Amman culture snapshot: (barely) catching Aziz Maraka

Aziz Maraka is a young Jordanian singer-songwriter and one of the most promising new voices in Jordan’s alternative Arabic music scene. I mentioned Aziz on 360east earlier, but sadly could never catch him live in concert. Until last night that is.

It all started with a Watwet message from ArabianMonkey who was trying to leave a meeting before 7:30 pm to see Aziz perform at the Royal Cultural Center. That was at around 7 pm. Enough time for me to get into my car and drive to the RCC. The event was only promoted on Facebook (or so it seems) and it said “Aziz Maraka live @ RCC. 7:30 to 10:30. Entrance Free”. Cool.

I arrived at 7:45 and walked straight into the RCC’s main theatre. What I found there was a bunch of actors and muppets on the stage performing a play that talked about water awareness. Baffled, I went out to the lobby.

Have you been to the RCC recently? It’s a sad remnant of the 1980’s that’s falling apart. Not one employee on the counters. Not even the “food counter” selling Pepsi and Chips was staffed.

I suspected that the concert might be at the Palace of Culture in the nearby Sports City. People often mix it up with the RCC. So I got into my car again, drove up the the Palace of Culture and started making phone calls with people who might know where the heck this concert might really be.

Finally one friend told me that a friend told him that it will be at a small side theatre at the RCC. So I drove back, went in again and walked to the small theatre to the left of the lobby, only to find another bunch of actors doing a rehearsal for a play. One of the guys told me that Aziz was playing at the main theatre! HUH?

I walked back to the main theatre and, miraculously, there was Mr Maraka and his band playing. Where did the muppet show go??

The theatre was full of people. Aziz had a large band. He was on a piano and there were violinists, a nai, contrabass, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, bass guitar, a drum kit, congas.

The sound quality was pretty horrible. Aziz’s vocals where buried under a thick layer of bassy mud.

But the crowd was loving it and where shouting song names to Aziz as soon as he finished singing. My impression is that Aziz has a pretty loyal following. People know his songs and love them. His audience is young (I felt pretty old yesterday as I hardly saw anyone over 30 among the crowd). All of this with little promotion outside Facebook.

His band rocks. The sax and trumpet guys were really into it and so was the drummer. Aziz’s piano playing lends his songs sophistication. His formal music training comes through, but his raw voice and Ammani lyrics give his performance authenticity and directness.

What’s promising about Aziz, and some of the other new names in Jordan’s alternative Arabic music scene, is that he sings in Arabic and is “Arab enough” to connect with the mainstream. Unlike singers who sing in English and thus are always perceived as “outsiders” Aziz’s kind of music works on Arab musical culture from within, introducing audiences to new musical territory while still staying linguistically and emotionally familiar.

More importantly, we are finally seeing the emergence of Arab singer-songwriters. It as about time Arab music broke out of the concept of “Tarab” where the singer is considered a “nice voice” that sings the poetry or songs of a “composer”. Those “nice” Tarab voices, which are technically perfect, but lack individual character are my biggest problem with Arabic singing and music.

The biggest disappointment with this concert (apart from the sound quality) was how unbelievably short it was. I was at home shortly after nine already. I barely heard 4 songs. Aziz promised a bigger concert soon to mark the release of his album, which has been in the making forever.

One thing is sure. There is a a young Ammani cultural movement simmering under the surface. That surface is old, grimy and sad, just like the RCC building. But someone like Aziz can fill a theatre with little promotion. Great.

Aziz Maraka on Facebook

Aziz Maraka’s official website
7iber interview with Aziz (2007)

2 Responses to “Amman culture snapshot: (barely) catching Aziz Maraka”

  1. Ahmad Says:

    i very much like Aziz’s music and style.. its exactly like you describe it. and its original.. a combination of good artists (styles), both Arabic and Western..

    i would have loved to go be at this concert; i hope that promised bigger one will be better publicized so more will attend not only the hardcore fans (or his/the band’s friends!!)
    yes! you have a good fan base Aziz

  2. qerat Says:

    Unfortuantely these events are not advertised and we end up hearing about them when its too late!

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