Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Our Reporter Asks, Is This the Rhythm of a World in Step?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Our Reporter Asks, Is This the Rhythm of a World in Step?

Article excerpt

What if it could be proved that no two nations that play salsa music have ever declared war on each other?

Some of the best salsa music in the Middle East comes from Egypt and Israel, for instance. Both nations have been at peace since 1979, the same period when salsa began to take hold.

A coincidence? Perhaps not.

The first time I heard Arabic salsa music, I was in a taxi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, racing to catch a connecting flight to Afghanistan. The taxi driver, a Pakistani, was playing an incredible song on his radio. First came the Latin rhythms on bongos, then the rush of flamenco guitars. It sounded like the sort of dance music I grew up listening to in south Texas but with a distinctly Middle Eastern trill of the voice and the guttural lyrics that could only be Arabic.

The music was a revelation. After Sept. 11, and the media barrage proclaiming a "clash of civilizations" between the West and the Arabic world, here was evidence of something quite the opposite. Instead of a clash, this was a blend, and a gorgeous one at that.

It was a reminder that there were other voices in the Arab world than Osama bin Laden, and good voices at that.

"Amr Diab," the taxi driver announced proudly. "He is Ricky Martin of the Arab people."

Age has taught me manners, so I remained silent until I reached the airport. But in my head I was thinking: I know Ricky Martin, from his few years at the top of the charts. And Amr Diab is no Ricky Martin. He's much better.

At the airport, on the way to my gate, I grabbed every Amr Diab tape on the rack of the airport's ample music store. Once in Kabul, my Afghan driver in Kabul was very enthusiastic when I put it into the tape deck of his Toyota Corolla.

"Thank you, thank you, Mr. Scott," he said, giving me the thumbs up and his only four words of English.

It was then that I realized two things. One, I would never see these tapes again. And two, that salsa is universal. It takes root in whatever soil it is planted. In the past four years in South and West Asia, I have heard salsa in Arabic, Persian, Dari, Urdu, Hindi, Indonesian, Thai, Sinhalese, and Nepali. …

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