Fairuz in the Morning, Frank Sinatra in the Evening

Students Nihaya, Rawia, Dania, and Ala’a of the STEP! II EFL program take a break to enjoy some music and sunshine with their classmates.

Students Nihaya, Rawia, Dania, and Ala’a of the STEP! II EFL program take a break to enjoy some music and sunshine with their classmates.

Music is a powerful and positive force that connects people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures. Recent Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan, Adele, Ravi Shankar, Edith Piaf, Tom Jobim, and Sakamoto, among so many others, have enchanted audiences around the world regardless of their ethnicity, race, and native language. “Music is the universal language of mankind,” once said American poet Henry Longfellow.

One of my first questions to those I meet in Nablus and to my students in the STEP! II EFL program is, “What kind of music do you like to listen to?”

“Fairuz in the morning, Om Koultoum in the evening.”

I have heard this answer countless times. I have witnessed it and enjoyed the talent of both artists while eating breakfast or having dinner. When I played Frank Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance” for my students and asked them to compare and contrast the song’s mood and lyrics with Fairuz’s “Dabke Lebanon,” some of them vehemently replied, “You can’t compare Fairuz and Om Koultoum to Frank Sinatra.” The comment sparked an interesting conversation about those artists and about how social traditions are experienced in different cultures. The group concluded that besides its entertainment qualities, music carries and communicates the values of a given culture.

It’s true that students who remarked the “impossibility” of comparing Fairuz and Om Koultoum to Frank Sinatra did appreciate the upbeat and flippant atmosphere of Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance.” Their comments seemed to suggest how the value of artists in Palestinian culture has a lot to do with tradition and social bonding rather than aesthetic or entertainment qualities. “My grandparents listened to Fairuz and my grandson will listen to Fairuz,” as one of my students put it. Though I love Frank Sinatra, I’m not sure my grandfather listened to him and I can’t predict whether or not my grandson will have the slightest interest in Sinatra.

When trying to immerse myself in Palestinian culture, I’m slowly getting acquainted with musicians loved by Palestinians. For that purpose, I too have been listening to Fairuz in the morning and Om Koultoum in the evening. At the same time, in my EFL class, lyrics by Dylan and Adele serve not only as text to teach my students new vocabulary and sentence structure, but also as a tool for intercultural learning of ideas, values, and references from English speaking countries. Inshallah [hopefully], very soon my students will be listening to Fairuz in the morning and Frank Sinatra in the evening.

– Ronaldo, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.