Kay Hardy Campbell


“Mind The Gap!” – This expression is used in the London ‘Underground’ to encourage passengers to watch as they step from the platform to the train. It struck me as an appropriate title for this, my blog, in which I explore the cultural and communications gap between the West and the Middle East.

You may be disappointed if you fail,
but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
~ Beverly Sills, Opera Singer 

Click on the topics and dates below to navigate to my entries. Or if you prefer, just scroll down the page. I also have a blog about writing and my novel here.

January 1, 2010 - More Khaliji Videos

August 25, 2008 - Real Khaliji Videos on YouTube at Last

November 27, 2006 - Your Voice Matters

October 15, 2005 - Clutter and Clarity

April 9, 2005 - Your Tiara or your License

February 20, 2005 - Thoughts on the Municipal Elections in Saudi Arabia - You Have My Vote, Ladies!

January 12, 2005 - Article by Maha Akeel on Saudi Female Singer Tuha

December 6, 2004 - Dr. Jihad Racy on Playing Arabic Music

September 21, 2004 - Let's Look Deeper


January 1, 2010 - More Khaliji Videos from YouTube

Here are more videos from the folk dance traditions of the Gulf.

Kuwaiti songstress Laila `Abd al-`Aziz sings "Habbaitha wana Ma`arifah"
- which means "I loved her even though I didn't know who she was". The recorded music is not the same rendition as the 'take' the musicians are playing on the clip, but you can see the fun everyone is having - the dancers, clappers, percussionists and Laila singing. Laila's earrings are gorgeous - a mix of modern and tradition. Laila Abd al-Aziz singing "Habbaitha"

Iraqi style 'Khaliji' song - "Aish Hal-wanin Ya `Ubaidi" - This song and dance number is from the area of the Khaliji port city of Basra in southern Iraq, (which is right between Kuwait and Iran). Note that the dancers are following each other, but they are facing 'out' toward the camera. Traditionally, some Iraqi women danced in the thobe. They used to call it the 'Hashimi', associating the dress with the royal family of the Hashimites who ruled Iraq (and still rule Jordan). Iraqi Style Khaliji Dance from Basra

Itaab singing in Kuwait. This black and white video shows the late Saudi songstress Itaab singing in a mixed 'jalsah' (session) with men and women. This has all the classic elements of a wonderful performance - everyone's fully involved. There's dancing, zaghareed, rhythmic clapping, polyrhythms, and an ensemble of fine musicians. Enjoy! I don't understand why there is such a small open area for the dancers. Usually it's wider. Itaab Singing Allah Haseebak

Choreographed Group Dance from Kuwait - This number is a choreography to a traditional song that women sang when their men were out to sea diving for pearls. The title is "Repent, Repent, O Sea!" The dance here is typical of big group choreographies from Kuwait in the last decades. They use the thobe to beautiful advantage, and move in long lines in a staged version of what you'd see in a traditional party. It starts out with a traditional blessing, then they start dancing. It ends with the women calling out a blessing, then there's a brief bit of footage with a traditional bride. This clip obviously continues. Tawb Tawb Ya Bahr

And last but not least.....this amazing clip is of a traditional Khaliji music style known as 'Sawt'. The song is "Aghnam Zamaanak" and it was performed by the late Bahraini singer Abdallah Ahmad. The performance includes many of Kuwait's famous musicians at the time. This performance was to celebrate the return of Kuwaiti singer Awad al-Dukhi from medical treatment abroad at the invitation of Shaikh Jabir al-Sabah. What blows me away is the man and woman dancing together. I've seen men and women in Yemen do similar dances, but this is the first time I've seen one in Kuwait. My suspicion is that in the 'old days' it was more common to see it. Anyway, notice the light steps, the way the dancers prance - and how they seem to read each others' minds as they improvise. Enjoy this happy and very rare occasion! Aghnam Zamanak

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August 25, 2008 - Real Khaliji Videos on YouTube at Last

For a long time, I've been trying to find authentic footage of Khaliji ("Gulf") women's folk dances on YouTube performed by women in the Arabian Gulf countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE.

At last I stumbled onto some. Many of them are titled in Arabic, so unless you read it, you'd never find these. I hope you enjoy them. Below are links to a few that are illustrative of the kind of dance traditions I teach in my classes. These are social dances - often done in a women-only environment (in Saudi Arabia for example), but sometimes in mixed company in some of the other Arab Gulf countries. These are just a start - I will probably add a YouTube links page to my site since it's so important for students of the dance to see the social dances of Gulf women in their cultural context. I'm always interested in seeing these links if you happen to come across some. Unfortunately, many of them don't stay up on YouTube very long ---- someone complains and they disappear. Hopefully to reappear at some point!

