When one thinks of a traditional Saudi wedding, a Tagaga always comes to mind. Tagaga is the Arabic word for a woman singer that only sings in weddings and women gathering nights. This profession has been around in Saudi Arabia for more than 50 years, but it used to be limited to certain people who have beautiful voices.
However, according to 28-year-old singer, Jehan, it takes more than just a beautiful voice to be a Tagaga in the Gulf region. “A true Tagaga has to be fluent in more than one Arabic accent. She has to be professional in Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Gulf, Yemeni and Lebanese because people have different tastes in music. A Tagaga is an entertainer: she has to put in mind that people get bored easily, so she has to keep them interested by performing different kinds of music and sometimes dances with them,” she said.
Tagagas don’t have their own songs, but rather perform popular songs. Furthermore, they only use an Arabic drum in their songs to influence the Gulf rhythm in their music.
“Tagagas usually perform for four to five hours a night at a normal wedding,” said 24-year-old Tagaga, Jowhara.
Saudi weddings usually start at 11 p.m. and end at around 4 a.m. “We arrive at the wedding at around 12 a.m. and start singing until Fajer prayer or sometimes, according to the bride’s orders, until 7 a.m. We take five-minute coffee breaks every 30 minutes to give attendees a chance to catch up,” added Jowhara.
Some Tagaga bands are accompanied with a male singer to make their music more appealing. “I believe that I’m one of the first men to sing in women-only weddings. We usually sing in a room separated from women and coordinate with them by telephone,” said Mohammed Hashem, a male singer. “I have my own band of seven women singers and a sound manager. Furthermore, we use more than just Arabic drums as tempo; we also use an organ and DJ mixing.”
Tagaga bands nowadays charge up to SR20,000 a night. “I believe it’s fair to charge a lot of money because you are paying the whole band and not just one person. This band will guarantee you a night filled with entertainment,” added Hashem. “A Tagaga who just started her business will charge between SR3,000 and SR5,000 while a singer who has been in the business for more than five years will charge between SR15,000 and SR20,000. Well-known Tagagas charge more than SR20,000 because people already know her and she has been in the business for a long time.”
According to Cinderella, a lead singer in a band, most of those music bands fake their names to avoid trouble. “Most of those Tagagas come from very traditional backgrounds where if they mentioned their family names, they might get into serious trouble with their distant families. We heard about many female singers from Bedouin tribes who later got into trouble with their relatives for going on stage and singing for other women. Those tribes see that it as shameful and disgrace if they did such a thing,” she said.
When it comes to a traditional Saudi wedding, a wedding planner has to put specific things in mind, considering that weddings in Saudi Arabia are women only weddings. “Preparing for a wedding event can be hectic because many young women demand a modern wedding; yet it’s hard for them to let go of their old traditions. Brides never want modern music bands; they always demand the best Tagaga with the best crew of drummers. It’s hard to book those Tagagas because they are always on demand. I have to book them two or three months before the wedding just to make sure they make it on the same day,” said Randa Basha, a Saudi wedding planner.
“They are not your typical singers who just get on stage and perform. Those singers have to have their own place in the wedding ballroom and have to be provided with chocolate, dates, coffee and tea. You can say they are spoiled when they come to work and people pay them up to SR30,000,” added Basha.
According to Basha, some brides even book Tagagas from other cities around the Kingdom. “Brides always look for the best wedding performers and entertainment. I have arranged many weddings where the bride pays the Tagaga to come from Riyadh to Jeddah and pays the plane booking, hotel, accommodation and the wedding fees. Furthermore, those Tagagas don’t come alone, they come with a whole team of drummers, dancers and assistants. So, the bride pays all of them for their services,” she added.
Touha is a legendary name in the world of singing in Saudi Arabia. She has been working as a Tagaga for 30 years now and is considered one of the oldest Tagagas around and the one who started this form of art in the Kingdom.
“Nowadays, music is different and the music industry is going down. This profession is turning into a humiliation because the person who doesn’t find a job turns herself into a Tagaga,” said Touha. “This job became random because many people from different nationalities joined it and ruined it too. Those amateur singers are asking for too much money and for what? Three or four hours of singing?”
“Back in our days, we used to charge up to SR3,000 only, but singers now ask for SR15,000 and more! This does not make any sense and only shows only that they are greedy and not doing it for the sake of enjoyment like we did before,” she added.
It is interesting to note that Saudi families don’t approve of this kind of job, claiming it’s not classy and doesn’t match their religious beliefs. “I wouldn’t endorse the idea of one of my daughters working as a Tagaga for this job has one of the worst reputations,” said business man Saleh Shaheen. “I think many Saudi families would agree with me because this job requires the singer to stay out all night singing and dancing, which does not match our Islamic tradition or our closed society’s way of thinking.”