Traditional & Classical Arabic Music
Classical and Traditional Arabic Music
Traditional & Classiacl Arabic Music
Arabic music or Arab music (Arabic: موسيقى عربية; Mūsīqā ʿArabīyya) is the
music of the Arab World, including several genres and styles of music ranging
from Arabic classical to Arabic pop music and from secular to sacred music.
Arabic music, while independent and very alive, has a long history of
interaction with many other regional musical styles and genres. It is an amalgam
of the music of the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula and the music of all the
peoples that make up the Arab World today. As was the case in other artistic and
scientific fields, Arabs translated and developed Greek texts and works of music
and mastered the musical theory of the Greeks (i.e. Systema ametabolon,
enharmonium, chromatikon, diatonon).
Bayad plays the oud to The Lady. from the Riyad & Bayad , Arabic tale
Early Islamic period
Arabic maqam is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means "station" and denotes a melody type built on a scale and carrying a tradition that defines its habitual phrases, important notes, melodic development and modulation. Both compositions and improvisations in traditional Arabic music are based on the maqam system. Maqams can be realized with either vocal or instrumental music, and do not include a rhythmic component. Al-Kindi (801–873 AD) was the first great theoretician of Arabic music. He proposed adding a fifth string to the oud and discussed the cosmological connotations of music. He surpassed the achievement of the Greek musicians in using the alphabetical annotation for one eighth. He published fifteen treatises on music theory, but only five have survived. In one of his treaties the word musiqa was used for the first time in Arabic, which today means music in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, English and several other languages in the Islamic world. Abulfaraj (897–967) wrote great book about music Kitab al-Aghani is an encyclopedic collection of poems and songs that runs to over 20 volumes in modern editions by the 8th/9th-century litterateur . Al-Farabi (872-950) wrote a notable book on music titled Kitab al-Musiqi al-Kabir (The Great Book of Music). His pure Arabian tone system is still used in Arabic music. Al-Ghazali (1059–1111) wrote a treatise on music in Persia which declared, "Ecstasy means the state that comes from listening to music". In 1252, Safi al-Din developed a unique form of musical notation, where rhythms were represented by geometric representation. A similar geometric representation would not appear in the Western world until 1987, when Kjell Gustafson published a method to represent a rhythm as a two-dimensional graph.
Andalusian classical musicBy the 11th century, Moorish Spain had become a center for the manufacture of instruments. These goods spread gradually throughout France, influencing French troubadours, and eventually reaching the rest of Europe. The English words lute, rebec, organ and naker are derived from Arabic oud, rabab, urghun and nagqara'.
A number of musical instruments used in classical music are believed to have been derived from Arabic musical instruments: the lute was derived from the Oud, the rebec (ancestor of violin) from the rebab, the guitar from qitara, which in turn was derived from the Persian Tar, naker from naqareh, adufe from al-duff, alboka from al-buq, anafil from al-nafir, exabeba from al-shabbaba (flute), atabal (bass drum) from al-tabl, atambal from al-tinbal, the balaban, the castanet from kasatan, sonajas de azófar from sunuj al-sufr, the conical bore wind instruments, the xelami from the sulami or fistula (flute or musical pipe), the shawm and dulzaina from the reed instruments zamr and al-zurna, the gaita from the ghaita, rackett from iraqya or iraqiyya, geige (violin) from ghichak, and the theorbo from the tarab. Whether these links between European instruments and Oriental instruments are more than etymological is not known but is likely to be nothing more than that.
The music of the troubadors may have had some Arabic origins. Ezra Pound, in his Canto VIII, famously declared that William of Aquitaine, an early troubador, "had brought the song up out of Spain / with the singers and veils...". In his study, Lévi-Provençal is said to have found four Arabo-Hispanic verses nearly or completely recopied in William's manuscript. According to historic sources, William VIII, the father of William, brought to Poitiers hundreds of Muslim prisoners. Trend admitted that the troubadours derived their sense of form and even the subject matter of their poetry from the Andalusian Muslims. The hypothesis that the troubadour tradition was created, more or less, by William after his experience of Moorish arts while fighting with the Reconquista in Spain was also championed by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in the early 20th-century, but its origins go back to the Cinquecento and Giammaria Barbieri (died 1575) and Juan Andrés (died 1822). Meg Bogin, English translator of the female troubadors, also held this hypothesis, as did Idries Shah. Certainly "a body of song of comparable intensity, profanity and eroticism [existed] in Arabic from the second half of the 9th century onwards."
