Tuesday, March 13, 2007

nancy ajram: life in the circus

life in the circus ain't easy
but the folks on the outside don't know
the tent goes up and the tent comes down
and all that they see is the show

-ani difranco, from "freakshow"

i refer the uninitiated back to the earlier "nancy ajram: pop and plot". "akhasmak aah" is especially important since it forms the backdrop against which the video for "ya salam" is set. recall that "akhasmak aah" was ajram's breakout single off the ya salam album and quickly turned her into a superstar in the arabic speaking world. the video was controversial in the middle east. sexually charged: the director made references back to a typical character within older egyptian films - the single female proprietor of a restaraunt who dances for the male customers in order to make more money. in the opening of "ya salam" she sings the closing bars of "akhasmak aah" looking very marilyn-monroe-like, and exits the stage smiling to thunderous applause and kisses from everyone backstage. but it quickly becomes clear that "ya salam" (english = 'how wonderful' or 'how fantastic') is meant to be incredibly ironic as the song and video reflect on the deformed nature of her new character and the social isolation that is involved. like many a young woman in her early 20s, she fantasizes, in her loneliness, about the comforts and initimacy of a real relationship beyond the circus-life. this certainly qualifies as one of, if not the, most powerful of her videos.

Nancy Ajram, "Ya Salam", Ya Salam (2002)

two other more recent videos pick up the same theme in a much more playful way. in both "yatabtab wa dellah" and "mohgaba" the setting is a circus in which she is a member. in "yatabtab" one should notice the character is played to the point of farse: she smiles, bright and innocent, and bounces her head side to side in ponytails like a young girl (something entirely absent from her early videos when she was in fact much younger and carried herself with a great deal of maturity), at once giving the audience what they expect but mocking the expectation itself. in "mohgaba" on the other hand there is again a concluding fantasy sequence with a young man, but in it the impossibility of an escape from the circus-life becomes even more evident when one realizes that this entire scene is quoted in one of her coke commercials. there the image of her, a persona, is used to sell the product: one commodity promoting another. the twisted nature of the circus life has lost all its ironic power, nor is one given the illusion of a peak behind the performer which would reveal her real desires. ajram is reduced to the pop star.

please sit back and enjoy.....nancy ajram


Nancy Ajram, "Ya Tabtab wa Dellah", Ya Tabtab wa Dellah (2006)

Nancy Ajram, "Mo3gaba", Ya Tabtab wa Dellah (2006)

Nancy Ajram, "Coca-Cola Commercial #4-Mo3gaba" (2006)


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

I reckon that's the most intelligent review Ajram has ever recieved. People tend to stop at Akhasmak ah, for various reasons...

I lived in Syria when it came out shortly joined by Ya salam after a few months. I guess in a way she tries to convey these deep underlying messages however, I must say, I doubt the public (read "men") catches on...

Lawrence of Arabia said...

i certainly think "ahhasmak ah" is crucial. obviously because it was successful and we wouldnt even be talking about ajram if it were not for that song, but i also think the price of that success is portrayed very clearly in that video. the distance between the character and the person is never as great as the person would like (true for all of us, not just ajram). she gambled she could dance for a little extra money in front of the audience and slip out the back at the end (as she does in the video) untouched. as we noted above, capitalism catches us all in this prostitution, so this is by no means an indictment of ajram.

"akhasmak ah" is a hinge in her career. but the real meaning of it is unseen if you don't see what lies on either side. and i think you are right. "akhasmak ah" has defined her too thoroughly. there is a broader context. AND, the effect/participation of her audience is a large part of that story. ajram is capitalized because we are consumers. she has to capitalize on herself because we are consumers. the circus exists because we want to see it. the circus is deformed, because our gaze is deformed. seen this way, ajram is just telling us about ourselves -- which is also part of her success of course.

i enjoyed all your comments and insights. i look forward to you stopping by again; best wishes,