Of Opera, taste for music and social hierarchy

Christmas and end of the year celebrations typically spark contentious debates between various groups in the Gulf countries. The controversy took a new turn late last year after calls for ban on the Opera houses in the region from hosting celebratory events and musical concerts, as one Kuwaiti demanded.

The debate became more heated following the events in Istanbul, and lame justifications emerged. There were further arguments over Majida al Roumi’s concert in the Kuwait Opera house, as well as the one held by Mohammad Abdou in Jeddah.

It is apparent that some segments in the Gulf, with social, political, and religious clout, have serious reservations about music and general entertainment programs. They feel particularly aggrieved by public celebrations and blissful moments. This incessant anger and anxiety caused by music is bewildering even though, I believe, it is pertinent to a society. Opera houses in Dubai, Kuwait, and Muscat are mirrors of political stability, social equilibrium, and intellectual engagement.

It is imperative to classify all sorts of arts as an option available to society. The traditional celebration of Christmas was banned by various Christian parties, such as the Puritan Oliver Cromwell in England during the 17th century, as well as the Calvins in Scotland, according to author Malory Nye on his book “Religion the Basic”.

This incessant anger and anxiety caused by music is bewildering even though it is relevant to a society

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Religion and cultural enrichment

In his book, Nye analyzes the association between religion and cultural enrichment of societies. He argues that “the essence and appreciation of music varies greatly from one individual to another based on their cultural sophistication and evolution”. For example, he cites Mozart’s music as an embodiment of the prevailing European culture during the 18th century in Austria.

Nye believes that musical taste noticeably differs depending on social and cultural diversity. For instance, fans of Britney Spears will certainly differ from Mozart fans. The latter are the “cultured” elites, the privileged and moneyed white-collared middle and upper classes with their privately educated children. They are different from the working classes who are more likely to follow to popular music and culture.

Nye assortments fit well with other types of music; Rap and the skin complexion; Jazz and socialism, resistance and revolutions, as described on “Jazz History” book authored by Eric Hobsbawm. In the book, Hobsbawm describes a concert he attended for Duke Ellington, where the band underrated the massively growing number of fans from South London. He described Jazz as music that carries an “undisputed silent dimension and a range of physical emotions”.

That gives us a glimpse of the interconnection between a society and its musical tastes in accordance with its social hierarchy.

Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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