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Nuits arabes

27/04/2006 - par Mark Tungate

Most of the time the globalisation of popular culture seems inevitable : but there are moments when I'm not so sure. One of these occurred a few nights ago, in a bar on the island of Djerba, Tunisia. Although it was perfectly trendy, the only thing it had in common with a bar in New York was that drinks were served. But here the drinks were mint tea or Turkish coffee, accompanied by silver dishes of pâtisseries. Many customers were also puffing away on the bubbling tobacco pipes called narguile, shisha or houka, depending on where you're from.

Every TV in the bar was tuned to Melody Arabia, the Arabic equivalent of MTV. But it's a very rough equivalent, because there were no American or English songs. This was purely Arabic pop - and it was fascinating. For a start, the videos were highly narrative. I don't understand a word of Arabic, but I could follow exactly what was going on. I was gripped by the story of a young man who became a thief because his mother had been knocked down by a car, and he couldn't afford her hospital fees. By the way, families were everywhere in the videos : along with huge villas and expensive cars. There was also quite a lot of snow, which makes sense because here, snow must be the stuff of dreams. Show me your pop videos, and I will show you your fantasies.

Some people fear that American popular culture will eventually take over the world. But this little corner of Djerba, at least, is resisting.

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