An equally accessible Lebanese album for westerners is Rola Saad’s first, Ala Da El Hal, from 2004. In this case there seems to have been a conscious effort to have the tunes fall easily on western ears: this seems true of the entire collection, all ten tracks being of a uniformly fine quality. There may be some question, therefore, whether this music is derivative of western music, despite the obvious oriental impressions of the “Ala Da El Hal” video. The derivative nature is cast in serious doubt by Rola’s subsequent history of unrelentingly oriental sounds. One can examine for example the amusing video of “Sehrohom” from her second album. Here one cannot put one’s finger on anything that would depend on western influence, despite a familiar tonality and melodic line. This track appears, moreover, to have qualities that somehow influenced western music. Lebanon, the most prolific center of Arabic pop, is a region through which the Latin crusaders once passed to get to Jerusalem and where they established their principalities. We might imagine that the whole idea of ensemble music was brought to the west from these very regions. We might also suppose that the better-quality contemporary Arabic pop is in some sense a logical indigenous development from those times forward, granted that there has been a measure of receptivity since the advent of film and recorded music.
With the exception of the first album, Rola Saad’s music is not necessarily accessible to western listeners. It tends rather to educate the western ear as to the oriental character of Arabic pop and the eastern ear as to the rootedness of Lebanese music in the ancient past. By contrast, her compatriot Nancy Ajram shows ambivalence towards the question of western accessibility, delivering outright pop to all comers. The music has its place, even if one may wish to dispute its motives and merits. The video “Mashi Haddy,” with over 40 million hits after five years on YouTube, has only the Arabic lyrics and percussion section to suggest its origins. It is unquestionably derivative of western music, yet designed to sell widely in the Arab market. Yet Nancy has also promoted consciousness of classical tarab music on her live album with the extended “Mestaniak” and its associated video.
In Egypt, the principal seat of the Arabic entertainment industry, connectedness with genuinely ancient music is more elusive, but some possibility of attaching to the mysteries of ancient Egypt exists and has been exploited for example by Sherine, especially the track “Akheran Etgarraat,” and by Yasmine Niazy, whose “Salamat Ya Hawa” conjures up images of the ancient pharoahs and their search for the afterlife. Unfortunately there was no associated official video for this song, only a series of amateur videos utilizing scenes from Egyptian soap operas. In another direction, the singer Sandy makes a case for Egyptian music being capable of outdoing westerners at their own music. The second album, Ahsan Min Keteer (2012), has several idealized country rock songs of extraordinary depth and beauty, serving as perfect vehicles for Sandy’s diaphonous melismas. The backing band seems perfectly adept in the idiom. One is hard pressed to identify any eastern instrument, yet the product makes sense as Egyptian music. The follow-up, Helwa Gedan (2014), is more bubble-gum in orientation and more broadly eclectic, but also accomplished. The associated video of “Helwa Gedan” is highly enjoyable, something Sandy had hitherto not achieved. Sandy's religious background is not public knowledge, so far as can be seen – she gave Easter wishes to her fans on Facebook, so perhaps she is Coptic – but the question is not necessarily relevant, since while the religious background may affect the nature of the music, it has no impact on the quality of the music.