Ethnomusicology of the Arab World (Fall 2014)

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Music 468 / 568: Area Studies in Ethnomusicology: The Arab World
Meetings: Fall 2014, Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30 - 1:50 pm, HC 2 34


Professor Michael Frishkopf
Office: 334D Old Arts Building
Office hours: Wednesday 1:00-3:00, by appointment
Tel: 780-492-0225, email:

Course scope and goals

This course will survey music cultures and trends in the Arab world (broadly defined), from the 7th century to the present. We will develop a critical perspective, by contextualizing music designated as "Arab" within Arab nationalism from the 19th century onwards. Likewise, the concept of "Arab world" will be problematized, nuanced, and extended to the diasporic community. Historical and music theoretical approaches will be adopted, but the course will focus on the sociology and anthropology of music. We will examine localized musical dialects--urban and rural—characterizing societies and cultures from Morocco to the Gulf, as well as broader mediated forms, and music media themselves, from phonodiscs to satellite TV. Aesthetics of music, spiritual, religious, and metaphysical dimensions, gender and sexuality, politics, coloniality, and globalization are all topics to be taken up. A significant component of the course is sensory immersive, including listening and viewing, including a number of music-related films, both documentary and feature. The objective is for you to learn about these multifacted music cultures, and, through them (and by means of their critical analysis) to begin to understand the Arab world (so frequently misunderstood) in a new way.

This course also features a required Community Service Learning component, centered on folk music revival in Egypt, and its social implications, allowing you to participate in music of the Arab world directly, by joining an extended program of musical research, performance, preservation, dissemination, and revitalization. This component entails 20 hours of service supporting a Cairo-based folk music organization, El Mastaba, including applied research in support of El Mastaba's social, educational, research, and archival mission: to document and help promote the continuous development of traditional Egyptian musical forms as a means of building community and civil society.

Thus course goals include:

  • To learn about the diversity of "Arab music" and critique the concept (along with parallel concepts of "Arab world" and "Arab")
  • To learn about the multiple dimensions--historical, political, social, religious--of the Arab world and its diaspora as expressed, maintained, and contested through music.
  • To understand how music can serve to support civil society and engagement in the public sphere, as well as correcting stereotypes of the global imagination, through applied research in support of a folklore organization (El Mastaba) based in Cairo: [thereby supporting and xtending a project being carried out by the professor, with internal UofA funding]

Course Schedule

Note: eClass site includes course readings, listenings, assignments, plus protected resources. Assignments will be updated by the end of the Saturday prior to the week in which they are assigned.

Topics and assignments, by week:

Week 1: Intro. What is the "Arab world"? What is “music of the Arab world”?

Week 2: The history of Arab music & the construction of “Arab music” ("al-musiqa al-`arabiyya")

Week 3: Music in theory, theory in practice: historical and contemporary perspectives

Week 4: Musical values, aesthetics, forms, performance, & emotion: turath, asala, and tarab in urban art music of the modern era.

Week 5: Music and the metaphysical: discourse and practice. Note: We will cover these materials on Tuesday September 30. There is no class Thursday, Oct 2. But please gather in the classroom to meet in your groups - it's an ideal opportunity to work together because everyone is free.

Week 6: Folk music, and musical folkloricization Map Quiz (in class, Thursday, Oct 9)

Weeks 7,8: Music and Media: Musical change from 19th century turath through the 20th century, with the rise of new media economies, new "popular music" Hossam Ramzy and friends visit Oct 23. Concerts: Oct 24, 25. First SC paper due Oct 21 (covering readings in Weeks 1-6)

Week 9: Music at the Margins of "Arab music": relation to ethnicity, class, gender, borders, the global, the avant-garde

Week 10: Music, politics, identity, nationalisms: hegemony, resistance, revolution

Week 11: Music, dance, gender & sexuality NB: this week I'm away at the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology. You will have reading and viewing assignments, but no class this week.

Week 12: Globalization: diasporic and world music

Week 13: Student presentations (10 minutes each)

Week 14: Second SC paper due Dec 2. More presentations? Wrap-up.

The above schedule is tentative and may be revised depending on our progress, to accommodate student interests, and the CSL component.

Course Format

Preparation for class

Readings, listenings, viewings will be finalized on eClass (see below) by the end of Saturday prior to the week in which they'll be taken up. For each reading, you should prepare a reading report: one or two paragraphs of summary and critique, for your own reference. (These need not be handed in, but are useful for discussions and writing SC papers.)

In class

Each class will combine several kinds of activities (to keep things interesting):

  1. lectures with AV examples
  2. student presentations
  3. class discussions
  4. sensory immersion, via extended listening or viewing (e.g. films, concerts)
  5. musical practica (ear training, composition, improvisation, experiments), sometimes followed by discussion.


We'll use eClass for course management, in conjunction with this wiki. Use for quick access to eClass. You'll find weekly assignments posted on the eClass site, as well as protected resources. All assignments must be uploaded via eClass. The above schedule contains weekly lecture notes and links (periodically revised).

NB: This course can be taken at either of two levels: 468 (regular) or 568 (advanced). If you are an undergraduate, you should be enrolled in 468. Graduate students should be enrolled in 568. Expectations for 568 are slightly higher throughout the course.

