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Arab Music and Arab Cinema: Historical Development and the Role of Western Culture Research Paper



The project work is aimed to evaluate the historical development of the Arab music and cinema culture along with the Western influences on it. Thus the title of the project work is,

“Arab Music and Arab Cinema: historical development and the role of Western culture “

The project scope is dedicated to peep into the historical background of how the music and cinema industries have developed and emerged in the past few decades. Since, Arab music and cinema industries have shaped into various classified forms over the time, thus the project looks into its development through the history. Also, evidences of how these changes are anticipated and what role did the Western media as a whole and Western film industry as specific influenced on what the Arab music and Arab cinema are.

Abstract of the Report

Music has always been understood as an essence of emotions by a majority group of the people and therefore the emergence of music through history has taken place in all countries, nations and cultures. Arabic music has also emerged followed by the cinema through an array of development and changes throughout the time, lately influenced by the Western and modernized music and cinema industry.

There has been an influence of Sufism and Arab culture in the early days of the music that has evolved through the time and there is a tunneling history that shapes the current Arab music and cinema into more modernized mode.

Despite the fact that the early stages of Arab music were prominently influenced by the religious background where the music was used as a tool to inspire and toss the religious and spiritual emotions of the listeners, however in recent past when the Western musicians and singers took interest in the Arab music and culture that was previously inspired mostly with the Egyptian version, it made a shift towards modernization into the music industry.

Along with this advent the cinema in the Arab world along with the Middle Eastern countries was also influenced by romantic and emotional aspects rather than just dramatic and sober performances. In most of the cultures, music is classified as a strong relationship building tool with the culture, just as in Hindu religion, it plays a vital role in motivating and inducing the spiritual closeness with the religion often.

This research is aimed to cover the development and advent of music and cinema in Arab through history and the effect of the western culture and music that influenced Arab world as a whole shaping its new, westernized cinema industry. Also, the new faces are discussed that are playing role in forming this transformation that has already taken a much formalized shape in the Arab world and the challenges that are still prevailing.


The objective of this research is to conclude through proper analysis of the difference that is apparent in the two different periods of time. At one time, the ancient and traditional style of music and performing arts were encouraged. Rather, performing arts barely existed in the Arab world before 1930.

After having the influence of Egyptian media and entertainers to the Arab world, they have started to develop films and populate cinemas and finally emerged as an industry where music and films play important role in formation of the society itself.

Research Methodology

Main source of this research is the research articles and websites that actually present the upfront preferences of the new Arab world generation. Thus secondary data is quite useful as the analysis of the people preferences and how they like and why do they prefer some music or film is basically based on the prevailing sites and views that are getting promotional backups.

Different books are also available that describe the emergence and shaping of Arab world’s music industry as well as the cinema industry since it did not was quite prominent in the past.

Also, online search engines, blogging sites and online databases were searched and reviewed for getting a proper glance of what is “IN” in the public and what do the people like to hear and see! This gives us the proper understanding of the direction in which people of a region think along.

It is clear that by going through recent publications and articles that cover the cultural norms developing in the Arab world along with the articles that specifically highlight the emergence of the Arab music and Arab cinema through past few decades can give a good insight of the developing industry and the likeness of the people about some celebrities or stars that rule their minds through their performance or music.

It is important to note that articles that would have been published in early 1950s or before might not encourage the Western touch in their own musical industry or the performance in the cinema as that time was the beginning when Arab cinema industry and music performers had actually started to emerge and appreciated their traditional style of playing the music while the Western influence had not much grasped the Middle East countries.

However, publications, journals, articles and books that are lately published would be focused mainly on the adoption of the western musical styles in the new Arab style in order to promote their enlightenment to the society. Therefore, it is kept in mind while analyzing and going through different books and different articles that when they had been published and what factors could have influenced the analysis of the author himself.

The research tries to grasp the core objective of describing how the history of the Arab music and cinema have developed over past and how they have reached to a point where they have indulged mostly in the Western style of entertainment as a result of influence and inspiration of Hollywood and western media over the globe (Ayish and Sakr 7).

It has been increasingly noted that young generation from Arab world has started participating actively in the global sharing sites and blogs opening their ways to adopt new values and modern norms.

