"What books are you reading?"
"How's the cleaning going?"
A new Arabic quarantine tune has become a viral hit because of its sweet relatability. Released on Wednesday, April 23, Bel Hajr El Sohi (Quarantine) is a folk song that discusses life while cooped up at home.
A collaboration between Lebanese singer Chantal Bitar and composer Rayan Habre, the song premiered on the MBC morning show Sabah el Kheir Ya Arab (Good Morning Arabs), completing its journey from a mini-viral sensation to a fully produced track.
From tweets to an online hit
Composer Habre, son of famed Lebanese composer Khaled El Habre, started an isolation Twitter diary documenting conversations with friends, thought bubbles and insights while in lockdown in Beirut.
These saw such a strong reception that he began adapting the online lyrical flourishes into a yearning folk melody.
Once he had the idea down, Habre sent the musical vignette of one verse to his friend Bitar to see if she was interested in singing it a capella on her Instagram account.
Enamoured with the composition, Bitar dropped her minute-long vocal take on April 3 and received more than 20,000 likes in the space of a week.
Why such a great reaction?
The tune appears to have struck a chord, and we think because it speaks about the little things. A lot of the quarantine-themed songs coming out of the region, no matter how well intentioned, have felt instructional.
The lyrics to Bel Hajr El Sohi are more enquiring. Like a friend on the phone. And perhaps its greatest draw is the fact it's delivered in Bitar's crystalline voice, accompanied by a nostalgic melody that recalls the Lebanese folk songs of the 1970s and 1980s.
Then came the remix
On April 13, Saudi a capella singer Alaa Wardi gave Bel Hajr El Sohi a funky take by providing rhythmic backing vocals. The version was a success, with more 120,000 views on Instagram alone.
Watching all this with glee was the original composer Habre, who then called up Bitar once more, as well as a few other musician friends to record a fleshed out version of the song, complete with two fresh verses.
Habre reflected on the song's unusual journey on the eve of its release on Sabah el Kheir Ya Arab. "The video spread at a huge speed and received hundreds of thousands of views in the first few hours and the reaction to the song was amazing," he said in a Facebook post on April 21.
“A lot of people were re-recording their own versions and adding their own lyrics. All these versions were nice and joyful experiences in a time where despair is seemingly all around us.”