Last night a number of us decided to go to a concert in Amman. We had seen it advertised in a few places and upon checking the band out online, they seemed like they might offer an enjoyable evening. The band, Mashrou3 Leila (pictured right), is a Lebanese alternative-rock band who are somewhat known for pushing the envelope of cultural norms. One of the band’s songs tells the story of a young man who falls in love and decides to marry. He approaches his parents and expresses a desire to bring his soon-to-be-bride home to meet them, to which they agree. Upon arriving, and presumably to the parents’ horror, the bride-to-be turns out to be another boy.

In addition to the band, the concert had one other major selling point. It was happening on Jabal al-Qal’a, known in English as the Citadel. A quick note for future reference, Amman is a city constructed on seven original hills (now encompassing nineteen), and jabal is the Arabic word for hill. Not only would the location offer a great view of the city during the concert, it was also an absolutely fascinating contrast.

Jabal al-Qal’a is known for its ruins, from dozens of the civilizations that have existed in the area that we now call Jordan. Inside the archaeological museum on site, there are flint tools from more than 10,000 years ago. The museum contains the oldest statue made by man, from the Neolithic era, pottery from the Nabataen era, a first-hand account of the political events in Palestine during the first century recorded by the Moabites, a handful of Dead Sea scrolls, and a collection of artifacts from the Islamic age. On top of this, the site contains the ruins of the Roman Temple of Hercules (pictured left), an Umayyad palace, a Byzantine church, and one of the oldest mosques in the world, constructed in 730 C.E. The hours I spent exploring these sites could have been expanded to months. The breadth of history here is just staggering.

Contrasting that with the concert made the day that much more fascinating for me. Mashrou3 Leila not only entertained us, they turned out to be absolutely fantastic and are now one of my new favorite bands. Their lyrics don’t hesitate to explore political and societal issues and a number of them tackled the political issues facing the region and the hope represented in the Arab Spring. In some ways, the band is probably to the extreme point of the cutting edge of what’s happening in the Arab world. For example, on an issue like homosexuality, tradition is still very important here and attitudes on this issue are unlikely to change soon. The concert probably attracted more Western expats and Westophilic Jordanians than anything else, but it was nonetheless a representation of one of the voices trying to push into the societal conversation occurring here.

Not to overplay the observation here, but this concert in this place is a good analogy for this city. Everywhere you look there is an example of this dichotomy. In some ways, this interplay of tradition and modernity is exactly what all cultures do. It is a healthy and normal part of progress. The question remains in how the tension is maintained and how people feel about it. Does it seem imposed and foreign or progressive and welcome? This question is answered differently by every individual, but for most it is probably a mixture of the two.

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