One possible theory on the origins of the Western Solfège musical notation suggests that it may have had Arabic origins. It has been argued that the Solfège syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti) may have been derived from the syllables of the Arabic solmization system Durr-i-Mufassal ("Separated Pearls") (dal, ra, mim, fa, sad, lam). This origin theory was first proposed by Meninski in his Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalum (1680) and then by Laborde in his Essai sur la Musique Ancienne et Moderne (1780), while more recent supporters include Henry George Farmer and Samuel D. Miller.
Bartol Gyurgieuvits (1506–1566) spent 13 years as
a slave in the Ottoman empire. After escaping, he
published De Turvarum ritu et caermoniis in Amsterdam in
1544. It is one of the first European books to describe
music in Islamic society. In India, the Islamic Mughal
emperors ruled both Muslims and Hindus. The greatest of
these, Akbar (1542–1605) had a team of at least fifty
musicians, thirty-six of whom are known to us by name.
The origins of the "belly dance" are very obscure, as
depictions and descriptions are rare. It may have
originated in Pre islamic Arabia Examples have been
found from 200 BC, suggesting a possible pre-Islamic
Early Modern Music in Cairo
Though, according to Edward William Lane, no man
of sense would ever become a musician, music was a key
part of society. Tradesmen of every occupation used
music during work and the schools taught the Quran by
chanting. Their music was derived from Greek, Persian
and Indian traditions. According to Lane, the most
remarkable peculiarity of the Arab system of music is
the division of tones into thirds. The songs of this
period were similar in sound and simple, consisting of
only a few notes.
Male professional musicians during this period were called Alateeyeh (pl) (Egyptian: [ʔælæˈtejːæ]), or Alatee (singular) (Egyptian: [ʔæˈlæːti]), which means “a player upon an instrument”. However, this name applies to both vocalists as well as instrumentalists. This position was considered disreputable and lowly. However, musicians found work singing or playing at parties to entertain the company. They generally made three shillings a night, but earned more by the guests giving more.
Female professional musicians were called Alawim (pl) or Al’meh, which means a learned female. These singers were often hired on the occasion of a celebration in the harem of a wealthy person. They were not with the harem, but in an elevated room that was concealed by a screen so as not to be seen by either the harem or the master of the house. The female Alawim were more highly paid than male performers and more highly regarded than the Alateeyeh as well. Lane relates an instance of a female performer who so enraptured her audience that she earned to fifty guineas for one night’s performance from the guests and host, who were not considered wealthy.
Slavery was widespread around the world. Just as
in the Roman empire, slaves were often brought into the
Arab world from Africa. Black slaves from Zanzibar were
noted in the 11th century for the quality of their song
and dance. The "Epistle on Singing Girls", written by
the Basra Mu'tazilite writer al-Jahiz in the 9th century
CE, satirizes the excessive money that could be made by
singers. The author mentions an Abyssinian girl who
fetched 120,000 dinars at an auction - far more than an
ordinary slave. A festival in the 8th century CE is
mentioned as having fifty singing slave-girls with lutes
who acted as back-up musicians for a singer called
Jamilia. In 1893, "Little Egypt", a belly-dancer from
Syria, appeared at the Chicago world's fair and caused a
Male instrumentalists were condemned in a treatise in 9 CE. They were associated with perceived vices such as chess, love poetry, wine drinking and homosexuality. Many Persian treatises on music were burned by zealots. Following the invasion of Egypt, Napoleon commissioned reports on the state of Ottoman culture. Villoteau's account reveals that there were guilds of male instrumentalists, who played to male audiences, and "learned females," who sang and played for women. The instruments included the oud, the kanun (zither) and the ney (flute). By 1800, several instruments that were first encountered in Turkish military bands had been adopted into European classical orchestras: the piccolo, the cymbal and the kettle drum. The santur, a hammered dulcimer, was cultivated within Persian classical schools of music that can be traced back to the middle of 19 CE. There was no written notation for the santur until the 1970s. Everything was learned face-to-face .