Laila Abd al-Aziz - Singing "Al-Baarihah Ya Sa`ud"
This amazing video is from the 1980's - Laila Abd al-Aziz is a Kuwaiti songstress - and this is filmed in the typical "Diwan" - a salon, where these musical and dance evenings take place. It's a mixed event - with both men and women. The women are singing, doing tasfiq - the rhythmic clapping - and dancing. The dancers have the thobe nashal on over their long dresses.

Laila Abd al-Aziz Singing "al-Asmaraniyyah"
This video clip is of group of mostly women playing, with Laila singing - it's a 6/8 rhythm and again the women are clapping and a couple of them are dancing.

Awad al-Dukhi singing "`Adhrub Khali"
This is an old black and white clip from Kuwait, showing a women's group dance. It's choreographed, showing how women stand in parallel lines with 'soloists' dancing in the center. The women in the lines do something similar to what we've come to call "Wall of Thobes" (thanks Sherry Reardon for naming it) but it's more subtle in its real context than what we've developed for western audiences. The setting is an outdoor courtyard of a traditional house. The rhythm is a slow 6/8.

Alia Hussain singing "al-Hamdu Lak"
This has no dance, but it's a great group of women musicians - Alia Hussain the singer, an oud player, two women on the traditional Gulf hand-held drums the Mirwas, and, best of all, a group of women who are really good at the rhythmic clapping. All are dressed in gorgeous thobes, seated on carpets in a Diwan (salon) where traditional performances took place in the Gulf.

Hair Toss Extravaganza - Azizah Jalal singing "Sidi Ya Sayyid Saadatee"
This is filmed out in the desert - she sings at the end of two lines of young ladies with long hair...they toss it the entire song, occasionally going into the tricky 'figure eight' pattern of the Gulf.

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November 27, 2006 - Your Voice Matters

Your voice matters.

Whoever you are,
Reading this,
Your voice matters.

Your thoughts matter.
Your feelings matter.
Your ideas matter.
Your fears matter.
Your hopes matter.
Every word of every sentence matters.

Every smile matters.
Every tear matters.
Every laugh matters.

Don't ever doubt that you make a difference,
That you matter.

Share yourself.
Write your ideas.
Speak them out loud.
Tell your story.

Don't ever doubt that we'll listen.
We women are always listening.
Don't ever doubt
That you matter.

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October 15, 2005 - Clutter and Clarity

Though we don't know the results of the Iraqi constitutional referendum, I feel relieved because the voter turnout exceeded 60%. May the Iraqi people have the hope and courage to forge a peaceful way to their own future. May they move successfully from chaos to hope and resolution.

All that seems so far away after a week of dismal rainy days in Boston. The rain has driven me to at last clean up my desk. It's piled high with file folders, e-mails, articles, story ideas, photocopies of sheet music and papers from the Music Retreat and AAUW. There are free-floating business cards everywhere. Little slips of colorful paper with now-forgotten two word messages to myself, fall out when I lift up a pile of papers. Then there is a gold star paperweight that I won in a Haiku contest at the bank just a month before 9/11, and a beautiful gift from a friend, a box of ink stamps in Arabic calligraphy with words like "Peace", "Moon", "Happiness". Slowly, as the afternoon passes the surface of my desk reappears.

As I sort the piles of ideas and looming tasks on all these sheets of paper, I start looking for my favorite inspirational quotes. They're taped to the sides of my computer and pinned on the wall next to my chair. They were hidden by everything, but now they can be seen. Here are a few. Maybe they will inspire you too.

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." - Alexander Hamilton

"Time is like a sword. If you don't cut it, it will cut you." - old Arab proverb told to me by Abla Shocair.

"A new moon teaches gradualness and deliberation and how one gives birth to oneself slowly. Patience with small details makes perfect a large work, like the universe. What nine months of attention does for an embryo, forty early mornings will do for your gradually growing wholeness." Rumi - from "New Moon, Hilal"

Sami e-mailed me this one by Hafez:: "When the violin can forgive the past, it starts singing. When the violin can stop worrying about the future, you will become such a drunk laughing nuisance that God will then lean down and start combing you into his hair. When the violin can forgive every wound caused by others, the heart starts singing."

Emerson writes, "Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage which a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men to win them."

Another Rumi: "Your intelligence is split into a hundred busy tasks, in thousands of desires, in large and small things. You must unite these scattered parts with love and become as sweet as Samarkhand and Damascus. Once you are unified, grain by grain, then you can be stamped by the royal seal."

I hope that cleaning my desk will help me become as sweet as Samarkhand and Damascus. We'll see.

