, Zulaikha Abu Risha and Zeina Azouqa
On Wednesday night I attended Ruba Saqr, Zulaikha Aburisha and Zeina Azouqa’s “3 Women Only” performance at Al Hussein Park. Within the first ten minutes of the show, I was ready to “strangle” the three of them!

Ruba, one of Amman’s most talented, progressive and passionate musician, is someone I admire greatly. She is, with a few others, the voice of a new Amman. Her mother, Zuleikha Aburisha is a well know poet and writer. I don’t know much about Zeina Azouqa other than her being a talented pianist.

Before the performance I was thinking how great it is that the mass audience oriented Amman Summer Festival, organized by the Amman Municipality, is starting to include the new Ammani voices (Aziz Maraka will have a show too in a few days). I thought that this will be a chance to expose a wider audience to Ruba’s voice and songwriting.

Ruba herself is a vocal critic of the cheapness of Arabo-pop and bills herself as an “alternative” musician. This performance, I thought, would be a chance to rescue a few more Ammani souls from the flatness of Arabo-pop desert..

But Ruba and Co. had a different plan..

Sufism, translated sufi poetry, obscure poetry and “improv” where on the menu last night.

Ruba wanted to take us on a sufi trip of poetry and serenity. All of this in a large open air theatre, complete with bored/loud children, adults passing in front of the stage and the uninvited sounds coming from a circus performance stage nearby.

I wished that we could all have been teleported to Darat Al Funun’s Byzantine church stage, as it was utterly impossible for me to enjoy the evening.

Ruba was going on about Naqshabandi and Rumi, when she should have been singing her Amman-inspired songs.

Those who stuck around till the end (and they were many by the way) where all from the usual “culture crowd”. The “other audience” who came in to check out the free show simply left or just passed through the theatre, creating even more distraction.

What a night!

I came out distracted and disappointed about a missed chance to bring more Ammanis together to hear a different voice from their city.
It was a classic example of too much creativity, applied in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Here is a recent documentary about Ruba on Aljazeera, followed by an interview with her from 2007.

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9 Responses to “Ruba Saqr: when “experimental” is just too much!”

  1. Moey Says:

    I had to chance to work with both Aziz Maraka and Zeina Azouqah, both are amazing and artsy.

    Zeina is a wonderful person! I learned a lot from her (not music wise) and I hope her the best.

  2. Ruba Saqr Says:

    for Wednesday’s concert, I got passionate emails and facebook remarks, SMSs and phone calls that asked all 3 of us to repeat the experience that you so wanted to strangle us for… and to turn the show that you thought was “too experimental” into a tour.. we actually started getting invitations from other countries!

    True, Darat Al Funun would be an excellent venue for this Kind of performance, however, i found it quite puzzling that this too experimental show seemed to work for you if it had taken place somewhere else! Where is the glitch exactly.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm over my “other” kind of music… which I bill myself for being an “alternative” musician. When I first started singing my own songs, ten years ago or so, I got exactly the same kind of feedback with the Sufi night (with a different kind of ratio, day. I can say 30% of the audience fell in love with the strange stuff I was doing back then. Today that “experimental” stuff I was doing became “alternative” – tomorrow it will be “mainstream”).

    I got butchered before… quite candidly, that’s what made stick to what I believe is music… two songs I got butchered for a few years back when it was really difficult to “experiment” received a UNESCO Prize last year (the 3rd sing was composed way after I crossed the “thresh hold.” I sang songs that recieved harsh criticism ten years ago on Al Jazeera TV, in Festivals in many countries… that’s how far “too experimental” music can go.

    Today you say you wanna strangle us for this show, tomorrow this show will be honored in some high profile festival/venue/event… I promise you this much.

    Thanks for bringing back the fire into my soul, I was starting to get too much bored with excessive praise.

    God bless,
    Ruba Saqr

  3. Ramsey Says:

    Seems like it is a common experience so far. I went to the sign of thyme concert a few nights ago only to be disappointment, not by the artists who were great, but by the environment.