Musicians in Aleppo, 18th century.
Early Secular Formation
Musicians in Aleppo, 1915.
In the 20th century, Egypt was the first in a series of Arab countries to experience a sudden emergence of nationalism, as it became independent after 2000 years of foreign rule. Turkish music, popular during the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the region, was replaced by national music. Cairo became a center for musical innovation.
One of the first female musicians to take a secular approach was Umm Kulthum quickly followed by Fairuz. Both have been extremely popular through the decades that followed and both are considered legends of Arabic music. Westernization
During the 1950s and the 1960s Arabic music began
to take on a more Western tone with such artists as
Abdel Halim Hafez paving the way. By the 1970s several
other singers had followed suit and a strand of Arabic
pop was born. Arabic pop usually consists of Western
styled songs with Arabic instruments and lyrics.
Melodies are often a mix between Eastern and Western.
In the 1990s the several artists have taken up such a style including Amr Diab, Samira Said, Hisham Abbas, Angham, Asalah Nasri, Kadhem Al Saher, Mostafa Amar, Najwa Karam, Nawal Al Zoghbi, Ehab Tawfik, Mohamed Fouad, Diana Haddad, Mohamed Mounir, Latifa, Cheb Khaled, George Wassouf, and Hakim.
In 1996,( Amr Diab - Habibi ya Nour El Ain ) was released, becoming a tremendous success not only in the Middle East nor the Arab world but throughout the entire world. The title track, and its English version "Habibi", was an international phenomenon, becoming a massive crossover hit. In this song Amr Diab has mixed three music civilizations in one track. The Spanish music in flamenco music, French music by accordion solo and Arabic which showed in the playing of drums by Duff instrument and tamphits.
This song opened the door in front of Arabic music in the way of internationality and to be popular all over the world.
A popular form of West meets East
style of music, similar in many respects to modern Arabic
Pop. This blend of western and eastern music was popularized
as Franco-Arabic music by artists such as Dalida (Egypt),
Sammy Clarke (Lebanon) and Aldo from Australia. Although
Franco-Arabic is a term used to describe many forms of
cross-cultural blending between the West and the Middle
East, musically the genre crosses over many lines as is seen
in songs that incorporate Arabic and Italian, Arabic and
French and, of course, Arabic and English styles and or
Arabic R&B, Reggae, and Hip
There has also been a rise of R&B, reggae and hip hop influence of Arabic music in the past five years. This usually involves a rapper featured in a song (such as Ishtar in her song 'Habibi Sawah'). The Moroccan singer Elam Jay develop a contemporary version of Gnawa, fusing it with R&B which he named Gnawitone Styla. Another variation of contemporary Gnawa played in Morocco is introduced by Darga. Based in Casablanca, the group fusing the Gnawa with Reggae.
However certain artists have taken to using full R&B and reggae beats and styling such as Darine. This has been met with mixed critical and commercial reaction. As of now it is not a widespread genre.
Electronic dance music is another genre to come out
into popularity, influenced by the styles of North America,
Europe, Australia, and other Western countries. Often, songs
in this genre would combine electronic musical instruments
with traditional Middle Eastern instruments. There are also,
likewise, a number of nightclubs in the Arab world that play
this kind of music.
Another popular form of West meets East, Arabic Jazz
is also popular, with many songs using jazz instruments.
Early jazz influences began with the use of the saxophone by
musicians like Samir Suroor, in the "oriental" style. The
use of the saxophone in that manner can be found in Abdel
Halim Hafez's songs, as well as Kadim Al Sahir and Rida Al
Abdallah today. The first mainstream jazz elements were
incorporated into Arabic music by the Rahbani brothers.
Fairuz's later work was almost exclusively made up of jazz
songs, composed by her son Ziad Rahbani. Ziad Rahbani also
pioneered today's oriental jazz movement, to which singers
including Rima Khcheich, Salma El Mosfi, and (on occasion)
Latifa adhere. We can also find a lot of jazz music in
Mohamed Mounir's songs starting from his first album which
it was in 1977, till now he still make some good jazz music.