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April 9, 2005 - Your Tiara or Your License

No, the day hasn't yet dawned when Saudi women in Riyadh, Jeddah, al-Khobar, Dammam, Taif and Khamis get up in the morning, put on their abaya's and drive themselves to work, school and market. But it will.

OK, now that we've all agreed on that, let's talk about tiaras.

In 2000, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts put on an exhibit of tiaras from around the world. It was a fascinating show, because many of the tiaras on display were worn by royalty and the ultra-wealthy women of the world. Some tiaras had unique stories behind them. In addition, they lit the exhibit so you could stand in a certain spot and place the shadow of each tiara as if it were on your own head!

One tiara got my friend Mary and me giggling. It was, if I remember clearly, full of fabulous diamonds set in platinum, in an art-deco style. It held its own in the room full of priceless jewels. It looked just like 'any old' tiara studded with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. But wait, there was more. You see a British man gave it to his wife in the 1920's, but it came with a price. She had to promise to never drive again! Apparently, she took him up on it.

So think about it. Just like in England, the day will come in Saudi Arabia. It will be amazing. And maybe some Saudi ladies will manage to exact a similar bargain, if that's what they really want. Personally, I would never trade my driver's license for a tiara…. or would I????

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February 20, 2005 - Thoughts on the Municipal Elections in Saudi Arabia - You Have My Vote, Ladies!

(Even better than my musings, have a look at an article by Saudi woman writer Mody Al-Khalaf - And That is How History is Made in the Arab News of 2/19/05. This appeared the same day I drafted my thoughts below.)

It has been fascinating to follow the Saudi municipal elections from Boston, one of the oldest cities in the U.S., which has been called the 'Cradle of Liberty', and the 'Athens of America'. I'm an American woman, so I know it's really none of my business that logistical and social challenges prevented women from taking part in the Saudi elections. It's none of my business that some conservative Saudi males are upset that with the idea of women voting, because then they might hear the sound of women's voices and see photographs of women candidates, and even read the names of women candidates in the press. These things are considered improper by some ultraconservative Saudi males. As Mody Al-Khalaf points out in her article above, this isn't a logical argument, because Saudi women already speak on radio, appear on television and print their names in the paper. However, I'm not Saudi and I'm not a Saudi woman. It's not my country, and these issues are Saudi problems. But I keep reading that 'Saudi Arabia's culture is unique', with the implication that it can't change because of its uniqueness.

Then I remembered some things about Boston, and I began to think that American women and Saudi women have more in common than we think. Saudi Arabia is 'less unique' than perhaps some might realize, or care to admit. In Boston of 100 years ago, it was considered inappropriate for a woman's name to appear in the paper more than three times during her life; when she was born, when she married, and when she died. A 'proper' woman never walked on the street unaccompanied. It finally took an alliance of highborn and working class women to change many of the laws and practices about women and public space in Boston (see Women and the City: Gender, Space and Power in Boston - 1870-1940 by Sarah Deutsch). More startling, I also recently learned that in the early days of the American colonies, many American colonists wanted their women veiled, and they also hanged people for religious deviance. One of my own ancestors was an early settler in the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts in the 1620's. Maybe he was one of these who supported these ideas! So, just as our own cultural and social norms were once quite different from what they are now, so it is also true that some of these 'unique' social issues that are cited in arguing against Saudi women voting, are really not that unique. They can be overcome, and will most likely they fade with time.

When I lived in Saudi Arabia twenty years ago, I used to accept the idea that Saudis weren't ready for social change that would make something like women's suffrage possible. In fact, that concept seemed unimaginable back then. But when I came back to my own country and went to graduate school to delve further into Middle Eastern history, my heart began to speak different words to me. How can I be a true American if I believe that our system of constitutional democracy could only flower in a country like ours, with the special historic circumstances that we had in the 18th Century? To me, that's racist. That's like saying, only 'we' are good enough, or only 'we' deserve the benefits of democracy, like our Bill of Rights. That's like concluding that others, (i.e. everyone in Africa and Asia and the Middle East) are not 'advanced enough' to handle it. I don't think Saudi Arabia will or should become a carbon copy of the US, and it seems certain that Saudi society will progress in a unique way. I just think women deserve to be involved in the process. Why? Because they can do so much good.

