Beirut has long been the cultural capital of the Arab world. Even though sometimes outcompeted by Baghdad, Cairo, and of course Damascus, Beirut had nonetheless always maintained a very unique place for itself as a cultural powerhouse of a serious caliber. It created an identity for itself as a hub for intellect, art, literature, music, and media. So much so that it was sought out as an intellectual transit for artists from all over the Arab world, according to history. In asserting itself as an artistic hub and hence a cultural hub, what Beirut had done is sharpen its attractive tool of influence. And in doing so, it has often set the tone for the entire Arab world, inserting ideas, values, norms, and the latest moral trends into it. All through artistic leadership.
For instance, Lebanon is one of the biggest producers and exporters of music to the rest of the Arab world. In fact, so much so that Lebanese is one of the two most visible dialects in all Arabic music consumed, with the other one being Egyptian. With that, Lebanese music had bridged the road to Beirut. The same trend in visibility is seen within TV, radio, and commercials, with the Lebanese dialect outbidding all other Arabic dialects as the Arabic dialect of choice for a pan-Arab audience. The prevalence of everything Lebanese in the media has thoroughly familiarized all Arabs with the Lebanese culture, allowed Lebanon to reach Arabian ‘hearts and minds’, and created a uniquely Lebanese image. Combining this visibility with the vast resources of soft power that Lebanon has access to, the end result has been a steady attractiveness of the Lebanese in the eyes of other Arabs.
The same could not be been said for Jordan. While Lebanon was busy creating a highly attractive image for itself through its access to countless sources of soft power, the Jordanian nation was able to create its image through only one resource; the Jordanian diaspora. As Jordan steadily started to become one of the largest exporters of ex-pat workers to neighboring Arab countries – especially the gulf – a distinct image of the Jordanian started to be formed. The pillars of the Jordanian image includes:
- A sense of honor (Al Sharaf)
- A disciplined adherence to Arabian values (Al Asala)
- A relentless commitment to help those in need (Al Shahama)
- An unapologetic sense of pride (Al ‘Ez)
These four pillars combine together to produce the well-known adjective used as a synonym with ‘Jordanian’ – the Nashama. Making Jordan the only Arab country whose national identity can be summed up in one word.
This image of the Nashama in the Arab world is an image of the Urban Bedouin, which is exactly what pictures of the royal family and tribal leaders embody; with the Egal and Gutra on the head, and the modern suit on the body. While the image of the Jordanian has been accepted and admired for its familiar Arabian values and embedded morality, it has by no means amounted to the same attractiveness and cultural influence that the Lebanese have had. Maybe that’s because it has never been a cultural hub or a large enough exporter of intellectuals, ideas, art, media, music or books in the region.
Somehow, this has been swiftly changing. In a remarkable new trend, Jordan’s artistic output is steadily increasing, marking a large departure from its usual low levels of media outputs. In addition to that, the quality of the productions has been thoroughly eye-turning.
The Nashama’s journey towards the arts may have started with the variations of the Karabeesh productions that aired mainly on YouTube and Facebook, almost 10 years ago. It debuted Jordanian comedians. That alone added a new, unexpected dimension to the serious Jordanian image. Karabeesh went on to give way to N2O comedy and possibly Jordan’s first media icon to foster a trans-Arab audience; Rajae Qawwas. Soon, Rajae Qawwas starred in a YouTube show directed by another rising media personality; Tima Al Shomali. Her show – Female – was an instant, landslide, and trans-Arab success. With the arrival of Tima al Shomali, non-traditional media took a new trajectory. Her unique impact as a Jordanian artist can also be seen by the tremendous success of the second Jordanian production to be aired on Netflix – Al Rawabi School. What Tima did through Al Rawabi is explore a range of underexplored social issues that center around the Jordanian society but also impact the larger Arabian society. She explored topics including bullying, honor killings, nepotism, the patriarchy, peer pressure, and the intra-generational tensions between the new and the old. All in one respectable production.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian music industry wasn’t lagging behind. For the past 10 years, Jordan has been pioneering what is known as the ‘underground music culture’ that’s becoming very mainstream in the Arab world. The experiment that started with musicians like Autostrad, Harget Kart, and Alaa Wardi was very well received. Quickly, it built momentum, attracting a long string of suddenly emerging Jordanian musicians. Amongst the most notable include Luay Hijazeen, Silawy, Akhdar band, El Fare’i, Abu Dabaseh, Jamaet Khair, and Aziz Maraka. What is refreshing about the emerging Jordanian artists is their insistence, to tell the truth. In other words, they offer the truest reflection of Jordanian society that we’ve ever had. So much so that their honesty offends more than it attracts a selectively conservative Arab society. For instance, Al a5ras in his song Eed Miladek sings ‘even if I was an atheist, I’d fast for you’. While, other popular songs explore further social issues such as underemployment, corruption, and of course the Arabian dream; immigration.
Similarly, the sudden visibility of the Jordanian dialect in radio shows, programs, and commercials that target a pan-Arab audience is a notable departure from its previous invisibility. This steady rise in visibility of the Jordanian across multiple artistic domains offers a new association to the image of the Jordanian; that of art, of culture, and of – finally – influence. While it may have been Beirut where it all started, the speed at which the impressive Jordanian artistic renaissance is unfolding certainly feels like the center of cultural gravity could move to Amman, anytime now.