Although it is home to some of the world's most famous classical remains, the spectacular vistas of the Wadi Rum and the rose red city of Petra, Jordan is a country considerably wealthier in heritage than it is in dollars. It is also a country that has been characterized for the last fifty years or so by its openness to the West, and specifically, thanks to the Sandhurst-educated King Hussein (who died in 1999).
Around three quarters of Jordan could be described as desert, so it is no surprise that Jordanian music exhibits a strong Bedouin influence. Rural zajal songs, improvised poetry played with rabab (spike fiddle) and mijwis (reed pipe) accompaniment is popular. Other folk songs tend to be narratives concerning family, love, death and honor. Purely instrumental music is rare. One of the musical highlights of the year in Jordan is the annual Jerash Festival. For the last 25 years it has become a fixture on the Arab (and international) musical scene. Under royal patronage, it takes place in the ancient Greek-Roman city of Jerash with the panoply of amphitheaters, temples, and forums opens used as stages for the artists and audiences.
In terms of popular music, Jordan is not known as a centre of production, and few of its singers make the leap to popularity beyond their borders. The bedouin singer Omar Abdullat is perhaps Jordan's biggest star, known for his patriotic debut "Hashemi, Hashemi." He has been singing professionally since 1988 and has represented Jordan in a number of international music festivals. He has also traveled for concerts in the US and Europe and has also composed for other artists such as the Syrian Asala Nasri and the late Tunisian singer Thikra, as well as a number of Jordanian artists.
Other well-known Jordanian singers include Qamar Badwan, a graduate of the Jordanian National Music Conservatory, who has performed internationally, Ghada Abbasi and Ibrahim Khalifa. On the art music scene, Ayman Tayseer is behind a project to play the songs of Mohammed Abdelwahab in latin-jazz settings arranged by Jordanian jazz pianist and composer Omar Faqir.
No country in the Middle East has remained untouched in recent years by the television talent show phenomenon, including Jordan. The first winner of the Middle East Superstar series was Diana Karazon, a student of aviation sciences at Amman Private University who impressed the viewing audience with her interpretations of Oum Kalthoum songs, and who, since winning in 2003, has gone on to become Jordan's most visible musical export. Coincidentally, the host of the Superstar series, one Rania Kurdi, is a humorous, characterful Jordanian presenter who has also dabbled in pop, releasing a Madonna-influenced album in 2002. Tom Jackson