    For awhile, the barriers around the staged seemed more like a parade rather than a musical experience.

    Like you said, missed opportunity.

  4. Tariq Abdallat Says:

    Well i wanted to share with you a clip of Ruba at that evening that was posted on Join events You tube channell for you to get a glims of what happened in what is being talked about in this article .

    Here is the link on Join events You Tube channel :

    Here is the link of the song on web site

    we support Ammani events and talents that what we do , we leave the rest to talk about how good they are .

  5. Humeid Says:

    Moey, Ramsey and Tariq.. thanks for the comments and the clips..


    I want you to read my review again.

    There should be no doubt in your mind that I understand the progression from experimental to alternative to mainstream. You don’t need to “clarify” this to me.

    The glitch is clear in my post: a distant stage, noise, passing people (and a few obnoxious comments too). A mismatch between great content and a lousy environment.

    The other agenda in my critique is to strengthen the alternative scene. I know that you, as a creative person, are always on a quest to move on. I certainly would do the same if I was in your place.

    But I just wished that more of Amman’s mainstream audience heard a wider breadth of what you have to offer.

    The people sending you the congratulations and the repeat request are your hard core fans. I would add my voice to them asking for a repeat (in a more intimate, quite environment).

    Just before you move on.. make sure that what you left behind has struck a few more roots..

    So when you re-read my review and this reply too, I think you will realize that my criticism is not for your experimentation. Your comment makes it sound as if I wanted to “strangle” you guys for the content presented. My issue is context and the way I felt, as a member of the audience that night.


  6. Zeina Azouqa Says:


    First of all, I’d like to echo Ruba’s sentiment and thank you, Mr. Humeid for your less than positive feedback. I mean, I do appreciate the sweet compliments but this post is a refreshing change…

    While it is not the Ammani performer’s main concern that their city’s audience is ADD or disrespectful of experimentation, but rather that they present something they are convinced of, you do raise a valid point about choosing a more intimate venue.

    I think we can all come to a common ground on that a cozier place would benefit both audience and performers…and hopefully the audience will become willing participants in the next show.

    Hopefully, then you can formulate your opinion and express your feelings about the actual content…the music.

    (O, and Moey- thanks, 7ubbi)

  7. Hani Obaid Says:

    You mentioned the concert was free, I guess charging a fee would have made more exclusive, and at least got rid of the screaming children at the cost of making it inaccessible to the masses.

    I went to a “paid” concert that was part of the Jordan festival a few weeks back, and while there were no children or loud noise, there was still the annoying tendency for the audience to walk in and out of the stage. Although that was a bit distracting, one had to briefly close their eyes to continue to enjoy the event.

    I don’t understand how you went from being unhappy with the venue and its audience to blaming the talent so harshly with a phrase like “strangle them”.

  8. Humeid Says:

    Zeina, thanks for your comment. I hope to be able to put together some thoughts regarding the music and post them here soon.

    Hani, I want to “strangle” them in a “caring” way :-) No harshness meant.

    I just wanted to vent my frustration with the the whole combination of content and venue..


  9. A Fan Says:

    Choosing a venue is very important and integral part of a musical performance. You cannot have a chamber orchestra, for example, perform in a setting such as the one described above. I am not sure about the Sufi stuff, but I suspect it is rather soulful.

    I thought Humied’s article was well-intended and has some merit to it. But what is sad is that “new” Ammani artists, alternative as they might be, seem to have “old” Ammani attitude of rejecting any constructive critique. I would bill it to a cultural trait of “misplaced pride” which keeps many of us unnecessarily on the defensive.

    Quite frankly, not all feedback is equal. If it was, then the “Arabo-pop” seen should be crowned as the best music we have. The minute any person begins to have uber-confidence, is perhaps a defining moment for decline. I hope it is not for Ruba, et al.

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