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Saudi Arabia's Accolade:

Last week, the New York Times profiled The Accolade, an all-girl rock band from, of all places, Saudi Arabia.

They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom.

But the members of Saudi Arabia's first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.

The band's first single, "Pinocchio," has become an underground hit here, with hundreds of young Saudis downloading the song from the group's MySpace page. Now, the pioneering foursome, all of them college students, want to start playing regular gigs — inside private compounds, of course — and recording an album.

Syd Henderson (mail):
They cannot pose for album cover photographs. No problem. They can call it the Pink Album.
11.30.2008 11:13am
resh (mail):
Could this be a sign that dope, tattoos and body-piercings are soon to follow? Let's face it: the "burga-look" was getting old.

Besides, look at the upside: al Zawahiri and bin Laden can now have local, westernized background music when they air one their piety cants on YouTube.
11.30.2008 11:30am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
There are various rumors running around the Arab Gulf States that as a result of the NYT article the band is being persecuted by social conservatives.

The girls are smart, though... they're staying within both the legal and the social constraints they face. They could push envelopes if they chose, but seem to be happy doing it as they do.
11.30.2008 11:34am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
BTW, resh: tattoos, already forbidden in Islam, are to be found among Saudi youths. This is in addition to tribal tattoos, seen mostly on older Bedouin women these days.

Dope is already a problem, with a cultural preference being shown for Captagon, an amphetamine. Heroin, marijuana, hash, and Ecstasy have their followers, though.

Piercing is somewhat permitted (for women's ears), but strongly discouraged in all other circumstances.
11.30.2008 12:41pm
resh (mail):
Thanks for the cultural update, JB. I'll bet that tattoo'd Bedouin look is irresistable....

The (satirical?) point I was really pursuing was, if Janis Joplin types had prevailed in Riyadh in the '60s, would bin Laden have prevailed in '01?
11.30.2008 1:04pm
Paul Milligan (mail):
Maybe they'll do a cover of the ALLMAN BRO'S 'WHIPPING POST' ??

In fact, I'm SURE they wil ......
11.30.2008 1:15pm
Grigor:
It really is long past time to install one of those automated text filters to replace the shopworn "ultraconservative" in this context with "barbaric."
11.30.2008 1:27pm
VFBVFB (mail):
I went to The Accolade's MySpace page last week as soon as I read the New York Times article. At the time, it had only a few thousand people who viewed its MySpace page. Now it's over two hundred thousand views. The Accolade has a total of one song and no record deal, although now that they received all this media attention, it will be easier to get one.

It is not much of a band, so this seems to be a case of the Times making the story rather than reporting it.

With that said, I wish them the band members well, as I do all people that are struggling to deal with the restrictions of totalitarian and/or theocratic rule.
11.30.2008 2:24pm
Cornellian (mail):

It is not much of a band, so this seems to be a case of the Times making the story rather than reporting it.


I think the story is not that they're a great band, but that they exist at all, sort of like a North Korean rap singer.
11.30.2008 3:55pm
scosm:
Cool story and worth reporting, but "hundreds" of downloads = "underground hit"?
11.30.2008 4:30pm
VFBVFB (mail):
--- I think the story is not that they're a great band, but that they exist at all, sort of like a North Korean rap singer. ---

I was not commenting on its greatness but its popularity. The article notes that "hundreds of young Saudis download[ed] the song from the group's MySpace page." In a country of with more than 20 million people, (excluding resident foreigners) that is not of much significance.
11.30.2008 4:34pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
VFBVFB: Your analysis misses the fact that most Saudis do not actually access the Internet. When I left there in 2003, only 2% of the population had access. The most recent, 2007 stats I've seen say it's now up to 20%.

It could be that young Saudis prefer a different kind of music, of course: Death Metal in Saudi Arabia
11.30.2008 6:26pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I was not commenting on its greatness but its popularity. The article notes that "hundreds of young Saudis download[ed] the song from the group's MySpace page." In a country of with more than 20 million people, (excluding resident foreigners) that is not of much significance."

The Saudis have long used parallel distribtion channels to get what they want. For example, fax trees would distribute unauthorized written materials, and speeches would circulate from hand to hand on cassettes. There was very little internet when I left Saudi, but I would expect them to use the same circumspect distribution methods. A few download from the source, then many smaller sources pop up so it quickly percolates through the population.

My initial thought when I read this was the religious authorities would put the arm on the leaders of the girls' tribes and clans, and the girls would suddenly lose interest in music and decide to pursue other interests. Saudi isn't the USA, and they don't think or act like we do.

It's strange. I had one of the first internet connections and was looking for some documentation on the Excel spreadsheet. So, I went to Yahoo and entered MSEXCEL. That inquiry was blocked and I had to explain why I was searching for sex on the internet, as in mSEXcel. Such is life in the Magic Kingdom.
11.30.2008 9:53pm
Waldensian (mail):
Another 25 years, and we'll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight.*

*Proving once again that "Blazing Saddles" has a line suitable for all occasions.
12.1.2008 12:25am
Barry P. (mail):
Elliot123:

My Saudi ex-pat buddies tell me that Hotmail was once banned in the Kingdom.

