A musical Arabian night
Glimpsing another world of hit music at the MGM
Tue, Nov 24, 2009 (2:13 p.m.)
Photo: Ron Koch
The cultural disconnect between the U.S. and the Arab world seems to be growing wider now, despite the billions-to-trillions we’re pouring into the region. We’re not as likely to get as much as Britain did from its collapsed imperial adventures. London’s full of great Indian restaurants; there aren’t many Afghan—or even Iraqi—restaurants popping up in American strip malls. That’s a shame, and not just because we’re missing out on a new ethnic cuisine on our plates.
The music heard at the Sahra concert last Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a fundraising event for the Arab American Medical Association, would seem tailor-made for painlessly widening non-Arabs’ horizons. All three headliners demonstrated a cross-cultural embrace of everything they could usefully lift from their European and American counterparts. Their bands included not only traditional goblet-shaped dumbeks in their percussion sections, but also timbales-and-conga workouts that would have done Tito Puente proud. A border-crossing highlight of the opening set from Rida Al Abdullah, a basset-eyed Syrian ringer for Russell Crowe, was the interplay between his melismatic tenor voice and saxophonist Wisam Khassaf.
The international club-music scene is at least familiar with five-second clips of female Middle Eastern singers, spliced into the routine drum programming to create a quick rush of mood-setting exotica. Getting to hear Syria’s rising star Assala roll out at full length her intense, spiraling vocal lines (broken with an occasional shouted “Hey! Hey! Hey!”—it is pop music, after all) was a pleasure.
Algerian “King of Rai” Khaled was the undoubted star of the Sahra show, though. Formerly known as Cheb Khaled, he’s dropped the prefix (meaning “young man” or “kid”), no doubt seeking a more mature image to fit what his music has become. If no longer quite the fiery quasi-punk taking a fundamentalist-disapproved musical style (due to naughty words and political stances) to as close to crossover status as any Arab musician has gotten, Khaled still has more than enough stage charisma to pull an entire arena audience to its feet.
Actually, the concert seemed from its start more like a championship soccer match, with ongoing eruptions of flag- and scarf-waving, all-male seat dancing and coed sing-alongs. (It’s always a culturally broadening experience to be the only person in the crowd who doesn’t know the words to what are obviously hit songs, something that last happened to me sitting through the Miley Cyrus concert movie.) Better than a soccer match, really, since there was no score to keep (or settle), but instead a one-night “peace, love and music” pan-Arabic Woodstock.
The only ones who lost out were those for whom this music—or any music outside the USA’s territorial limits—hasn’t sparked their personal radar. We’re well into our second generation who consider themselves multicultural merely because they’ve sat through some “diversity training” program and have a bong with Bob Marley’s picture on it sitting on their coffee table. Meanwhile, those “other” people are singing—but we’re not listening. Or at least not yet.
MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.