I grew up in Davis, California, where my parents were graduate students recently arrived from Egypt. There was a large community of Egyptian students at U.C. Davis in those days, all doing graduate studies in agricultural sciences of some kind. Most were on scholarship from the Egyptian government and had very little money, and we were no exception.
We lived in the university housing for married students, near Putah Creek. I remember it as a place with immense green lawns and playgrounds, and huge deciduous trees that dropped piles of orange and red leaves in winter.
My parents had a Sony reel-to-reel player much like the one in the photograph above. They ordered it from Japan and it was designed to run on 110 or 220 electricity, so that they could take it with them when they went back to Egypt.
There was a radio station in Sacramento, about 30 minutes away across the river delta, that broadcast Arabic music once a week. My parents used to record those broadcasts on the reel-to-reel player.
I remember our small apartment often being filled with the sounds of Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, Farid Al-Atrash and Umm Kulthum. All the legendary singers of the day. To me that music was not “Arabic music,” it was just music.
Later, as I grew up and entered my teens, I got caught up in the American music scene. I began exploring the world of rock n’ roll in earnest, becoming a real fan of Led Zeppelin (who wasn’t?), Rush, Boston and others. As I got older my tastes broadened to include blues, jazz, and even some techno.
A curious thing happened as I hit my mid-thirties, however. I began to reconnect with my roots, and I realized that I deeply missed the rhythms and flavors of Arabic music. Whenever I’d be in a restaurant or shop and happened to hear Arabic music playing, my hands would immediately start drumming, and my soul would stand up and dance.
So I returned to my roots, delving back into Arabic music in all its permutations, and starting this blog to explore Arabic music in more detail.
My parents still have that reel-to-reel player in some corner of the garage, but now they get their Arabic music fix from Arabic satellite TV, along with news, films and plays. The means of delivery might change, but the essence of our culture stays with us, no matter where we go.
What about you? Did you grow up listening to Arabic music, or come to it later in life? Do you have any fond childhood memories of listening to Arabic music? Feel free to share your thoughts.