When Cairo Went Country

Two-Step Like An Egyptian 

Okay, so Cairo was never actually country. My apologies if you clicked on this post after reading the title expecting to see images of Hosni Mubarak in a cowboy hat and boots or Gamal Abdel Nasser learning how to two-step. However, if these pictures do exist, someone please send them to me ASAP!

Instead, this post is about a country song and a music video by two female artists from the 90s: Pam Tillis’ “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” for which the music video was filmed in Cairo and Saqqara, Egypt.

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” 

Just call Pam Tillis “Cleopatra” because she is the “Queen of Denial” in this 1993 hit. No, this is not Pam’s country accent causing her to mispronounce the river’s name – this woman is really in denial! Her man is obviously a good-for-nothing liar yet she keeps buying his alibis. Pam honestly believes that he couldn’t buy her a ring because he didn’t have any money yet he was able to go out and buy himself a new brand new pick-up truck. Come on girl! Read the hieroglyphic writing on the wall!

As Pam sings in this song, she is “floatin’ down a river of lies” from all the stories this guy has told her. And if he really does lie as much as she says, his “river of lies” sounds comparable to the that of the Nile, measuring in at 4,258 miles long.

“I caught him dancin’ last night with a girl in leopard skin pants” 

In this song, Pam Tillis catches her man dancing with a girl in leopard skin pants, which I swear wasn’t me! Honestly y’all, I didn’t even own these pants back in 1993 (see below)! But can Pam really blame him? Leopard skin pants are pretty hot (see below again)!

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The Sphinx, Giza, Egypt (July 2014)

I would be remiss to not take this chance to say that the actual Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, is nothing like the woman in this song. She was extremely intelligent and a strong monarch, reigning as the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt. She is well-known for her romantic affairs- one of her most famous lovers was Julius Caesar who was also her political ally. In Rome, she was regarded as his mistress since their Egyptian marriage was not recognized by Roman Law. Caesar did not try to conceal the fact she was his mistress, in fact, he even erected a statue of her in the temple of Venus Genetrix, which scandalized many Romans. He also openly claimed their son, Caesarion. These were bold statements, especially as she was unpopular with the Romans because she was outspoken and powerful. While she was married to Caesar, she had been forced to also marry her brother Ptolemy XIV in order to keep in line with Egyptian custom. After Caesar’s assassination, in order to prevent any challenges to Caesarion’s succession, she had her brother Ptolemy XIV killed. Another of her lovers was the Roman general Mark Antony with whom she allied herself with after Caesar’s death in order to help prevent Egypt from becoming a vassal to Rome. Although she did play hard to get at first by refusing Antony’s first two requests to meet and discuss their political alliance she eventually met with him and won him over with her charm. Though sources prove that Cleopatra and Antony truly did love one another, even having three children together, their relationship also proved beneficial to Cleopatra in her goal of expanding and protecting her empire. When it came to relationships, unlike Pam Tillis, Cleopatra wore the (leopard skin) pants!

There is, however, one thing that Pam Tillis and Cleopatra have in common and that’s heavy eye makeup- eyeshadow for the former and kohl for the latter.

 

From the Sticks to the Sahara 

I’m sure the days of country artists filming music videos in Egypt are long over but in 1995 this was a completely normal thing to do. In Shania Twain’s music video for “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” she can be found riding horseback through the pyramids, dancing at the oldest mosque in Cairo (The Mosque of Ibn Tulun), and hanging off a felucca boat over the Nile. It should come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite music videos- it’s Shania Twain….in Egypt!! Masha’Allah! 

You may be wondering why she was riding a horse and not a camel at the pyramids. Well, let me tell you, as someone who had ridden many a camel, nobody looks good riding one. Although if anyone could’ve pulled it off, it would’ve been Shania!

The most surprising thing about this video is the fact that none of the men in it seem to notice Shania. Yeah okay, you expect me to believe that Shania Twain, one of the most beautiful women in the world, went to Egypt and wasn’t bombarded with Egyptian men constantly hitting on her? Not buying it!

In Robin Eggar’s Shania Twain: The Biography (2001), this video is discussed briefly. It was filmed over the course of three days with Shania waking up at 3 a.m. so that she could be ready when dawn broke at 5:30 a.m. This video was filmed in the month of July and having been to Egypt myself in July (back in 2014) I know firsthand how hot it can get. I’m mostly impressed by the fact that she didn’t sweat out all of her makeup in this video!

Here’s a short snippet from her biography where she discusses making this video:

“All these women were around me. They were in black, I was in white. In Western culture, white is always the sign of innocence. In Egypt, white is considered a flamboyant color, whereas black is a humble color. We did some magnificent scenes with the women. They were wonderful. If my shawl was to come off, or if I took it off for a second, the women would run up to me like mothers and cover my shoulders for me… The mystery of the place just got to me. I got choked up for a bit while we were doing a take.” (Page 236)

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Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt (July 2014)

I too visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun when I was in Cairo (pictured above). Though the rules must’ve changed since Shania was there as I don’t think they allow dancing anymore.

Yalla, y’all! 

