As a crossroads of cultures, Jordan never struggles to capture the interest of the outside world. The kingdom’s iconic Roman ruins, numerous Christian and Islamic heritage sites, and picturesque desertscapes attract visitors from the Muslim and Western worlds alike. Jordan’s strategic position between Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syria has also made it an indispensable partner for world powers and the United States in particular. The Jordanian music scene, however, remains an all-too-local affair –– a trend that Linda Hijazi wants to change.
Hijazi, a Jordanian academic and musician, believes that Jordanian song deserves a place on the global stage, even as it has struggled to compete with the music scenes of the Middle East’s best-known cultural capitals. Songs in the Egyptian and Lebanese dialects of Arabic have become hits across the Arab world, and artists from the Persian Gulf have achieved their own measure of international success. Meanwhile, Jordanian music has yet to develop the same kind of reach.
“I am optimistic about the future of Jordanian song, and we must work to restore its identity and personality, which unfortunately we see as ‘lost’ among the Lebanese, Egyptian, and Gulf dialects,” Hijazi in 2016. “There are those who find it easy to present a song that is supposed to be ‘Jordanian’ in the Lebanese or Egyptian dialect.”
“I am optimistic about the future of Jordanian song, and we must work to restore its identity and personality.”
Hijazi has spearheaded efforts to establish a role for Jordan in the Arab music scene through her own work, which makes frequent use of Jordanian Arabic. The Jordanian dialect, a cousin of the Lebanese variant, belongs to the Levantine Arabic family. This classification means that Jordanian Arabic benefits from accessibility: in and , studies published in scientific journals found that offshoots of Levantine Arabic bore a significant resemblance not only to one another but also to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), a literary language understood across the Arab world.
Thanks to these linguistic phenomena, Hijazi’s work –– and Jordanian music as a whole –– can build a fanbase well outside her homeland even as she sings in Jordanian Arabic. Her songs also tend to deal with themes that can appeal to a global audience.
Hijazi’s single “” (“On My Mind”) tells a story familiar to any fan of love songs. “How your love changed my life and made the bitterness of life sweet,” the song says of a lover, adding, “You’re the one whom the heart misses, and you’re the one beyond compare.”
While these lyrics hardly tread new thematic ground, they offer Hijazi an opportunity to continue building an identity for Jordanian music. One line in “3bali” that goes, “I love him so much that I want him to be happy all the time, and I’m very lucky I have his kind heart,” relies on phrasing unique to Jordanian Arabic to convey the extent of these romantic feelings.
Hijazi’s lyrics offer he an opportunity to continue building an identity for Jordanian music.
Hijazi’s most recent single, “” (“I Wonder If”) covers a similar subject but appears to address a more complex relationship. “I wonder if you ever yearn, and one day if you would say that you knew her, loved her, and melted with her love,” the song reflects. The lyrics soon take a darker turn as the lover comes under verbal assault: “Your silence is no surprise. Your cowardice is the problem. Answer! Finish what you have started.”
“Ya Hal Tara” marks the latest development in a decades-long career for Hijazi, whose focus on Jordanian Arabic belies the part that Arab music from elsewhere in the Middle East played in her growth as an artist.
Hijazi grew up in the 1970s, which coincided with the birth of her fascination with music. She told the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour for that her artistic exploits began at age four, when she would imitate the trend-setting Egyptian actress and musician Shadia. At seven, Hijazi memorized the songs of the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.
According to the Ad-Dustour interview, Hijazi embarked on a tour of the world in the 1980s. She informed the newspaper that she had participated in two iterations of the World Festival of Youth and Students — the first in the Soviet Union in 1985, and the second in North Korea in 1989. She also stopped at a festival in Greece and at one point attended an art school in Iraq.
Hijazi’s extensive experience overseas has prepared her to engage with a global audience. In 2018, the organizers of an event in Italy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Hijazi to present one of her songs, “And What Comes Next,” in addition to receiving an award. She represented the only musician from the Arab world or Asia to receive such an honor. The other nine awardees came from Europe, the Americas, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Within the Arab world, Hijazi has taken further steps to boost her reach. She used not Jordanian Arabic but MSA, a more familiar language in some far-flung corners of the Arab world, to sing “,” which means “The Traitorous Heart.” The song recounts the woes of a scorned woman, lamenting, “I pray for her from the bottom of my loving heart that she doesn’t continue living in sadness,” before it begs, “To the person who was unjust to her, please take it easy on her soul.”
To boost her reach, she used Modern Standard Arabic to sing “”
Despite Hijazi’s efforts and successes, she seems likely to encounter significant obstacles to achieving widespread recognition for herself, or for Jordanian Arabic as a music genre. Songs from Egypt, Lebanon, and the Gulf continue to predominate. The iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz remains a household name at age 87, a level of fame that the best-known Jordanian musicians will struggle to rival. It also did Jordan’s music scene no favors when Adham Nabulsi, among the kingdom’s most popular singers, the music industry late last year.
Hijazi herself still looks to other Arab artists for inspiration. Her song “And What Comes Next” draws on the poetry of the Saudi writer Saleh Al-Shady. “Alqalb Alkhaen,” for its part, reuses the words of the Kuwaiti poet Mohammed Hammoud al-Baghili, an indication that even the most determined Jordanian musicians have difficulty escaping the region-spanning influence of other Arab artists.
For now, Hijazi’s fanbase appears small. While her YouTube video for “3bali” boasts over 256,000 views, Hijazi’s Instagram account, , has just 3,000 followers; on , she has only one monthly listener. In comparison, the Tunisian duo , which has launched a promising bid to reinvigorate their own country’s Arabic dialect and had a song featured in the Jordanian television series AlRawabi School for Girls, has over monthly Spotify listeners.
Hijazi did not respond to Inside Arabia’s repeated requests for comment, leaving it unclear how she intends to confront these challenges. At the same time, her academic credentials give her a level of authority that other artists might lack. She has singing at the University of Jordan and earned a doctorate in music education from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon, where she wrote her dissertation on the relationship between performance and improvisation. Few other Arab musicians possess doctorates.
If Hijazi can marshal decades of academic, musical, and international experience into some level of regional celebrity, she stands a strong chance of putting Jordanian Arabic on the map of music in the Arab world. Nonetheless, she must also navigate a formidable series of obstacles if the Jordanian music scene hopes to compete with its more popular neighbors.