Arab Idol Winner performs “I want it that Way”

The just-announced winner of Arab Idol 2013, Muhammad Assaf of Gaza, performs a cover of the Back Street Boys’ 1999 “I want it that Way.”

The video is here:

Assaf sings classical Arabic ballads in a soulful way that reminded listeners of the great Egyptian crooner of the 1950s and 1960s, Abdel Halim Hafez.

Assaf’s family is refugees from pre-1948 Palestine in what is now Israel, and he was brought up in a refugee camp in Khan Younis. (He was born in Misrata, Libya, when his father was working there.) Assaf barely got an opportunity to audition because he had difficulties at the border crossing (Israel keeps the Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor prison, and bombed the only airport in 2000, as well as forbidding boat traffic to the strip. Egypt has been forced into helping with this creepy blockade of civilians, half of them children.) In short, he faced the kinds of humiliation, artificially imposed poverty, and restrictions on movement that are the general lot of stateless Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian cities went wild with celebration at the announcement of his win, and he was even the cause for some good feeling between Gaza Palestinians, the majority of whom support Hamas, and the West Bank Palestinians, who are ruled by the PLO.

One suspects that Assaf wants it that way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Responses | Print |

8 Responses

  1. Especially for readers outside the Middle East, please see another performance by Assaf
    link to
    that is 5 minutes of full on dancing in the aisles, joyful community celebration inspired by this young man’s voice and, I trust, a dearly held cultural heritage. No English subtitles, but you’ll get the heart of the performance.

  2. I was going to say that this is ‘a ray of hope’ amid the misery of Gazans, but it’s more than that; it is actually a ray of Joy, a taste of what every people in every nation deserve to experience in their lives. May Peace and Love prevail on Earth.

  3. Thanks; that young man has a lovely voice.

    YouTube has lots of Abdel Halim Hafez, original performances plus more recent remixes. It seems he is still quite popular, but I did not know of him.

    I appreciate these windows into Middle Eastern cultures that you provide us; the American media is woefully deficient in these matters. The Beeb is one of the few English language outlets that actually pays attention to cultures other than their own.

  4. Dear JGala and Rich,

    Thank you for the link to the street celebrations.

    Rich, If you havent already heard Abdel Halim Hafez’s song, qiraat al finjan, there are a number of videos of him singing it on Youtube. It is one of the top and most famous songs in all Middle Eastern music.

    The link below is to a short version, lol 15 minutes, but with english subtitles. Alot of the video clips are about an hour.

    some of the searches spell it qiriat al finjan or fingan. hope you enjoy

    link to

  5. JGala… Here are the english lyrics – missing the intro that was added in this version (even more “patriotic” on Palestine). What struck a chord with the public – beside his undeniable talents – is his “arabism” and “patriotism” that goes behind the current “imposed” divisions and are a smack in the face to current so-called “western experts”.

    Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
    Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

    Shake your shoulders tenderly
    Jafra, Ataba and Diheya

    And let guns contribute and make it more fun [interesting double meaning, the song so far has been describing a wedding where people are singing the Ataba and Mijana and doing dabka, traditionally those were always accompanied by shooting guns in the air]

    Raise the flag in Ramallah and Mountains of fire [Nablus’s nick name]
    your proud head band is a symbol of grit and determination [Keffiyeh as a head dress was traditionally associated with head bands 3qal]
    The first bullet tells the story of the journey
    When the time comes, we make what’s up go down [rearranging an old Palestinian proverb]

    Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
    Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

    We grew figs and olives in the orchard
    We brought the wheat seeds and the lemon trees

    When you call my country .. we will be ready
    Lighting the victory paths in the battle day

    Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
    Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

  6. Allow me to add, I generally dislike these kind of programmes. Making music a disposable product (just imagine The Rolling Stones, The Doors, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, etc. going through this process).

    This said I doubt you can hear these kind of Lyrics (with the public going wild) on American Idol ;)

    • G. Damiani,

      Thank you very much for your translation of the lyrics and your comments! I keep thinking of the scrolling text message numbers that ran under Assaf’s performance–so many different national telecom companies of the region; I could catch Syria, Yemen, others. I had a moment of surprise as I recognized how an Arab Idol contest was being shared internationally. Now, more context to understand Assaf’s appeal to his audience.

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