Rock music is popular all around the world, and the
Arab world is no exception. There are many Arabic rock bands
that fuse the sound of hard rock with traditional Arabic
instruments. Arabic Rock is gaining a lot of attention in
the Middle East, with bands such as Massar Egbari , Sahara,
Wyvern and Cartoon Killerz in Egypt, Meen and Mashrou' Leila
in Lebanon, and in Jordan with bands such as Jadal. The band
Hoba Hoba Spirit from Morocco is also popular, especially in
the Maghrebi region. Rachid Taha, an Algerian musician,
plays a fusion of Rock and Raï.
The world of modern Arabic music has long been
dominated by musical trends that have emerged from Cairo,
Egypt. The city is generally considered a cultural center in
the Arab world. Innovations in popular music via the
influence of other regional styles have also abounded from
Morocco to Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Beirut has become
a major center, dictating trends in the development of
Arabic pop music. Other regional styles that have enjoyed
popular music status throughout the Arab world, including:
Secular art musicSecular genres include maqam al-iraqi, andalusi nubah, muwashshah, Fjiri songs, qasidah, layali, mawwal, taqsim, bashraf, sama'i, tahmilah, dulab, sawt, and liwa (Touma 1996, pp. 55–108).
Arabic religious music includes Jewish (Pizmonim and
Baqashot), Christian, and Islamic music. However, Islamic
music, including the Tajwid or recitation of Qur'an
readings, is structurally equivalent to Arabic secular
music, while Christian Arab music has been influenced by
Syriac Orthodox, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, Coptic,
and Maronite church music. (ibid, p. 152)
Much Arabic music, is characterized by an emphasis on melody and rhythm, as opposed to harmony. There are some genres of Arabic music that are polyphonic, but typically, Arabic music is homophonic.
Habib Hassan Touma (1996, p.xix-xx) submits that there are "five components" that characterize Arabic music:
1.The Arab tone system; that is, a musical tuning system that relies on specific interval structures and was invented by al-Farabi in the 10th century (p. 170)2.Rhythmic-temporal structures that produce a rich variety of rhythmic patterns, known as awzan or "weight", that are used to accompany metered vocal and instrumental genres, to accent or give them form.3.A number of musical instruments that are found throughout the Arab world that represent a standardized tone system, are played with generally standardized performance techniques, and display similar details in construction and design.4.Specific social contexts that produce sub-categories of Arabic music, or musical genres that can be broadly classified as urban (music of the city inhabitants), rural (music of the country inhabitants), or Bedouin (music of the desert inhabitants)..."5.An Arab musical mentality, "responsible for the esthetic homogeneity of the tonal-spatial and rhythmic-temporal structures throughout the Arab world whether composed or improvised, instrumental or vocal, secular or sacred." Touma describes this musical mentality as being composed of:The phenomenon of the maqāmThe predominance of vocal musicThe tendency toward small instrumental ensemblesThe arrangement in different combinatory sequences of the small and smallest melodic elements - the maqams and ajnas - "and their repetition, combination, and permutation within the framework of the tonal-spatial model."The general absence of polyphony, polyrhythm, and motivic development, though Arabic music is familiar with the use of ostinato, and an even more instinctive heterophonic way of producing and performing music.The alternation between a free rhythmic-temporal and fixed tonal-spatial organization on the one hand, and a fixed rhythmic-temporal and free tonal-spatial structure on the other.
A Maqam tone level exampleThough it would be incorrect to call it a modal system, the Arabic system is more complex than that of the Greek modes. The basis of Arabic music is the maqam (pl. maqamat), which looks like the mode, but is not quite the same. The tonic note, dominant note, and ending note (unless modulation occurs) are generally determined by the maqam used. Arabic maqam theory as ascribed in literature over the ages names between 90 and 110 maqams, that are grouped into larger categories known as fasilah. Fasilah are groupings of maqams whose first four primary pitches are shared in common.Jins/Ajnas
The maqam consists of at least two jins, or scale segments.
