There's a really fascinating story over at PRI about Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni who grew up in what constitutes an extremely liberal family. She speaks fluent American English with zero discernable accent. She thinks and writes in English too. Her father is into Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and Rotana listened to Western top 40 hits and loved to sing.
In Saudi Arabia, music carries a major social stigma. There's a tiny underground music scene, but for women, especially, it's not like you can audition at clubs or play open mic nights. Instead, Tarabzouni finished school and worked in public relations for a Saudi oil company.She moved to LA, where she could take voice lessons and be near the biz. While there, she read about protests back in Saudi against the female driving ban there. In support of this, she wrote a cover of Lorde's song Team. She altered some of the lyrics to reflect the struggle of her sisters. That got over 300,000 hits and drew both praise and the ire of religious folk back in her country.
Here's the part of the story, though, where fate intervenes. On vacation in Boston, on a whim, she went to a casting call. She blew them away. And then she went back to Saudi Arabia and started thinking. There was a way to become a pop star in Saudi Arabia, she realized. She just had to become a pop star in the US first.
She says, "It's really horrible what people say. Like people will say like, I hope you die, I hope you burn in hell, you're a slut, this that and the other ... I have just two extremes: people absolutely hate me, and then people who are like, oh my God, this is so incredible, you are so inspiring."You can listen to the entire PRI report here.
The report references a more detailed interview with Rotana over at Narratively: The Saudi That Dared to Sing, which is well worth the read.
Finally, here's Rotana's latest single for a new LP she's working on.
These hangups against music and especially women performing music are all mixed up with religion in Saudi Arabia. Secular music is a threat to a religious institution which attempts to associate itself with all forms of expression and joy in all of society.
Best of luck to Rotana!