Waad: #1 with a Bullet


The most popular music video in the Arab world, according to the Beirut-based countdown show Top Ten, is currently "Aala Meen" ("Whose Fault?"), performed by an elegantly beautiful woman named Waad. That brings the Arab music-video revolution to Saudi Arabia: Waad is a Saudi, and until now her country has yielded very few women pop singers, and certainly nobody like her. Even the Arab world's music fans are interested in her phenomenon, in part because Waad's career is a spectacle that includes the potential of danger. Indeed, there have already been an alleged kidnapping and an attempt on her life by an outraged brother.

By the often-racy standards of music videos by singers from Lebanon (and to a lesser degree from Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco), Waad's video is pretty tame. By Saudi pop standards, however, it's a breakthrough. Like other Gulf women singers, Waad remains covered below the neck. (She does wear a pantsuit, however, which is frowned on by some moral conservatives; one Egyptian cleric recently issued a fatwa against ironing women's pants because it would be abetting a woman in wrongdoing.) But while other Gulf women singers generally remain immobile while performing so as not to appear provocative, Waad moves around freely, swaying to her music. By contrast, a Waad video last year was notably austere: Sitting on a stool in an otherwise empty set, her only physical movement was to accompany her lyrics by "signing" them for the deaf.

Swaying and pants may not seem like much, but then one of her brothers has allegedly tried to kill her simply because she sings in public, a story that is an important aspect of Waad's public persona. For example, here is a page where Arab music fans discuss Waad's music, her Saudi-ness, her appearances on Arab reality TV shows, her dark complexion, and, inevitably, the attempt on her life. According to the version on the forum, Waad's brother, Muhammad Bakar Yunus Al-Fallatta, tried to kill her during a concert.

A different version appears in this April 2004 account in the Saudi paper, Arab News. According to the brother's own father-in-law, Al-Fallatta and another brother disguised themselves as women and followed Waad into a Cairo TV studio. Al-Fallatta fired a gun in his sister's direction, then escaped. The same source adds that later, Waad, who lives in Lebanon, "was drugged and kidnapped and smuggled back into Saudi Arabia"; Al-Fallatta was reportedly "under investigation for the kidnapping" of his sister. (These allegations are "back story"; the account is really about Al-Fallatta beating his own wife nearly to death because she answered their ringing home phone.)

In fact, Waad's video seems to make use of the air of impending danger around her. The clip's opening titles identify her character in the video as on the run and in hiding, though the nature of that danger is left to the viewers' understanding. In short, Waad appears to be exploiting the very challenges to her unusual role of Saudi diva to enhance her career. The bigger her career, of course, the more she may contribute to the pressure for social change within Saudi Arabia.