by Alex Cosper (5/22/13, revised 3/20/14)
The pop music of Saudi Arabia has its roots in khaleeji folk. Some Muslims, however, consider music to be a sinful distraction. Music is considered Makrooh, meaning not preferred. Listening to the music is allowed, however, as long as it is not mixed with drinking or other activities that are considered by Islam to be haram (sinful behavior). Certain scholars in the country forbid music completely within their circles. Arabic music is based on a scale of 24 notes. Traditionally, Arabic music was played by improvisational solo artists but eventually broadend from European influence.
One of the most famous Saudi musicians of the 21st century has been Tariq Abdulhakeem. He has recorded many of his own original songs and has been covered by other artists. Other well known Saudi composers include Ghazi Ali, Mohammed Al-Senan and Muhammad Shafique Chughtai. Another prominent songwriter has been Seraj Omar, who arranged an instrumental version of the National Anthem of Saudi Arabia based on music by Abdul-Rahman al-Khateeb written in 1947. This song known as the "Royal Salute" is played at ceremonies for the roytal family.
One of the first big pop stars from Saudi Arabia was Mohammed Abdu, who started having hits in 1968. His success as a singer and songwriter spread to a few other countries as well. He sings in Arabic and is known as the "Artist of Arabs." Born in 1949, he began performing in public in 1961. His recordings can be categorized as Khaleeji music, which refers to "music of the Gulf." This music has a very pronounced danceable rhythm. Music fans of the western hemisphere might consider the arrangements comparable to contemporary dance pop music, although his melodies are clearly rooted in traditional middle eastern music.
Disco and electronic keyboards moved popular music toward a repetitious beat. By the 1980s a lot of techno music and hip hop began to emerge as the new mainstream. Rock continued to grow in the concert industry, partly due to legendary benefit shows.In the 1990s rap, hip hop and house music dominated the mainstream. People who wanted an escape from dance music gravitated toward alternative music, which injected a mix of styles back into pop culture. By the end of the decade the internet revolution was underway, opening the door to empowering indie artists.
One of the stars of the new century was Talal Maddah, who died suddenly at a show in 2000. He won many awards for his unique voice. Successful rock artists have included The AccoLade, Disturb the Balance, Final Serenade, Inversion and Rivers Running Red. Other well known Saudi artists include Abadi al-Johar, whose music is considered Oud Virtuoso and Talal Maddah, who performs traditional Arabic music.