Last Spring, while back in Jeddah, I spoke with many women. It is clear to me that they are ready for change. They are educated and anxious to do their best. Each woman I met was as impressive and singularly stereotype-busting as the last. From the Bedouin-born mother from Taif, to college students, the bank economist, the newspaper columnist, the college dean, and her administrators, every one of them was hardworking, virtuous, and conscientious. Most importantly, each was anxious to do her best for society. These encounters got me thinking back over the years, to all the women I met when I lived in Saudi Arabia. I can't think of a single Saudi woman I met who was anything less than that. From the barely literate, cheerful ladies selling spices in the country markets, to the elite salon-hosting urbanites, all of them are extraordinary. And it's sad, in my opinion, that their talent and their enthusiasm to make their country better had to be excluded this time. I hope next time they can participate.

All this being said, I believe that Saudi women will get the vote. The caliber, the strength, the courage and the determination of the women I met, and others I heard about, leave no doubt. Saudi women work hard behind the scenes at all levels of society to improve things. They are very impressive, and they will do so much more good for the country once they are allowed to help on a larger scale. So I add my best wishes to them for their success as they gain a more public forum and a more powerful platform to improve society.

After reading repeatedly about all the logistic and social roadblocks to having women participate in the elections, it felt good to imagine how things will be different when women do participate eventually. Here is my list of what might happen. Maybe we all need to do a little 'imaging' on this, to focus on the benefits. To me the benefits far outweigh the difficulties.

- Higher voter participation. Women would be enthusiastic participants and would encourage the men in their family to vote.
- More talented candidates. Women are said to outperform their male counterparts in the Saudi school system. This means that all the women candidates would likely be ultrahigh achievers, boosting the overall talent pool of the candidates, and resulting in a better societal outcome.
- Strong work ethic. Saudi women are known to be sincere and hard working as well as service oriented and concerned for others. Sounds like the ideal civil servant to me!
- Women elected officials would, by their very existence, be a sensible and practical voice countering the attitudes of those who reject change. They need an official voice and official agendas to do this.
- Urban planning would become much more family-friendly and women-friendly. Life would improve for all Saudi Arabia's citizens.
- Women candidates would be able to meet personally with women voters, so women voters could express their concerns directly with no interference. After the elections, women would have ombudsmen to help with their issues such as the handling of divorce cases in the courts.
- Public society would become more transparent.
- Young women would have a new generation of female role models, who combine good morals and ethics with a positive public role as they improve society. They would see women gaining respect and recognition for their work in the public sphere, which in turn would allow the younger women to aim higher, further benefiting society.
- The public cooperation of male and female citizens would be a model and an agent for creating a more balanced norm in which men and women work together in public to advance their society. Actually, this gets me thinking about an idea for my next 'blog'. Historically, Saudi men and women cooperated in many unique ways in Saudi Arabia's villages, towns and tribes. So in a way, getting women involved in municipal governance will bring things closer to the way they were 'traditionally'.

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January 12, 2005 - Article by Maha Akeel on Saudi Female Singer Tuha

When I was in Jeddah last May, doing interviews for the article on Queen Effat for Saudi Aramco World Magazine, I had the good fortune to meet Maha Akeel, a writer for the Arab News. She covers all kinds of business and cultural stories in Saudi Arabia, with a specialty in Saudi women's issues. Judy Laertini (the illustrator who worked with me on the story) and I had a great meeting with Maha at her office at the Arab News. She did her MBA at Loyola, and has lived in the US and Canada, before returning home to Jeddah to pursue her professional journalism career. She recently wrote a wonderful article in the Arab News about a Saudi woman musician named Tuha, whom I'd never met or heard of when I lived in Jeddah in the late 1970's. Tuha is an `ud player, a composer, and a private `ud instructor. She taught `ud to Abadi al-Jawhar, one of the most famous composers and `ud players from the Hijaz (western) region of Saudi Arabia. The link to her story is below. I love the story because it gives the reader a wonderful window into the world of the Saudi music scene. Like any country, music is alive and well in Saudi Arabia. It has always been there. You just have to know how to listen. The story includes a great photo of Tuha. It looks like she's holding a buzuk (the neck is too long for an `ud). Bravo on the story Maha, and thanks for opening another door to your society.

Maha Akeel's article on Tuha from the Arab News, 12/25/04

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December 6, 2004 - Dr. Jihad Racy on Playing Arabic Music

At the August, 2003 Arabic Music Retreat, Drs. Ghaleb and Rima Daouk awarded Dr. Ali Jihad Racy the Golden `Ud Award, in recognition of his contributions to the field of Arabic music. Dr. Racy teaches ethnomusicology at UCLA. He is an accomplished performer on several instruments, and also composes Arabic instrumental music. At the Retreat, he is Associate Director and a founding faculty member, as well as a beloved lecturer, teacher and conductor. In 2003, his landmark book, "Making Music in the Arab World" was published by Cambridge University Press and has since gone on to win the Book of the Year Prize of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Dr. Racy made the following impromptu remarks on the night of the 2003 Retreat's final concert when he received the Golden `Ud Award.

