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Music Fans Worldwide Vote for Favorites in Arabian Music Awards - 2004-04-22

Fans of Arab music all over the world can listen to their favorite singers and groups on radio, TV or on line. Now, they can vote for their favorites to win the Arabian Music Awards.

These recently introduced awards honor performers not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe and the United States. And the recognition goes beyond the stars on stage, to those who promote Arabic music outside the boundaries of the Arab World. Justin Timberlake and Norah Jones are as popular in the Middle East as Arab music super stars like Amr Diab and Shereen. And all of them are nominees for the first annual Arabian Music Awards.

"On May 15 there's going to be a big award ceremony and it will include celebrity presenters, performances by artists," says Faris Bouhafa, spokesman for the Arabian Music Academy, which sponsors the Awards.

Mr. Bouhafa says the ceremony in Dubai will be an entertainment spectacle, like the Grammy Awards? but unlike the Grammys, where recording artists select winners, the Arabian Music Award winners will be determined by votes from the fans.

"People in South America who are familiar with the Arabic music, people in Asia, Europe, the United States will be able to participate in the election of the winners," Mr. Bouhafa says. "They go to the Arabian Music Awards web site, which is, then they vote for their favorite artists in each category."

At its inaugural awards ceremony, The Arabian Music Academy will also recognize outstanding efforts to promote Arabic music. Mr. Bouhafa says the honor will go to music manager and distributor Miles Copeland.

"Miles Copeland is the single most active person in this country promoting Arabic music and Arabic culture," he says. "His record company Arc 21 and Mondo Melodia are the largest distributors of the Arabic music in the U.S."

Though he's not of Arab origin, Miles Copeland is very well acquainted with Middle Eastern culture. His father was one of the top U.S officials in the region during the 1950s and 1960s.

"When I was five years old, my father took the family to Damascus, Syria. So I was a young boy I began obviously hearing Arabic music in the streets. Then, several years later, we moved to Cairo, and again you're living in the heart of the Arab world and you're being exposed to music,? Mr. Copeland said. ?Then I went to Lebanon and I did all my school years there. While I was there I sort of enjoyed it but I didn't really think about it because being an American, I was into Rock and Roll and American Artists. Then, I got into the music business in England, then in the United States."

Mr. Copeland says his fascination with Arabic music re-awakened about five years ago. "One day, I 'm in Paris, some music is coming from Algeria, artists like Chab Mami, Khalid Faudel, Rachid Taha where they have taken Arabic Music and sort of western music, merged it and created a very interesting unique combination,? he says. ?So I began to find out who those people were. I gave Chab Mami's record to Sting and he was so intrigued with it. He said, 'I want to meet this guy.' So, I set up a meeting and Sting wrote a song called Desert Rose, which had Chab Mami singing in Arabic. And that song became a huge hit."

Arabian Music Academy spokesman Faris Bouhafa notes that Miles Copeland has also had a hit with another traditional Middle Eastern sound. "He got all the artists he represents, like Hakiem and Amr Diab, to submit a song that they thought would be good for belly dancing. He put them [the songs] all on a CD, put together a group of belly dancers and called them the Superstar Belly Dancers, and put them on tour all over the country."

Miles Copeland says Americans are very open to other cultures ? when they are exposed to them ? and belly dancing is a perfect example.

"In every city in America, there are women of non Middle Eastern background who are learning to belly dancing. They find it liberating celebratory of women and of course they dance to Arabic music. I think it's exciting. It's new in America," Mr. Copeland says.

Miles Copeland's efforts to introduce Arabic music to America go beyond belly dance clubs. Mr. Bouhafa says, later this year, the promoter will produce an Arabic music concert at Albuquerque, New Mexico's Opera House.

"He's bringing over all the top Arab Artists from all over the region put them in the Opera House, he's going to have an American Audience and he's going to film it, a documentary of the concert. He's going to put it out on DVD's and CD's and he's going to have a deal to broadcast it in the Middle East,? he says.

While Miles Copeland says he appreciates the honor he'll receive next month in Dubai, he's more excited about the chance to work with some of the super stars in the Arab world. He's also delighted that their talent, hard work and popularity will be recognized with a special award from their fans.