Thursday’s edition of the Saudi-based Al-Jazirah newspaper included an eye-catching headline that read “Prince Badr Bin Abdul Muhsin: Everybody but Abadi [al-Johar] is Singing for Money, and Songs Have Ceased to Appeal to Me.” When a poet like Prince Badr Bin Abdul Muhsin, who many consider the king of lyricists in Saudi Arabia, reaches this level of frustration and makes such a disclosure, it is a sure sign that music has lost its balance between the worlds of entertainment and business, and music lovers can only lament and say “Farewell, music.”
This is a clear phenomenon that has become evident in the decline [in popularity] of creative lyricists like Ibrahim Khafaji, Thuraya Qabel, and Prince Badr Bin Abdul Muhsin, and the rise of a new category of lyricists who have become known as the “chic lyricists” who provide [financial] support for their lyrics to be put into music and are ousting the group of musical lyricists who have nothing more to recommend them than their poetic talents.
At this moment, I am reminded of music’s good old days, and I recall the days when the two legendary singers, Talal al-Maddah and Mohammed Abdouh would vie with one another to put the lyrics of this poet or that to music. The value of these lyrics was the sole reason that musicians were seeking to put them to music. Today the artistic scene is undergoing a transformation with poetic lyricists being replaced by lyrics written by businessmen, stock brokers, and real estate agents, which are made into songs as a kind of luxury.
A friend of mine who worked in one of the industries mentioned above lived the good life for a while and had some of his lyrics were sung by musicians, however when his time at the top began to come to an end, so too did the acknowledgement of his poetic talents, and like many others, he went searching – without success – for a market for his [poetic] skills.
To be fair, allow me to cite a conversation that took place between myself and a recording artist at this juncture with regards to the reasons that a musician might rush to perform one of these “chic” songs. The musician said “You think that music has not changed since the time of Mahmoud Halwani when all that was required was an oud, a drum, a tambourine and a recording cassette. Music today has become an industry with studios, bands, distribution, music videos, promotion, advertisement, travel and hotel costs. So why should musicians be blamed for performing “chic” songs?”
I replied “If this was the case, recording artists in Egypt, Lebanon, and North Africa would have stopped singing. I don’t believe that music lyricists there right their music lyrics on dollar bills. Therefore this issue must be one of our special peculiarities.”
The recording artist shook his head and left. Could there be an excuse for this? Are we to blame?