Both of these music videos are posted above so if you haven’t watched them yet go on ahead and do it! Yalla, y’all!

Currently listening to: The Brother Brothers- “Cairo, IL” and Natalie Hemby- “Cairo, IL” (not the same song though it is about the same place- the abandoned City of Cairo, Illinois)

That Time Tracy Byrd Mentioned Arabic in a Country Song

As today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War (aka The Six-Day War), I thought it would be fitting to post about a country song that touches on the Middle East.

This post is about a 1995 song from Tracy Byrd titled, “Walking to Jerusalem.” As far as I know, it’s the only country song that references the Arabic language and it was for this reason alone that this song caught my ear. I don’t actually remember this song when it first came out in the mid-90s, instead, I heard this song for the first time just two years ago when I was listening to Pandora radio. When I first heard the lines, “readin’ signs in Arabic, ravin’ like a lunatic” I did a doubletake. Was Tracy Byrd really singing about the Arabic language in a country song? Turns out he was!

The Religion major and Middle Eastern Studies student in me couldn’t forget what I had just heard. I had so many questions: Why was Tracy Byrd walking to Jerusalem? Why were the signs in Arabic (with no mention of signs in Hebrew)? Does Tracy Byrd (and his songwriters) think that everyone in Jerusalem speaks Arabic? I realize that not everyone is an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict (hell, I’m certainly not) but it was still puzzling to me that there were no signs in Hebrew (or English) alongside the Arabic signs in this song. Though I’m sure this was not done intentionally as a way to downplay the Jewishness of Jerusalem seeing as how this is just a silly country song with no political agenda.

I’m happy to see that the Arab community was given recognition in this song through their language, especially since according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in 2015, there were 300,200 Palestinians residents in Jerusalem, making up 36.8% of the city’s population. However, I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say that the writers of this song (Sam Hogin and Mark D. Sanders), and even Tracy Byrd himself, did not put this much thought into writing this song. I’m sure Arabic was only mentioned for the simple fact that it rhymes well with lunatic. Had the signs been in Hebrew, the lyrics might’ve been something like “Readin’ signs in Hebrew, Ravin’ like a damn fool!”, which actually has a nice ring to it.

 

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The video for this song (featured at the end of this post) is also worth discussing, primarily because of the sign featured at minute 1:40. At the top of this sign, we see that Jerusalem, Texas is located 503 miles away and Jerusalem (in Arabic) is 6000 miles away. However, it’s not these distances that stood out to me on this sign. What stood out is the fact that “Jerusalem” is written in Arabic, or rather, is transliterated to be pronounced as we would say it in English using the Arabic alphabet as opposed to using the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which is al-Quds (القدس). The sign also fails to include the Hebrew (ירושלים or Yerushalayim), which if Tracy really were walking to Jerusalem in present day (or at least in 1995), this would surely be listed and the signs would look similar to the one featured below. Directions to Turkey are also featured on this sign despite the country not being mentioned in the song. The video also features camels, because it wouldn’t be about the Middle East without camels, right?

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As both of the signs above show, one from the music video and one from present-day Israel/Palestine, English is always listed alongside the Arabic and Hebrew. So why is Tracy reading the Arabic? Maybe this is why he’s also ravin’ like a lunatic? Bless his heart!

A quick Google Maps search also shows that there are no good paths for walking from Texas to Jerusalem. If Tracy has a map that he is planning on using, could he please share it?

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A question that has yet to be answered is why Tracy Byrd is walking to Jerusalem. In this song, a woman is clearly playing hard to get with Tracy. With lines like, “till you came walkin’ in with your high falutin’ friends, so busy lookin’ down your noses, now here you are ignorin’ me” it’s plain to see that she’s stringing him along. Tracy also mentions studying the book of Job (“I can see me in a long robe, Studyin’ the book of Job”), a sure sign that this woman is testing his patience much like God tested Job’s in the Hebrew Bible. Now that we understand what is happening in the song, Tracy’s line “by the time you tell me I’m the one, I’ll be stickin’ out my thumb, and walkin’ to Jerusalem” begins to make a little more sense. Looking at Christian eschatology, we see that in the Christian apocalyptic narrative, the city of Jerusalem plays an important role. (Please note that I am only focusing on End Times beliefs in Christianity here since this is in reference to country music and this seemed the most appropriate. I won’t even begin to get into Evangelical beliefs, dispensationalism, Christian Zionism, etc. on this topic.) Jerusalem is the location where Jesus’ second coming will take place, which will usher in the Day of Judgment. Turning our attention back to the song, it’s plain to see that this woman has made poor Tracy wait so long for some attention that he is now walking to Jerusalem as the end of the world has finally come. (This might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going with it!)

Please find the video for this song below. If after watching you have different theories on what is going on in this song, please feel free to share them with me!

 

All this talk about Arabic and Jerusalem has got me wondering- is Tracy Byrd for a one-state or two-state solution? (Tracy Byrd was not contacted for an answer).

