America at a Crossroads America at a Crossroads
Video Diaries - Watch video diaries from around the world

Read more» 

Dissonance and Harmony: Arabic Music Goes West - Premiering November 2, 2008

A Cultural Experiment

In the Film »         About the Producers »

Since the attacks of September 11, the U.S. relationships with the countries of the Middle East have become increasingly strained and confusing. But citizens are not governments, and where governments are about politics, citizens are about culture. Where politics is often dedicated to objectives, spin and formality, culture goes deeper and defines real, everyday experience.

Photo by Aaron Stipkovich

Jack Blades, Saad El Soghayar and Miles Copeland


DISSONANCE AND HARMONY presents a rare portal into a vital and entertaining world shared by both Western and Middle Eastern cultures, the world of music. The film examines the struggles and successes of five very different Middle Eastern artists in their homelands and then tracks their experiences coming to the United States to the city of Los Angeles to collaborate with Western musicians.

Music is a reflective product of a society. It offers clues into what’s important to the people who support it. It tells of where they have been and what they want. But music is also a process. Becoming and being known as a musical artist is a challenge anywhere. Understanding the obstacles and the struggle experienced by a society’s artists opens windows to issues of tradition, prejudice, technology, economics, assimilation, political repression and reform.

Middle-East map

Featured musicians by country:

Egypt 1

Saad El Soghayar, an Egyptian pop star from the poorest neighborhoods of Cairo, who became a phenomenon singing of the joys and sorrows of everyday life.

Jordan 2

Tareq Al Nassar, a successful Jordanian composer and devout Muslim clarifies the difficulties of prevailing as an artist when the close proximity of war is a near constant.

Lebanon 3

Wael Kodeih (a.k.a. Rayess Bek) is the first Arabic speaking hip-hop artist in the region. His music searches for a lost identity experienced by many Lebanese who have survived the long history of conflict in their homeland.

Tania Saleh, also Lebanese, presents an activist’s message that challenges the rights of large, powerful countries to manipulate and dictate terms to smaller ones.

Iraq 4

Ilham Al Madfai, an Iraqi legend, forced from Baghdad by Saddam Hussein for simply being the first to bring Western instruments to classic Iraqi folkloric music.


Photo by Aaron Stipkovich

Charlotte Caffey collaborates with Tania Saleh on lyrics

Once in L.A., many of them on their first trip to the U.S., these Arab artists spend four days collaborating with an equally eclectic group of accomplished Western musicians. Included are: Gustavo Santaolalla, the Academy Award-winning Argentinean musician and composer; RZA, the imaginative leader of the internationally celebrated Wu-Tang Clan; Nile Rodgers, a gifted guitarist-songwriter-producer and major influence on the U.S. music scene for over 30 years; and Charlotte Caffey, songwriter and guitarist from the renowned all-girl band The GoGos.

These talents and many others mix and match with their Arab guests in a highly creative musical environment, struggling to understand each others’ completely different systems and methods of making music. In the end, after much experimentation, there is common ground, and some great new Arab-American music, ending in a concert at the Roxy in the heart of Hollywood.

Everyday life and making a living in the Middle East is, in many ways, different than it is in the United States. Repairing perception begins with seeing these differences, because, up close, cultural differences are clearly not threatening. They are, in fact, fascinating, and ultimately, as cultures are allowed to merge, our differences give way to reveal simple humanity and these other people become as familiar as our own neighbors.

Back to top

ShopPBS: America at a Crossroads DVD ShopPBS
Buy the DVDs at ShopPBS
Funded By:
Corporation for
Public Broadcasting
America at a Crossroads is a production
of WETA Washington, D.C.
All Rights Reserved. Published April 2007
PBS Privacy Policy | Terms of Use