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The History of the Arabic music in Melbourne
By N.Antoine Chahine. Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, Director/Producer

The popularity of Lebanese and Arabic music was very scarce before 1973. Having spent three months in Lebanon after I graduated from University, the trip gave me motivation to return to Melbourne and open my first Production House in multilingual recordings and Film & Television productions.

The studio was called “Studio Baalbeck” and it was in the heart of the Lebanese populated residence suburb of Brunswick. To keep the culture and heritage of Lebanon, I imported every Arabic vinyl record & audio cassette of every artist from Lebanon. I even imported posters, postcards, musical instruments (The Oud & variety of Tablas) and Lebanese arts & crafts ornaments. I wanted the community to feel that they were still in Lebanon.

The introduction of Arabic music to Melbourne gave the local artists incentive to record and produce their songs on vinyl records for distribution among the Lebanese in Melbourne and around Australia. The studio had the full facilities to record local artists like Joseph Harb, Nadim Khalife, Badih Mazloum, Rachid Merdini and Salem Koubakian. These singers kept Arabic music alive in Melbourne and around Australia.

With a handful of musicians such GeorgeMalkoun(Violin), Nourdeen El houssainy (Oud) Michel Beiruty (Oud & Kanoun) Souhail Khalife (Tabla) Marouf Rahme (Nay),
we recorded and produced records of the local singers to the local Lebanese. The music made a great impact on the community in Melbourne and other states of Australia. It united the community by keeping their cultural heritage alive. From this inspiration we promoted overseas Lebanese singers within Australia, 1970 - 80 stars such as Wadih Al Safi, Fairouz, Tony Hanna, Sabah, Samira Toufic and many more.

The Federal Government established SBS Radio 3EA Melbourne & 2EA Sydney in 1975. SBS Radio is a powerful tool in meeting the settlement, information and communication needs of Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds. It provides cross-cultural links and information lifelines to Australia's diverse cultural groups, allowing them to adjust and participate fully in Australian life and maintain their cultural identities as well.

A different language program is broadcast every hour. Programs are based on language not ethnicity, and some programs, such as Arabic and Spanish, reach people from different countries of origin.

The first co-ordinator of the Arabic programme was Souhaila Marzouk and her anchor men were Houssam Shabou and Chafic Dimashki. To launch the Arabic programme, SBS management asked me to supply the stations with unlimited amount of records for use in broadcasting the Arabic program.

From this intriguing enthusiasm of establishing Arabic music in Melbourne, the Lebanese are today enjoying their culture through listening to SBS Radio and being able to purchase their favourite music from Lebanese business outlets.

© Cedaroo Productions. 2006
N.Antoine Chahine
3 July 2006

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