CARGC Colloquium by Rayya El Zein

Revamping Gender: Nostalgia and Affect in Beirut's Musical Cabarets
02 Nov 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
3901 Walnut Street, Room 602

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This presentation considers the aesthetic, multi-media, and performative strategies of a growing repertoire of independent musical performances in the Lebanese capital. Since 2013, a sequence of well-received musical “cabarets” have emerged within a media landscape that has been steeped in a repetitive commercial formula decades. By consciously inverting expectations of both traditional and contemporary “pop,” the cabarets access and refresh a shared, Arabic musical repertoire. Playing to increasingly wide audiences, they create a familiar but fictional world for Arab consumption that poses new political questions about spectatorship and the histories and affect of live and mediated popular music in the region. This presentation explores performances of popular and commercial femininity in Arab musical performance and media through the perspective of the listener and spectator. We explore the range of affects in the consumption of belly dance, tarab, and other popular modes of Arab musical performance. In doing so, we pose questions about the political possibilities for nostalgia in the live musical revue in the region. Borrowing from sound studies, affect theory, Arab ethnomusicology, media studies, and musical theatre scholarship, this talk explores how a new, deliberately kitsch aesthetic opens space to reimagine a shared cultural identity with a fiercely forward-looking imagination.


Rayya El Zein holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research concerns processes of live cultural production, popular culture and media, and audiences in urban Arab contexts and diasporas. In her work, she examines the political economy of consumption and leisure as an important part of the politics of reception and spectatorship. To date, this research has centered on these dynamics in live music and the media representations of hybrid cultural phenomena amid patterns of neoliberal growth in the Levant. Her first book is concerned with emergent politics in rap and hip hop concerts in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Rayya’s ongoing research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication at the Annenberg School for Communications will examine notions of affect, materiality, the popular, and the sonic in Arabic. Her writing has appeared in Lateral, the Journal of Palestine Studies, Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Ethnomusicology Forum and on the e-zine Jadaliyya.

This event is co-sponsored by the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lunch begins at 11:45. Space is limited, RSVP to

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