Imagine how much Arabic you could learn if you had every Arabic dialect available at your fingertips.
What if you could simply tap a few keys and hear the difference between Egyptian Arabic and Gulf Arabic?
The truth is, you can!
By learning Arabic through music, you can hear and learn to distinguish all the Arabic dialects.
This is a great way to learn anyway, because learning a language through music unlocks the door to that language and helps us retain it better.
With Arabic, there are many variations to the language that can be broken up into five major categories:
1. Egyptian (The most widely-understood regional dialect.)
2. Levantine (A dialect closely related to Aramaic.)
3. Gulf (The closest to Modern Standard Arabic of all the dialects.)
4. Iraqi (Let’s see how smart we can make ourselves sound with this one… umm… it’s the one from Iraq.)
5. Maghrebi (The least-understood dialect throughout other regions of the Arabic-speaking world.)
By listening to Arabic music, you’ll learn the different dialects and improve your overall comprehension skills.
So, let’s look at 10 of the greatest singers in the Arab world to get an earful of the five different major Arabic dialects together.
10 Famous Arabic-language Singers by Dialect
1. Egyptian artist Mohamed Mounir
This well-known artist incorporates all sorts of aspects of Arab and African culture into his music. He has even sung poems for brilliant, respected poets such as Abd Elreheem Mansour. Mounir has also appeared on “Arab Idol.”
His song “حكايتى مع الزمان” (My Story with Time) is a slower one with a basic, repetitive chorus that’s easy to learn.
Mounir’s style is particularly interesting because he blends traditional Egyptian folk music with modern pop into one complex, catchy mix. This is the secret to his connection with multiple generations. Older people love the traditional folk they hear in his music, and younger people love the modern pop they hear in the exact same songs.
2. Lebanese artist Nancy Ajram
Men are not the only ones who rank high in popularity in Arabic-language music. Female singer Nancy Ajram is one of the most talented singers in all the Middle East.
In one of her famous songs, “ما تيجي هنا” (Why Don’t You…?), Ajram follows the question with a series of flirtatious invitations for her lover to explore more of her passion for him.
3. Syrian artist Nassif Zaitoun
This singer is also known as Abu Lias. He’s the 2010 winner of the Arab reality TV show “Star Academy.”
His song “لرميك ببلاش” (Throw You Away for Free) is wonderfully written in poetic form. The words themselves are moving, as they make reference to his deep love for his lady, though the song dives into a breakup.
Zaitoun has a way with words, a poetic use of the Arabic language, that provokes the passions of the soul.
4. Jordanian artist Adham Nabulsi
This young artist got his claim to fame after taking part in the TV talent show “X Factor Arabia” in 2013. He’s most beloved among Jordanian and Palestinian music lovers but does perform in other countries as well.
His song “نسخة منك” (A Copy of You) is about his endless search to find the love he had for one woman in every other woman he meets. This song can be both helpful and challenging for beginners because he uses very modern words that aren’t common in Arabic language learning resources. For example, he uses the concept of “copy-and-paste” to describe looking for this woman in others. While the slangy nature of his lyrics can be a bit confusing, it’s helpful to learn modern phrases.
5. Bahraini artist Hala Al Turk
Amazing talent is not the only thing that makes this artist stand out from the rest. She’s only 14 years old! Al Turk reached public acclaim after being selected for “Arabs Got Talent” in 2011.
Her hit song “Live in the Moment” is about enjoying life as it comes. After its release on YouTube, this song alone got 15 million views! Her music is generally upbeat and positive, which makes for very pleasant listening experiences.
6. Emirati artist Ahlam
Ahlam is extremely prolific with 13 full albums released to date. She has been crowed “Queen” of numerous festivals throughout Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE.
Her song “هذا انا” (It’s Me) is a slow, sad song about loneliness. It’s good to learn this one, however, because she repeats the refrain and sings clearly. Also, the slower pace of the song makes for easier learning and comprehension.
7. Omani artist Al Wasmi
Al Wasmi sings a regional form of pop music that’s predominantly known throughout the Gulf states. He’s popular among the youth of that region in part because of his voice, but also due to his charisma and personal connection with his fans.
His song “يا صاحبي” (My Friend) has more of a traditional Arab sound than some of the other songs on this list. Although he lives in the UAE and married an Emirati, his music still reflects the cultural traditions of his native Oman.
8. Iraqi artist Kadim Al Sahir
Kadim is one of the most established singers in the Arab world. His music ranges from romantic ballads to pop and even Arab classical music. He performs with an entire orchestra and, being one of the only Iraqi singers established throughout the entire Middle East, he has been dubbed “Iraq’s Ambassador to the World.”
His song “لجسمك عطر خطير النوايا” (Your Body’s Fragrance Has Serious Intentions) is a beautifully performed work of art that displays the beauty of both his vocals and the musical talent of his orchestra.
What makes his style particularly interesting is that the Iraqi dialect sounds very foreign to and distinct from other Arabic dialects. It’s the only dialect that substitutes the “p” sound for the “b” sound. Hearing Al Sahir sing with this distinct accent is enough to catch the ear of any Arabic learner.
9. Moroccan artist Douzi
This artist is definitely worth checking out. His music is fun, and his reputation continues to grow even in the United States. Here’s a video of him performing at an Orlando Magic halftime show.
His most famous song is “أنا مغربي” (I Am Moroccan). Even though the other artist raps the verses in Dutch, Douzi still performs the chorus and bridge in Maghrebi Arabic. The video shows fun beach scenes of the Moroccan coast and celebrates the festive culture. His remix of the song is more upbeat and excludes the Dutch verses but is also very fun to listen to.
What makes Douzi’s style stand out is his blending of Western culture into his music. Rap, for example, is uncommon in Arab culture in comparison with Europe and the United States. Douzi, however, incorporates rap and a version of R&B into much of his Arab music. This could be why his fame continues to rise in the West and catch the attention of the younger generation in the East.
Honorary Mention: All the Dialects!
10. Tamer Hosny
Tamer Hosny is extremely beloved and celebrated throughout the entire Middle East. He’s an Egyptian singer and actor.
He sings his song “كل اللهجات” (All Dialects) in a variety of different Arabic dialects. It’s about how he loves his lady so much that he will sing his love for her in every Arabic dialect available to the Arab world. The chorus is him saying he loves her “a lot, a lot” using the specific vocabulary words and regional accent of multiple different dialects, one after the other. It’s a wonderful song to enjoy while learning the different Arabic dialects through music.
So whether you end up loving the ancient sounds of Egypt, the Aramaic-like Levantine, the similarities Gulf dialect has with MSA, the uniqueness of Iraq or the more exotic sounds of Maghrebi, music is the way to learn.
With so many singers and a variety of different songs, you could learn Arabic dialects endlessly with music.
Just make sure to know what dialect you’re learning with what song.
Otherwise, you might end up saying in MSA you heard something from a zabab, which is a “messenger,” but can be understood in some dialects to mean a “gigantic deaf rat.”
Aaron J. Daigle is a polyglot with a passion for languages. He also publishes inspirational books and blogs while traveling extensively as a public speaker. Here are his other resources.