What makes for a good cover song? Appropriation and re-contextualization, for one. A good cover must also have its own twist, respect (and sometimes transcend) the original, and convey the same emotions (or at least attempt to).

Here we list some of our favorite Middle-Eastern-infused covers of popular songs.

1. This Cover of Radiohead's "Karma Police"

Tel Aviv-based musicians Rotem Shefy (vocalist) and Leat Sabbah (cellist/arranger) describe this oud-infused cover of Radiohead's 1997 hit as their "very own Middle-Eastern version." Possible political connotations aside (there was some outcry over cultural appropriation when the video was released in May of this year), the incredible oud solo around the 2-minute mark and Shefy's beautiful vocals alone justify the song's inclusion on this list.

2. This Cover of Whitney Houston's "I will Always Love You"

Featured on the list more for the incongruity of its use than its quality. Listen to this: to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis in 2002, then-leader Saddam Hussein chose as his anthem - in perhaps the most wonderful (if nonsensical) choice of a campaign song in political history… Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" (originally written by Dolly Parton). Syrian pop star Mayyada Bselees's Arabic cover of the soaring ballad was broadcast on Iraq's three government-controlled TV stations during election season. Yikes. Whether or not the soon-to-be-forcibly deposed Hussein knew it was a breakup song will forever remain a mystery.

3. This Cover of Lorde's "Royals"

This entry doesn't really have a distinct Arabic touch, but it's one of the many remarkable (and incredibly fun) YouTube covers by Alaa Wardi, an Iranian musician living in Riyadh. His music features a cappella singing, usually with human rhythmic accompaniment, including beat-boxing. You may know him from his cover of a Bob Marley classic renamed "No Woman, No Drive" (which he produced), meant as a satirical comment on the Saudi Arabian ban on women drivers and featuring Saudi comedians Higham Fageeh and Fahad Albutairi. It was a major YouTube hit and made the rounds on social media last month, putting Wardi on many a radar.

4. This Cover of The Clash's "Rock the Casbah"

An obvious pick. Rachid Taha released this Arabic-sung cover of Rock the Casbah (renamed Rock El Casbah) back in 2004. An Algerian raï singer reclaiming the Clash's potshot at Arab nations who ban Western music… pretty irresistible stuff. In 2011, The Guardian selected it as one of the top 50 cover songs of all time.

5. This Cover of The Beatles's "Yesterday"

George Mgrdichian was a jazz clarinetist born in the United States to Armenian parents. Incidentally, he was also a virtuoso on the oud, which he helped introduce to American audiences (particularly the fretless, 11-string Turkish variety that he usually played). His stripped version of one of the most covered songs of all time (and a Beatles favorite) really holds its own, and is well worth a listen (or ten).


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