Surprising New Face in Arabic Music

Surprising New Face in Arabic Music

The New York Times

Linsay Crouse

Jennifer Grout Sings Umm Kulthum Hits on ‘Arabs Got Talent’

The Arab world has an unlikely new star: an American who sings — but barely speaks — Arabic. Not only that, her genre is traditional Arab music.

Plucking her oud, an Arabic version of the lute, and singing with the undulating emotion of Umm Kulthum, the Arab world’s legendary diva, the 23-year-old Jennifer Grout has become a sensation across the Middle East as a contestant on the reality show “Arabs Got Talent.”

She will appear in the finals in Beirut, Lebanon, on Saturday, competing for viewer votes against an array of Arab performers, many of whom would be at home on a Western stage: comedians, hip-hop dancers and jugglers. The only performer of classical Arab music will be an American of European stock…

… “So many times I’ve heard the comment ‘It’s “Arabs Got Talent” — go back to America,’ ” Ms. Grout said in a recent phone interview from Marrakesh, Morocco, where she lives. “It’s like I’m starting an invasion, when really I just love singing Arabic music and desperately wanted a chance to perform it for an audience that would appreciate it.”

Her flair in doing so has also incited a wave of incredulity about her ethnicity: Ms. Grout, who is from Cambridge, Mass., describes her background as English, Scottish and Native American…

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