Under the heading “Jidda Journal,” an article about music appears on the front page of the paper of record today–but the jump takes you to the Middle East section, not what now passes for the paper’s Arts section. The piece is about an all-girl rock band in Saudi Arabia called The Accolade, which is fronted by sisters Dina and Dareen. They practice every weekend, have pierced eyebrows, and wear a classic rock ensemble of jeans and a t-shirt. None of this is unusual, of course, except that the band is in Saudi Arabia, where religious police used to patrol the streets and punish anyone violating morality codes. The article uses the Accolade as a way of demonstrating how those strictures have been loosened, and how the country has hesitantly modernized as a way of placating their massive youth population after the unfortunate events of 9/11. But of course, the band also makes music. What’s that like?
Well, in the abstract–which is how the article largely deals with it–the Accolade sound like a Robert Christgau wet dream: a politically relevant, rebellious all-girl rock band that could be classified as “world music.” In reality, though, they just sound like any other teenage rock band. That’s charming, certainly, but not anything you’d want to listen to very much. The writer of the article, Robert F. Worth, tries to spin the band’s standard-issue lyrics about relationships into some larger comment about Saudi society, but it seems a stretch.
There’s no denying the story of Dina and Dareen is a heartwarming one. But it’s hard to remember the last time an American musician was seen on the front page of the Times. This is no comment on the quality of the art, particularly, and the Accolade’s music confirms that. It is a comment, however, on the newsworthiness of American music. Pam Shoemaker’s model says that newsworthiness is determined by two factors: unusualness (what she calls “deviance”) and social significance. The Accolade qualifies on both counts, obviously. But not much music these days is unusual or socially significant.