Be sure to read Brooklyn Bodega, Syrian Soul, Gary Sullivan’s ode to bodega pop, before listening to his favorite jams.
Top Ten All-Time Songs I Ever Bought from a Syrian Bodega in Brooklyn:
Artist: Najwa Karam
Song: “Rouh Rouhi”
Album: Rouh Rouhi
The hard-driving beat of the eponymous song from Najwa Karam’s breakout album—the first CD I picked up from the Syrian bodega—provides the perfect complement to the Lebanese diva’s fierce, husky voice.
Artist: Kazim Al Saher
Album: Fi Madrsat Al Hob
Iraqi singer-composer Kazim al Saher’s oeuvre is wide-ranging and eclectic; I tend to favor classically informed songs like “Sallami” from this 1997 album.
Artist: Leila Mourad
Song: “Mahma Tal Illial”
Album: Sanatain Wana Ahail Feek
Call it blasphemy, but I’ve long held that Iraqi-Polish-Jewish Leila Mourad, who was chosen in the early 1950s to be the official singer of the Egyptian revolution, had a voice to match that of her more enduring counterpart, Oum Kalsoum.
Artist: Asalah Nasri
Song: “Al Mushtaka”
Album: Al Mushtaka
My Syrian bodega clerk’s favorite singer. It’s not hard to see why. Asalah does things with her voice—in this song, for instance—that the English language simply has no words for.
Song: “Habait Amanah”
Album: Tamni Aleek
If you’ve ever ordered anything from a halal food cart, you’ve probably heard Hakim, the man who single-handedly reinvented Egyptian pop in the early 1990s.
Song: “Mush Qasah Hay”
Album: Best of Fairuz
At 77, Christian Lebanese crooner Fairuz remains the Arab world’s most beloved living legend. This utterly haunting song brought tears to my eyes when I first heard it—as it has nearly every time I’ve listened to it since.
Song: “Ala Elkornesh”
Album: Ala Elkornesh
Sudanese-born sha’abi singer Gawaher is a powerhouse of Egyptian street pop and this album never lets up, beginning with its kickass opener.
Artist: Farid al-Atrash
Song: “Wahdani Haeich”
Album: Negoum El Leil
Syrian-Druze Farid al-Atrash wore many hats: actor, composer, singer, master oud player—he recorded more than 500 songs and appeared in 30+ films. “Wahdani Haeich,” from rather late in his career, is a heart-stopper.
Song: “Sallam Alay”
Album: Behib Meen
Bethib Meen means Who Do You Love? And, Angham, if you’re seriously asking, it’s you, especially when you’re belting out frighteningly amped-up ELO-on-acid bloat like this.
Artist: Amr Diab
Song: “Habibe (Yan our el ain)”
Album: Best of Amr Diab
The contemporary face of Egyptian al-jeel—western-influenced alt pop that got its start in the 1970s—Amr Diab is often cited as the best-selling artist of the Arabic-speaking world. This Gipsy Kings–inspired earworm was a massive hit worldwide, and remains one of my guiltiest pleasures.