Jordan: Ruba Saqr

In this interview the Jordanian singer Ruba Saqr speaks about the impact of music censorship – and in particular: artists’ self-censorship – in the Middle East. She connects the music censorship issue with development problems in society in general – in Jordan as well as in the rest of the Middle East.


Music played a tremendous role in the ‘youth revolution’ of the 1960’s in the Western world. Musicians, their song lyrics and their interviews, became the ‘media’ and the agents of change who ‘spread the message’ and turned into an international phenomena that profoundly changed the Western world and its culture.

Considering the way that many young people in the Middle East experience their situation today, why could something similar not take place in the Middle East? Is it because the music is being silenced by producers, radio stations and state security agents? Or is it because the musicians silence themselves?

In this interview, Ruba Saqr tells about her personal experiences, and about how the self-censorship situation she experiences among musicians according to her is part of the reason why young people in the Middle East have no media for networking and developing new visions for their future.

Advocating a new image of female musicians
Having worked as a reporter for several years, Ruba Saqr has written several articles to different Jordanian publications about the need to support underground musicians, and the need to change perceptions of musicians, in particular Arab female musicians in her part of the world. Ruba Saqr believes that female musicians are often reduced to being performers or singers and are seldom acknowledged by producers as full-fledged musicians who can write their own lyrics and music. She has experienced that some female musicians are pushed away from the music scene by society because it is not viewed as a “respectable” vocation, especially in traditional circles.

About the song in the video
Ruba Saqr performed ‘I am a Lantern’ for the first time in 1997 at the Darat Al Funun Summer Festival in Amman. Afterwards she was criticised and frowned upon by attending renowned Jordanian poets for her unconventional lyrics. They proposed editing the lyrics for her – an idea she was against. She felt that her lyrics stemmed from her way of experiencing life and that it’s socalled ‘rawness’ was part of her journey and growth. As she grew older, she learned that the song found a place in the hearts of many who attended her performances.
For translation of the lyrics, see below.

About Ruba Saqr’s musical career
Ruba Saqr was born in Jordan in 1975 and spent all her life there. She started songwriting and singing in Amman in the early 1990’s, and took part in founding several bands. At the Jerash Festival in 1997 she performed her own songs for the first time – with two accompanying musicians. The Jerash Festival is a regionally acclaimed venue for music and arts that takes place every year in the city of Jerash, north of Amman.

Since 2000, Ruba Saqr has been negotiating with several production companies, but til this day she hasn’t been able to establish what she calls ‘common grounds’ for a co-operation. Producers want to commercialise her music style which she refuses.

The fact that she performs “different” music was praised with enthusiasm during an assignment where Ruba Saqr was given the opportunity to compose songs for Jordanian tv programmes about human rights, directed by the Performance Arts Center in Amman, and funded by the EU. This experience gave her new hope and confidence in her beliefs – the hope that one day self expression, in this case through music, can find resonance in other people even if it doesn’t follow conventional or commercial music codes.

In order to avoid censorship by producers and sponsors, Ruba Saqr has decided to go solo. She records her songs while playing the piano and guitar, and finances the production of her debut album entirely on her own. She expects it to see the light towards the end of 2007.

In 2005, Ruba Saqr and guitarist Ramzi Rais took part in the ‘Global Battle Of the Bands’ Jordan, where they won first prize. More about this, and about Ruba Saqr, can be found on

The video interview and Ruba’s performance of ‘I am a Lantern’ was recorded in Amman, Jordan, by Mik Aidt on 30 January 2007.


Translation of the lyrics:

I am a Lantern

(Ode to Amman)

I am a lantern
of nails in your night
I am a sad lilac in your garden
A window open to the wind
A child’s toy dipped in a pool of blood
I am the vision of sorrow

I am a grape vine
Slaughtered on your bed
A Gods’ offering torn in your den

I am the wetness of winter
On the brow of space
A thorn pregnant
With the berries of death

I am a silent echo
Of the voice of a sound

Music and lyrics by Ruba Saqr

concerning the interview with Ruba Saqr

Posted by Natasha Tynes on 26 March 2007:
‘Ruba Saqr speaks out on music censorship’


concerning Ruba Saqr

The Guardian – 8 June 2007:
‘Governments can go to hell’
Other Freemuse video interviews
concerning the music censorship situation in the Middle East

 Mark LeVine [1] – American author and historian speaks about Heavy Metal in the Middle East
Mark LeVine [2] – about globalisation in the Middle East

Guitarist Jason Carter  speaks about his personal experiences with music censorship in the Middle East Freedom of expression in Jordan

In 2006, Jordan saw “noticeable progress”, says the Arab Archives Institute (AAI) in its annual report on freedom of expression. For recent incidents concerning freedom of expression in Jordan, see International Freedom of Expression Exchange:

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