In the Emirates the lines are a little more blurred. Flickr, for example, was banned and unbanned several times in a few weeks. Same with MySpace.

Skype, of course, remans totally off-limits.

Grigor: ultraconservative and barbaric are not synonyms. One can be either, both or neither. But it cannot be denied that many elements of Islam are ultraconservative, i.e., highly resistant to change.
12.1.2008 1:50am
Keystone (mail):
They are not the first (or last) Saudi rock band, and they are not the first Saudi all-girl band either. Chicks Behind Walls are Saudi's first all-girl rock band.

A fellow Saudi band who is also struggling is Sandstoned; three of the band members, including the vocalist, are Saudi nationals. Regardless of gender, all rock artists in Saudi Arabia struggle to find live venues; the laws in the Kingdom are gender-blind when it comes to such matters of propriety.
12.1.2008 7:16am
SANE (mail):
I found VFBVFB's comment a bit foggy:


With that said, I wish them the band members well, as I do all people that are struggling to deal with the restrictions of totalitarian and/or theocratic rule.

Granted that totalitarian regimes abound on the planet, what "theocratic" states exist that are not Islamic and driven by Shariah?
12.1.2008 7:46am
A.C.:
People in those societies simply have to find cultural outlets that aren't religion or politics. A lot of young people in the Muslim world are un- or under-employed, and there doesn't seem to be a lot for them to do. Any kind of cultural creativity is to be encouraged, whether it is music (any kind), writing, or sports. It's the alternative to both fanaticism and decadence.

(70s rock star stereotypes aside, does anyone know any serious artist or athlete who isn't extremely disciplined and goal-oriented?)
12.1.2008 9:24am
Elliot123 (mail):
"People in those societies simply have to find cultural outlets that aren't religion or politics."

Note there is no political outlet in Saudi. To find that, they have to go somewhere else. They export their political unrest.
12.1.2008 11:13am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
SANE.
Non-Islamic theocracies. The US under Bush. You can look it up.
In fact, in various posts and comments over the years, some commenters have asserted it as if it were a proven fact beyond dispute.
But now that O is going to be pres, we won't have that problem.
Seems that the Trinity money-coining machine his on-again, off-again spiritual mentor milked for twenty years is less evangelical and totalitarian than the UMC.
12.1.2008 11:36am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I think that if Saudi Arabia wants to ban women from making music and playing it in public, they should be allowed to. Who are we to judge another's values and culture in this multicultural world? What makes our culture any more superior to theirs? After all, America doesn't exactly treat women well either.
12.1.2008 1:58pm
Pat C (mail):
SANE,

Would the Vatican count as a non-Islamic theocratic state? Of course, the Papal state used to be much larger than it is today.

During medieval times, I think a lot of European states had elements resembling the theocracies we see today. Dissent or noncompliance with the established religion was punishable.

I wonder if in a couple more centuries the Islamic world will reach the point the Christian world is at today.
12.1.2008 6:48pm
Saudi (mail):
In Saudi we proud ourselves of the great values we possess not by how outsiders see us. People who never been to Saudi view the whole country from very narrow angle such as women do not sing, women do not drive...etc. Strange enough we have western families who came to Saudi to work for 3 years and end up living there for 30 years. Why is that? Simply because they found the positives outweigh the negatives and they willingly gave up women driving, and minor things they may enjoyed back home to raise their children in a better society. In case you do not know, we had and we still have female singers, actresses and just because these girls sang in English, it is a big deal. One thing to highlight is the values these girls have, they are against drugs, alcohol and all the harmful habits that goes with music in the west. I personally went to college in the west, worked there and spent more than 20 years in the west but I would never immigrate to and live anywhere else. I love Saudi Arabia and I am sure so do these singers
12.1.2008 10:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Strange enough we have western families who came to Saudi to work for 3 years and end up living there for 30 years. Why is that? Simply because they found the positives outweigh the negatives and they willingly gave up women driving, and minor things they may enjoyed back home to raise their children in a better society."

You know as well as I do that Westerners live in gated comunities, shut off from the Saudi society. Inside those communities, they are not subject to the rules of Saudi society. For example, women drive inside the compounds, wear normal western clothing with no abaya, and freely associate with men.

The average Saudi couldn't even drive beyond the second gate of the huge Aramco camp in Dhahran. Westerners go to their own schools, their kids associate with other westerners, and most companies send the western teenagers off to western boarding schools. While there is a great deal of professional interaction on the job, there is very litle social interaction between the westerners and the Saudis.

How many of those westerners even bothered to learn Arabic? Even after 30 years? How many embraced Islam? Why did some stay 30 years? Who knows? Maybe they like the Sid.
12.1.2008 11:14pm