Home Muslim culture ‘Arabs and Muslims showed off their costumes in true strange glory’ – the pride I will never forget | Pride

‘Arabs and Muslims showed off their costumes in true strange glory’ – the pride I will never forget | Pride

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Ohen I was a child in Bahrain, I dreaded family celebrations. Not because I didn’t want to see my loved ones, but because I was too scared to dance. Some Arabic music is more than sumptuous. It’s achingly romantic, dynamic and playful, filled to the brim with the most over-the-top metaphors you’ll ever hear, composed with the lushest instrumentals. The camp melodrama is a gay kid’s dream come true…or worst nightmare, as the opulent emotional sounds almost have you dancing out the door. As a child terrified of the very real repercussions of being found out to be gay, Arabic music was my forbidden fruit at family events, tempting me to reveal myself and thus secure my exile.

As a child, I was particularly obsessed with the music of Umm Kulthum, the 20th-century Egyptian singer whose voice mesmerized the Arab world with her fiery gravitas. Her voice is full of emotion and her lyrics are steeped in drama – listening to her can be an overwhelming experience. I used to watch my mom and her friends dance to it, while I sat in the corner with my brother, my dad, and all the other boys, restrained from moving my body as the music demanded.

‘His voice is full of emotion and his lyrics are steeped in drama’… Umm Kulthum. Photograph: CPA Media Pte Ltd/Alamy

During my teenage years, my sexuality and general behavior became a real problem for my family and community, who feared that I would fall into sin and bring them shame. My behavior was controlled and punished in all kinds of ways. It was an extremely difficult time in my life. Living in the UK since the age of 11, I came to the reductive conclusion that my Arab heritage and my queer identity were incompatible, and so I distanced myself from my cultural roots. Came out the low-budget Walkman CD Umm Kulthum, and the considerably less poetic Blue,.

When I first started going to gay clubs at 18, it was the Madonna, Diana Ross and Lady Gaga soundtrack that allowed me to move my body more naturally, without the fear of family judgment. But no music could ever match the magical theatricality of the Arabic music I grew up around. Everything changed when I attended Black Pride in London in 2018.

Amrou Al-Kadhi at Pride.
Amrou Al-Kadhi at Pride. Photography: Courtesy of Amrou Al-Kadhi

As I was walking, a shy, handsome Arab man walked up to me, telling me he knew about my work and was grateful to have seen queer Arab representation in the media. With a bewitching look, they beckoned me and my friends to come with them to “Pride of Arabia”.

We were guided to a hidden pocket of Black Pride, away from the main stage and large crowds. I soon found myself among a group of queer Arabs and Muslims, sporting the costumes of their past in true queer glory, a lot in drag, belly dancing to Arabic sounds that uplifted them and (for some) shut them out. .

I didn’t think the timing could be better, but the rich, powerful sound of Umm Kulthum’s voice came out of the speakers. And there, on the corner of a south London field, I finally merged my queer identity with my Arab heritage, and danced freely to the music that had orchestrated my childhood.