"Jins" in Arabic comes from the ancient Latin word "genus,"
meaning type. In practice, a jins (pl. ajnas) is either a
trichord, a tetrachord, or a pentachord. The trichord is
three notes, the tetrachord four, and the pentachord five.
The maqam usually covers only one octave (usually two jins),
but can cover more. Like the melodic minor scale, some
maqamat use different ajnas, and thus note progressions,
when descending and ascending. Due to continuous innovation
and the emergence of new jins, and because most music
scholars have not reached consensus on the subject, it is
difficult to provide a solid figure for the total number of
jins in use. Nonetheless, in practice most musicians would
agree there are at least eight major ajnas: Rast, Bayat,
Sikah, Hijaz, Saba, Kurd, Nahawand, and Ajam - and their
commonly used variants such as the Nakriz, Athar Kurd, Sikah
Beladi, Saba Zamzama. Mukhalif is a rare jins used almost
exclusively in Iraq, and it is not used in combination with
The main difference between the Western chromatic
scale and the Arabic scales is the existence of many
in-between notes, which are sometimes referred to as quarter
tones, for the sake of simplicity. In some treatments of
theory, the quarter tone scale or all twenty four tones
should exist. According to Yūsuf Shawqī (1969), in practice,
there are many fewer tones (Touma 1996, p. 170).
Additionally, in 1932, at the Cairo Congress of Arab Music held in Cairo, Egypt - and attended by such Western luminaries as Béla Bartók and Henry George Farmer - experiments were done which determined conclusively that the notes in actual use differ substantially from an even-tempered 24-tone scale. Furthermore, the intonation of many of those notes differ slightly from region to region (Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq).
As a result of these findings, the following
recommendation was issued: "The tempered scale and the
natural scale should be rejected. In Egypt, the Egyptian
scale is to be kept with the values, which were measured
with all possible precision. The Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi
scales should remain what they are..." (translated in
Maalouf 2002, p. 220). Both in modern
practice, and evident in recorded music over the course of
the last century, several differently-tuned "E"s in between
the E-flat and E-natural of the Western Chromatic scale are
used, that vary according to the types of maqams and ajnas
used, and the region in which they are used.
Musicians and teachers refer to these in-between notes
as "quarter tones," using "half-flat" or "half-sharp" as a
designation for the in-between flats and sharps, for ease of
nomenclature. Performance and teaching of the exact values
of intonation in each jins or maqam is usually done by ear.
It should also be added, in reference to Habib Hassan
Touma's comment above, that these "quarter-tones" are not
used everywhere in the maqamat: in practice, Arabic music
does not modulate to 12 different tonic areas like the
Well-Tempered Klavier. The most commonly used "quarter
tones" are on E (between E-flat and E-natural), A, B, D, F
(between F-natural and F-sharp) and C.
Arab classical music is known for its famed virtuoso
singers, who sing long, elaborately ornamented, melismatic
tunes, and are known for driving audiences into ecstasy. Its
traditions come from pre-Islamic times, when female singing
slaves entertained the wealthy, and inspired warriors on the
battlefield with their rajaz poetry, also performing at
Instruments and ensembles Front and rear views of an oud.
The prototypical Arabic music ensemble in Egypt and Syria is known as the takht, and includes, (or included at different time periods) instruments such as the 'oud, qānūn, rabab, ney, violin (introduced in the 1840s or 50s), riq and dumbek. In Iraq, the traditional ensemble, known as the chalghi, includes only two melodic instruments - the jowza (similar to the rabab but with four strings) and santur- accompanied by the riq and dumbek.
The Arab world has incorporated instruments from the West, including the electric guitar, cello, double bass and oboe, and incorporated influences from jazz and other foreign musical styles. The singers remained the stars, however, especially after the development of the recording and film industry in the 1920s in Cairo. These singing celebrities include Abd el-Halim Hafez, Farid Al Attrach, Asmahan, Sayed Darwish, Mohammed Abd el-Wahaab, Warda Al-Jazairia, and possibly the biggest star of modern Arab classical music, Umm Kulthum. Sources
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