Typology of Music of the Arab World

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MAW: a typology of music since ~1900

While no single schema does justice to the diversity of the AW, some organization is required if only for linear presentation in a course such as this one. The following has been adopted in the course outline.

NB: typologies of MAW are only feasible in the Age of Recording (i.e. ~1904 and thereafter). Thus no attempt is made to categorize pre-recording era music, except insofar as it is represented by recordings later on.

  • urban turath (qadim): art or elite urban music. Late 19th c (roots are evidently older) to the 1920s. Diverse. Often considered to be continuous with medieval traditions of Abbasid Baghdad or Umayyad Cordoba; such continuity is credible, though evidence for degree of similarities is lacking. Strong Ottoman (in Egypt/Levant/Tunis) and Persian (in Iraq) influences. Must be subcategorized by region, due to divergent histories especially following decline of Arabic-speaking power. Primary regions: Maghrib (North Africa), Sham (Levant), Egypt, Iraq, Arabia.
  • post-turath popular mediated tarab (by region) (jadid): western and media influence, especially via musical films. Develops beyond the turath qadim primarily from 1930s to 1970s. Convergence across AT; represents first pan-Arab musics.
  • mainstream popular media musics (subcategorized by region, genre): western influence. Convergence (musical sharing) and divergence (local production) are manifest. Exist in and through media to an unprecedented degree; highly commodified. decline of live performance (studio musics, multitracking). Rise (as tarab declines) from 1970s to present.
  • folk/folkloric music (rural, beduin, lower-class urban; by region). Little unity across region; hard to justify a single "Arab" label.
  • dance music and dance (raqs) (whether "folk" or "urban"). Most music supports text, but dance is also widespread, cross-cutting other divisions (regional, class, urban/rural/beduin)
  • religious music (Islam, Sufism, churches) - typically the Arabic word "musiqa" is not used and vocal forms predominate.
  • music of non-Arabic communities in Arab world (AS – A), e.g. Berber, Kurdish
  • music of border zones (cultural edges of AT), e.g. West and East Africa; Indian sounds in the Gulf.
  • alt-Arab: the musical avant-garde, usually creative fusions of Arab and Western (especially jazz), greater prominence of non-vocal sounds, and of the instrumentalist or "band" rather than star vocalist. More prevalent in Lebanon?
  • music of the diaspora (AW – AT). The diaspora may be merely consumerist (following AT), but also exerts conservative (older "classics" favored by immigrants), and progressive (e.g. development of Algerian rai in Paris) forces. (Distinctive features of diaspora: minority, juxtaposition of Arab migrants from various regions, often relatively greater affluence, loss of Arabic language, intermarriage, assimilation, racism, nostalgia for homeland...)
  • Western music (pop, jazz, classical) in the Arab world. Presence of opera and symphonic music dates to 19th century; tradition of composer in the "classical music" sense. Strong influence of popular music orchestras and Latin music from 1930s onwards (e.g. large string sections, decline of traditional instrumentation). Later: influence of rock and jazz musics from the 1970s.
  • Arab "world music", beyond AW: (1) Arab stars who develop broader audience (rare), e.g. occasional European hits from Amr Diab, Khaled; (2) World music stars relatively unknown in the Arab world (more common), e.g. Hamza el-Din, Simon Shaheen, Dr Ali Jihad Racy. Note that when compared to MAW generally Arab world music tends to feature instrumentalists more than singers, the reverse of what is true in the AW, because the text-centricity of Arab music tends to limit diffusion to Arabic speakers. Moving beyond boundaries of Arabic requires some deemphasis of text, or increased emphasis on music per se.

Musical Examples