New Arab music kudos a cultural crossroads

The Middle East is getting its own version of the Grammys, but don’t look for any Britney-baring moments or expletive-filled rap-star acceptance speeches. At least not yet.

The first Arabian Music Awards, to be held May 15 in Dubai, will hew largely to traditional regional forms, with noms in four categories: Levantine, Egyptian, North African and Gulf.

Kudocast will be broadcast across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia by Saudi-owned MBC. Fans from across the region will be able to vote online or by text message for their favorites in the People’s Choice section.

“It will put Arabic music on an international platform and expose Arabic music and culture to a whole new audience,” says Ziad Batal, exec producer of the awards.

It also will give exposure to some of the region’s saucier singers. Nominees include Iraq’s Kazem Al-Saher, labeled in some quarters as the Iraqi version of Brit bad boy Robbie Williams, and Lebanese singers Elissa, Haifa Wehbi and Nancy Ajram, who have stirred controversy with a string of sexy videos and risque stage perfs.

The awards even boast Western song categories, with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake among those nominated.

Still, in a region where the Arabic version of “Big Brother” was axed after only one week for fear of offending local sensitivities, Batal says he doesn’t expect any Janet Jackson-style incidents onstage during the live broadcast.

“These are always producer’s nightmares, but we’re optimistic that this will not happen,” he says. “I don’t think Justin is coming.”

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