They are also very apparent on sites that involve romance, love, sexuality, and adventure giving a flavor of what they are lean towards and how they have molded their thinking into more Western nature in order to get closeness to their Western counterparts.

This effect is pre-dominantly reflecting on the music and cinema industry as well where people have started to like the modern artists and performers who appeal them in terms of rock and roll and fantasies (Shafik 111).

Development through History

Music is usually considered the spiritual food by most of the people and regardless of regions, cultures and countries; it is widely played and considered an essential part of the culture and human life. Music has evolved though different stages and different modes just as the advent of the musical instruments. Not always, music has been so colorful and bashing as it was usually a melodious sound just to please the ears and arouse the emotions in the human body.

A variety of musical tones have developed and formed throughout the history including classical music, rock music, pop music, jazz music and in recent days rap music that is not usually considered a part of what we call ‘ethical music style’. However, all forms of music constitute the melody of the history of music itself and this has been a strong foundation in the cinema industry as well.

Since cinemas showing movies used to depend on the stuff and the role of the play. However, with increasing influence of songs and music in the movies, cinema has been greatly influenced by the type and quality of music. This has resulted in an advancement and modernization of music as well as cinema both not in just Arab world, but throughout the world where music and movies are appreciated by the public (Al-Bab).

Musical instruments and music in Arab world are as ancient as known. These have emerged and developed through many phases inspired by different aspects of life at different times. From religious to spiritual and from romantic to teasing, music has evolved in many different directions through the ages.

Despite the fact that the researchers have studied various eras, there is no definite answer that when the first music instrument in the Arab world was actually grasped and formed the part of the culture. However, it is admitted by most of the researchers that the music has been the part of Arab culture since very old and there was a strong relationship between the music and emotions of the people living in Arab world.

In early days, the traditional and the ancient musical instruments like timpano, lutes and guitars were used for playing music, not necessarily followed by any song or lyrics. Unfortunately, from research conducted by various scholars in the field, it has been revealed that most of the traditional forms of the Arabic music did not have a well laid down system of notation.

As such, most of the musical transference only happened through a generational inheritance in which children learn from their parents. Arab music can easily be traced back to the 3rd Century. Although, there is no definite history of the musical instruments that were formed and introduced in the ancient world.

However, according to the legend, it is anticipated that Lamak had created the first lute, not by wood, but with the bone of his deceased son and played in order to grieve over his loss. Although music has been evolving and shaping its modern form in the Arabic culture through a history, however a peculiar style of Arab music has always been famous and widely played by most of the Arabic musicians and players.

The style constitutes the variations in the musical tones and rhythms such that it beats the hearts of the listener in an exotic way. Arab musicians usually use variations in the music to arouse the emotions in the human body and this is common to most of the Arabic musicians (Shafik).

As the modern and western culture has influenced the world, Arab entertainment industry is also widely influenced by the western mode of entertainment. Earlier, the Arab music and dramas were the sources of spiritual arousing and motivations. However, as modernization has played its part in the Arab world, the music and cinemas have shifted towards romanticism, sexuality and affection stories despite the fact that there still exists music and dramas that are based on the topics used earlier as the basis of music and movies in the Arab world.

As movies and songs from Hollywood travelled and influenced the Arab people and new artists were inspired by the western norms in the entertainment industry, the exchange of interests caused Arab music to borrow several things from the European and the American cultures.

This resulted in the formation and shaping of the Arab pop and Arab rock music in modern days and emergence of new singers with such taste in the music. Several individuals including Fairouz, Magda and Ilham Al Madfai have emerged as the appeal to the new generation lean towards modernization and believing in openness in the society. The younger generation is more towards new singers and musicians who perform on the new nodes and modern rhythms adopted and inspired widely from the West.

There is also one other aspect that has caused the music in the Arab world to emerge on modern lines and follow the western nature of music and that is the Music video. Music video is the part of Arab music primarily and usually music was taken as just to listen and enjoy. As time passed and the music world in Arab shifted towards modernization, music videos became part of the music releases and thus the new modern culture is reflected through them.

This has also impacted the cinema and music videos are becoming the part of the movies and films in the Arab world. Since Arab music has moved towards modernization after the influence of the western culture and music. However, still some musicians and young performers stick to the traditional Arab music and exploring the pleasure in the ancient music comprising mainly of the classical tones and spiritual rhythms.