Note: Please note that the purpose of this post was to have fun, not to be political or religious in any way. When I heard a country song talking about Arabic and Jerusalem, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this further. I’m also a big fan of Tracy Byrd, so I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to check out some of his other music (might I suggest “The Keeper of the Stars” for starters). Also, if you guys do know of any other country songs that mention Arabic, please send them my way!

Currently listening to: Arabic Music (while simultaneously ravin’ like a lunatic)

How 90s Country Made Me the Woman I am Today

For my first real post on the blog, I wanted to go back to where it all began- the 1990s! I was born in 1990 so 90s country was the soundtrack to the first decade of my life. And growing up in Orange, Virginia, it was the soundtrack to most people around me and their lives too. It wasn’t until I got older and moved away that I realized not everyone had friends in low places, did the Watermelon Crawl, and thought John Deere Green was an acceptable paint color for declaring one’s love on a water tower.

For me, the best part about 90s country were the strong female voices that reigned supreme in this decade. I’m talking Shania, Faith, Reba, Deana, Martina, Trisha, the Dixie Chicks, and many others that I won’t mention for the sake of space. When these women sang, you shut up and paid attention to what they had to say. Shania let us know that any man of ours better walk the line, the Dixie Chicks encouraged us to find wide open spaces, and Reba taught us that there’s life out there beyond our family and our home. As a precocious and head-strong little girl, I looked up to these women and their songs of female empowerment. One of my main gripes with contemporary country is the lack of female voices and it’s one of the topics I hope to explore further with this blog. I owe partial credit (the other part to my mom) to these women for making me the woman I am today. These women taught me about love and never settling for less than you deserve. Deana Carter painted a picture of how sweet first love should be with “Strawberry Wine” and Faith Hill’s line, “I’d trade a million pretty words for one touch that is real” taught me about what’s important in a relationship (from her song, “Take Me As I Am.”) And in case I ever found myself with a man who wasn’t treating me right, Lorrie Morgan gave me the courage to say, “If you think I won’t go, watch me!” The songs that these women sang were anthems for an eight-year-old girl going on eighteen.

To this day, many of these songs still bring to mind a specific memory. Whenever I hear Shania Twain’s “Don’t Be Stupid” I think back to my cousin and I singing this song in our church’s variety show (they were always sure to point out that it wasn’t a talent show because nobody had any talent. Also, why did our parents think this was an acceptable song to sing at church? One of the lines is “when I talk to other guys you think they’re on my tail”? But, I digress.) Another Shania-inspired memory also comes to mind when I think back on my childhood. I can remember asking my dad what PMS was after hearing the line, “this could be worse than PMS” from Shania’s song “Honey, I’m Home.” I think his response was something like, “it’s something that women get” and he probably told me to ask my mom. Gee, thanks! I also remember getting Faith Hill’s album Take Me as I Am on cassette tape in my advent calendar one Christmas and how excited I was to pop this into the stereo and press play. When I hear these songs today, I’m transported back to my childhood- a young girl singing songs with lyrics meant for grown women, not realizing the lessons they were teaching me at the time and how important these messages would be in my own development.

Nineties country also music taught me that sometimes life sucks but that’s no excuse to not get out there and have some fun from time to time. Even when dealing with a broken heart, David Lee Murphy went looking for a “Party Crowd.” Although, on the other hand, Bubba grabbed a .45 and shot the jukebox just from hearing a sad song that made him cry, which brings me to my next point- 90s country had a sense of humor. Just look at Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia”- a song about a girl who shares her name with an onion, which seems to be quite fitting as she’s always making Sammy cry. Nineties country taught me humility and that it’s okay (if not absolutely necessary) to laugh at yourself every once in a while.

The 1990s was also a time when Toby Keith sang songs like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “How Do You Like Me Now?” You know, before he started singing about putting boots in people’s a**es.

The holidays also have a special place in my memory because of country music. Each Christmas, the album I most look forward to hearing is Alan Jackson’s Honky Tonk Christmas, which was released in 1993. I don’t think there’s been a single December since I was a child when this album wasn’t played. As soon as the holiday season began, my mom would pop this tape into her car and Alan Jackson would sing us through to the New Year. The songs on this album bring out the emotions that we’ve all felt around the holidays at some point in our lives- cheer, loneliness, and financial hardship. My cousin and I always requested that my mom play “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”, the last song on this album, finding the title and content to be hilarious. Little did we know that for my mom this song served as a painful reminder of the Christmases that she grew up with as a child surrounded by people with alcohol addiction. As an adult, I understand why she did not find the song as funny as my cousin and I did. But don’t let this fool you- this album also features some more happy songs to bring you your yuletide cheer, including a Duet with Alvin and the Chipmunks about Santa coming in a pickup truck. My family has since upgraded from the cassette tape to the CD version of this album ensuring that we have a “Honky Tonk Christmas” year after year.

Country music, especially 90s country, helped raise me and taught me some great life lessons along the way. Lessons like, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go– sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow” and “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” It was the decade that gave us Tracy Lawrence, Lee Ann Womack, Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Mindy McCready, and Collin Raye. These artists and their songs shaped my life. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without country music and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Had I been raised on another genre of music, would I still be the same person? I’m not so sure.

Currently listening to: Sammy Kershaw- “Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer