Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Zahma Ya Dunia, Tom Cruise

An advertisement for MBC news (shown, appropriately enough, on the other MBC stations) features a prematurely gray-haired man getting picked up by a garrulous young Egyptian taxi driver whose mustache is too big for his face. There are enough shots from directly overhead as the taxi speeds up deserted streets to identify the ad as spoofing in some way the 2004 Michael Mann thriller Collateral, which starred Tom Cruise as a hitman and Jamie Foxx as his taxi driver-cum-fall guy. (MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center, is based in London, I believe, and is one of the biggest Arabic-language channels.)

The joke would be sweet and not worthy of mention were it not for the fact that, as the ad draws to a close, the taxi driver starts singing "Zahma Ya Dunia Zahma," the famous and famously vulgar song by Ahmad Adawiya that is discussed so exhaustively by Walter Armbrust in his book Mass Cultura and Modernism in Egypt.

I recognize that the point of the ad is to show how vulgar the Egyptian taxi driver is (presumably working in the Gulf somewhere, because the streets are so empty and the buildings so shiny), and I guess he's uninformed because of doesn't watch MBC. But why "Zahma Ya Dunia," the quintessential song about a city so crowded you can't hear yourself think, when they're driving through such an empty, uncrowded city?

Zahma ya dunia zahma
zahma wala 'adsh rahma
mulid we sahbuh ghayib

Crowded, the world is crowded
Crowded, and mercy never comes
A Mulid (prophet's festival) without its leader

But since the song is just generally popular around the Middle East, especially after the Gypsy Kings did a version, and is used to sell stuff in Spain, Greece, Israel, maybe it's just a catchy tune...


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