Along with the music and cinema industry, Arab literature had also grown rapidly to boost the modernization and introduce different genres in the society including eroticism and love. This was evident from many writings and literature that was developed at that time (Moor, Allen and Kilpatrick).

Not only Arab music, but also the Arab cinema have also undergone the stages and developed into its modern form that again is mostly influenced by the modernization and western culture as a part of Hollywood’s magic around the world. Stars from west are interested in Arab cinemas and are influencing the lobby in the Arab entertainment industry.

After the first Arabic film that was released in 1930, the industry has undergone various stages and directions. The films used to be of particular genres that reflected the core Arab culture including literacy, drama and storytelling. In early days the films made in Arab world were greatly influenced by Egyptian productions. Egyptian cinema has dominated heavily on Arab cinema as it creative production of mass audience movies as that of Hollywood movies.

Since Egyptian cinemas had emerged quite early by 1917s and they had developed well through time when Arabs actually started their cinema industry and produced their first film in 1830. It greatly influenced Egyptian movie making style and role playing that was reflected in the Arab films as well. Although Egyptian style was also influenced by the Western culture as Egypt has always striven to keep its alignment with the European world and therefore modernization was evident from the Egyptian music and cinema world.

However, the modernized aspect of the cinema industry was not much greatly reflected in the Arab films. Arab cinemas helped in portraying a positive picture of the Arab people who were earlier portrayed as just the extremists or the terrorists in the region. Unlike Hollywood’s peculiar style of censorship and showing up of negative powers as the dominating ones, Arab films focused on the positive aspects and identifying the social issues prevailing in the society.

The Arab cinema also managed to upraise the interest of people in arts and entertainment and helped in developing its local people aligned with the modern world as well. Stories of love, romance, betrayal, misuse and offensiveness started when Arab cinema started to get inspirations from the typical Hollywood style and the new generation of the Arab world admired and started to adopt the Western culture as a part of their broad mindedness and enlightened thinking slogan.

Likewise, Egyptian traditions of developed music and cinema were spotting at the Arab world where the people were previously fond of spiritual and light music and then shifted towards more pop and rock style giving them a sense of openness and alignment with the western society.

In fact radio also contributed in transferring the effects of Egyptian modernization in the Arab world’s music industry when record companies including Odeon and Baidaphone encouraged young stars to lead the new generation of the Middle East region for adopting the new styles in the music and promoting music videos, while other side favorite stars like Abd el Wahab, Leila Mourad and Umm Kalthoum became the cinema gurus promoting the pop and jazz style in the films in 1940s (Al-Bab).


The Arab world influenced from the Egyptian counterparts was not just an incident rather a process. Egypt was extremely under the influence of mix culture including the European as well as the Asian nations and the native Arab people. Since, Egypt had already started its music and cinema industries on the lines of the Western culture that had developed over the decades as a result of increasing influence of the America in the region.

As the U.S. influence and its media scattered in the Asian and the Middle Eastern world after the Palestine-Israel issues, the influence of the western entertainment industry also clouded in the Arab world. This caused the artists and musicians to be inspired by the modern culture of West and Western artists themselves tried to take interest in the Arab entertainment industry (Metres).

Also, financing by the Egyptian banks and institutions to strengthen the music and cinemas over the Middle East region caused to propagate this effort and interest of Western artists to influence Arab world with a blaze of newness in the entertainment and arouse them for modernization.

Salaries of the artists were raised in Egyptian and Arab entertainment industries were raised during 1940s and 50s and along with the musical and comedy genres of the dramas and films, other attributes including seduction, adultery, implied rapes, murders and suicides were added through melodramas taking the society and specifically young generation towards a new horizon of modernization and so-called enlightenment.

Films like A Happy Day, Mohamed Karim, 1940; The Immortal Song, Henry Baraket, 1959, The Sin, 1964; No Condolences For Women, 1979 and The Night Of Fatima’s Arrest, 1984 influenced the emerging generation of the Arab at that time and asked them to think in a different direction taking them away from the conventional or traditional spiritual and religious music style and dramas towards more social and modern way of performing arts and entertainment (Al-Bab).

Not only the Egyptian world and the Egyptian entertainment industry had influenced the formation and molding of the Arab music and cinemas, but also as the Israel started invading and teasing Palestine, the new environment in the region played its part to disengage Arabian soft corners with the western world.