"I'm really touched; this is such a beautiful gift and it's just an honor to receive it. I'll really cherish it. Really, I don't have words enough to thank you. We're really happy this week that we've shared our talents and our abilities. I love what Simon (Shaheen) said the first hour we met. He said that we just come here to play and learn something. It's just a week, and it's a few lessons. But it's really about going out and playing the music and spreading the good news about the music. Just last week I was reading an article in a French magazine. They were interviewing somebody who loves the Middle East and travels there frequently. One of their questions was, 'What's your favorite scent, or smell in the Middle East?' I thought the question was a bit frivolous. Yet he answered, 'You know, I've been to the Middle East several times, and I've seen wars, troubles, people fighting, people scared, going to their homes and hiding and locking their door. But every night the orange blossom smell came out and went everywhere. That smell did not wait for anything. It just went out and was all over the place.' I think that is a great analogy for those of us who play the music. Let us be those blossoms. Let us be those trees, and let the music just go every place. Because the music will not wait for the ideal time to be done. We just play music because it has to come out. Thank you very much again for the gift, I'm really touched."

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September 21, 2004 - Let's Look Deeper

In both West and East, we need to look more deeply into each other’s worlds. Reporters and writers on both sides, students and professors on both sides, writers and artists on both sides, just regular people on both sides, we need to approach one another with respect. We need to acknowledge that our civilizations are complex and nuanced and have things of great beauty.  All cultures have big problems, that’s certain. In the West we can hardly be proud of our divorce rate, our lingering racism, and our out-of-control consumer culture. The Middle East has challenges we know all too well. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to us than the Jerry Springer Show, and there’s a lot more to the Middle East than the latest kidnapping video tape broadcast from al-Jazeera. We have to get beyond these images of each other. Fortunately, there is a lot more to know.

  Here’s a list of just a few things I don’t think most Middle Easterners know about the West.

  • Quilting bees – in rural areas, women get together to work on a quilt in a group to get it done faster.
  • People volunteer to read books to blind people and to deliver meals to ‘shut-ins’.
  • Barn-raisings – an entire community would build a barn together in one day. Some Mennonite communities still do it.
  • There are suburbs and small towns in the US where it’s so safe that people don’t lock the doors to their homes and they leave the keys in their cars in the driveway at night.
  • In Portland, Oregon, the city donated a large number of bicycles painted orange that anyone can ride for free, and leave out for the next person.
  • People come together to play music and sing in volunteer orchestras and marching bands, playing for town celebrations.
  • The first public library in the US was started by Ben Franklin and some of his friends, not a government agency.
  • While we have high divorce rates, we throw big parties for the couples who stay married for 40 years or more. My own parents made it to 61 years last December.
  • At some country fairs, they hold laughing contests and wife carrying contests.
  • People commit quiet acts of cross-cultural hospitality, like hosting exchange students from all over the Middle East in their homes.

  Here’s a list of just a few things most people in the West don’t know about the Middle East.

  • Middle Eastern love songs are brimming with passion. There’s a song for just about every kind of love you can imagine.
  • There is a time-honored tradition of active volunteerism to help the less fortunate, especially among women.
  • The editorial pages in Middle Eastern newspapers are vibrant forums of discussion on all kinds of tough issues.
  • Egyptian cinema had a golden age in the 1940’s and 1950’s .
  • Extended family members support each other generously, usually without expecting repayment.
  • People learn to play traditional musical instruments as an avocation and play in amateur ensembles and orchestras.
  • Iranians play a poetry parlor game in which one person recites a line of poetry. The next person has to pick up where the last one left off with another poetry quote that begins with the last word of the previous line. And they even try to stick to the repertoire of one poet!
  • The Middle East produces music videos called ‘Video Clips’ that mix Middle Eastern, western and Indian influences.
  • Persians have an ancient and complex etiquette system known as Ta’arof.
  • Many Middle Eastern families are ethnically diverse, especially in the cities.
  • Women sing and play music in every Middle Eastern country, including Saudi Arabia.  
  • Middle Easterners love their soap operas. Not OUR 'soaps', THEIR 'soaps'.
  • The Turkish Ottoman sultans had female court musicians and composers.
  • Lebanese poets hold all-night singing poetry duels called zajal, brimming with satire and hilarious insult.
  • Middle Easterners love to tell jokes. Who are the funniest? I nominate the Egyptians.
  • Middle Easterners regularly commit quiet acts of cross-cultural hospitality. They invite complete strangers to visit their homes. Ask any westerner who has lived in the Middle East about this.

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