However, this was very properly and effectively managed by the Western media and entertainment industry that actually invaded the Arab world with the slogan of modernization and enlightenment followed by the concept of global village where everyone is open to another.

Since the idea was appealing and exotic taking the young generation on their feet to quest for pleasure that was made the essential part of life as enforce by the western media, the young generation of the Arab world started to appreciate their belonging and closeness with the Western style more specifically American and European cultures.

Nevertheless, there have been political influences as well on the development and formation of the Arab music and Arab cinema throughout the time.

The recent role of the western culture and Western media on Arab entertainment industry is also supported widely by the Arab governments as the regulations and freedom for the satellite channels to show whatever they want to has taken a vast majority of youth towards the entertainment aspect of the music and films rather than addressing social issues and motivating spiritual emotions as before at the time of its emergence.

Along with the satellite channels that show up the news and it is claimed that the public is kept well-informed with these channels, the entertainment, music and film channels have also taken their place in the Arab world including the West based Arabic channels including Star Movies and Movie Magic shows that depict quite modern aspects of the culture (Shafik).

Not only Arab media, but the literature that Arab world was becoming used to have become one of the major provokers of the modern thinking including looking at different aspects of life that contained more westernization like love and sexuality. Nizar Qabbani is one of the best examples who made women the subject of his writings and established an erotic literature review of a woman (Tribes).

Also, satellite channels have shaped the thinking of the new generation through their penetration in the society and influencing the Arab viewers. Since, more and more music videos and western celebrities are promoted and shown in the ads of the satellite channels; this influences the thinking of the new generation. This is evident from the fact as the satellite channels showing new modern movie, fashion shows and mosaic vides receive the highest ratings as suggested by research.


The face that Arabs have developed their essence through time towards music more particularly can be anticipated from the analysis as discussed in this report. Despite the fact that music has been a source of spiritual or cultural enforcement in Arab world in earlier days, it has developed through time and shifted towards more modern form of it that is prevailing today.

his may also be said from the discussion that music itself has forced to transform the Arab cinema and shifted it towards its modernized form that was the influence of music videos and new styles in the music that became popular in the young generation over the time.

The basic influences that the Arab music aspired initially from the Egyptians one were from their music and music videos. Since Egypt used to be closer to the Western world from early days and they tend to adopt modern culture quickly in order to follow the Western norms, this penetrated slowly into the overall Arab culture. This was the reason that old traditional music that was once dependent on purely conventional instruments emerged in new styles and Arab pop and jazz music came into being.

The ecstasy of western movies especially Hollywood also appealed the young generation of the Arab world while at the same time American entertainers were interested towards cultivating Arab culture into more modern form giving it grave distinguish from a perceived terrorist culture, thus the movies and films in the Arab world that were purely based on social issues, cultural enforcements and sober drams were shifted towards other genres including romance, love, adultery and betrayal.

New stars like Sonia M’barek, Khalil Abonula and Rima Khcheich are imposing an effect on the young generation and getting their appeal towards modern Arab.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the Arab music and Arab cinema have emerged through the past bearing a cultural influence in the beginning, then inspired by the Egyptian entertainment and now heavily influenced with the western music and cinema that plays an important part in bringing the interests of the new young generation on the entertainment screens.

Works Cited

Al-Bab. “Arab cinema: the early years.” 2009. Al-Bab. 19 March 2011 <>.

Ayish, Muhammad and Naomi Sakr. “Dynamics of Development in Arab Broadcasting.” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 3 (2010): 3-7.

Metres, Katherine M. “Egyptian Films and Their Makers Provide Insights On Their Society.” 1996. WRMEA. 19 Marchi 2011 <>.

Moor, Ed de, Roger Allen and Hilary Kilpatrick. Love and Sexuality in Modern Arabic Literature. 1995.

Shafik, Viola. Arab cinema: history and cultural identity. Egypt: The American University in Cairo City, 1998.

Tribes. “Nizar Qabbani’s biography.” 2008. Tribes. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Arab Music and Arab Cinema: Historical Development and the Role of Western Culture." January 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/arab-music-and-arab-cinema-historical-development-and-the-role-of-western-culture/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Arab Music and Arab Cinema: Historical Development and the Role of Western Culture'. 13 January.

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