Course Requirements

  • Regular attendance and participation. Complete preparatory readings, listenings, and viewings before each class. Come prepared with written notes, comments, questions, and critiques. Be able to state each reading’s main points in one or two sentences, and develop a critical perspective: what’s missing? What are the author’s assumptions (perhaps unstated)? Participate in class activities, including discussions.
  • Presentation. During the term, everyone will present one reading in class, briefly introducing the selection, asking probing questions and stirring discussion. NOTE: This has been scheduled for Week 6 (Folk music and musical folklorization), and your presentations will center on your El Mastaba groups. Everyone select one annotated reading to present, along with a snippet of video highlighting your group. You may work together with your group partner(s) on this, but everyone will present. Each group can take about 15 minutes, to include Q/A.
  • Map quiz. Identify 22 countries of the Arab League, their capitals, and approximate country populations. There are practice tests (under Resources). Date: Thursday Oct 9.
  • Two synthetic-critical (SC) papers. Each paper draws together five weeks’ worth of readings, listenings, and viewings, by comparing, contrasting, and critiquing them. These are relatively short assignments (minimum of 4 pages for students enrolled in 468; minimum of 6 pages for those enrolled in 568); no additional research is required. Do, however, cite the readings as you discuss them, using any standard for scholarly references, and list all references cited in any standard bibliographic format at the end of the paper. I recommend use of Zotero ( You must reference every assigned reading (optionally, for extra credit, listenings and viewings as well) at least once in one of the two papers. Submit SC papers via eClass. (I’m evaluating these assignments with two criteria in mind: (a) did you actually do the readings? (b) did you think about them, their limits and biases, and how they interrelate?) DUE: Oct 21 (#2), and Dec 2 (#2). Please upload via eClass.
  • Event ethnography: an ethnographic report on an Arab music or dance performance in Edmonton, including concerts, nightclub performances, rehearsals, or workshops (3 pages for students enrolled in 468; 5 pages for those enrolled in 568). Here's where you really get to do ethnomusicology! We can all use the eClass' News Forum to alert each other to upcoming events. Attend, participate, observe. In your report, discuss the venue, people, behavior, discourse, music, sequence of events. Keep your eyes and ears wide open for the broadest possible perspective. Relate the event to its socio-cultural location (Edmonton in 2014), economically, politically, historically. Try to make connections to what we’ve learned in the course, citing readings as needed. Graduate students should include additional research beyond the above - using either primary (fieldwork) or secondary (library) sources (extra credit for undergraduates). Submit via eClass. Extra credit: transcription and analysis of the music (you’ll need permission to record), with special attention to maqam. Possible events: (1) Restaurant bellydance shows (see under Resources); (2) Drumzy concerts, Oct 24 and 25, in Convocation Hall (see course calendar). Due: Dec 2 (via eClass)
  • CSL component, detailed below. This is the major course component. Due: Dec 9 (via eClass). NB: Please upload links to videos, as well as papers.
  • Extra credit: Maintain an eClass (or other) blog, documenting your experiences learning about music of the Arab world, and submit the link by email. Contribute to the course glossary (eClass) and wikipedia index (on this wiki). Compose a dulab and perform it for the class (more on this later). Join MENAME.

Note: all page counts refer to double-spaced, 12 pt, 1” margin, Times New Roman text pages, not including bibliography. (Page counts are minima - if you need more space to express yourself, please go ahead!)

Course Resources

  • Special resource page for this course, on Arab history, music, research, writing, and more.
  • This wiki. A wiki is a website that facilitates rapid collective editing and linking of pages (Wikipedia is an instance.) This page is our course wiki (quick link:; weekly lecture notes and related links are on The wiki contains links to numerous resources, including the course outline, many online library resources (most importantly, the Jstor database), and a course bibliography. Lecture notes will also be stored here. Anyone can browse. In order to edit the wiki, you must login using information available on eClass. For a basic tutorial about wiki editing, see Note that you can create internal wiki links without creating the linked-to page. Clicking on such a link brings up a blank page to be edited; collaboration begins when others finish what you’ve begun. Don’t forget to save your changes after you edit a page! Also, please sign your entries, otherwise you will not receive credit for having written them.
  • eClass, an open source virtual learning environment based on Moodle technology. Quick link: . Treat eClass as the primary course website. Weekly assignments are posted here, with links to online fulltext whenever available. There is also a useful calendar, forums (for course events, to discuss your favorite music and readings), a database, and a blog for each user, other resources, and a link to the course wiki (described below). You’ll upload assignments to eClass - please do not submit them in hardcopy or by email unless directed otherwise!
  • Online library resources, via Several databases are especially relevant, including jstor and Oxford Music Online. See also the Special resource page link, above.
  • Community service learning: see below.
  • Hardcopy. Not everything is online! Hence the following:
  1. SUB bookstore: many course-related books available for purchase. You don't have to buy them - all should be on reserve.
  2. Music library reserve: course-related books/CDs/films for short-term borrowing (Rutherford North)
  3. Rutherford Library.

CSL component

CSL at the UofA

This course is registered with the Community Service Learning program.

See: Community Service Learning program guidebook and CSL at the UofA

Our community partner organization is El Mastaba Center for Egyptian Folk Music, based in Cairo, a dynamic center for folklore preservation, performance, teaching, and research. I have been working with El Mastaba for several years, and am presently embarking on a collaborative project to enhance their media, archive, dissemination, publicity, and fundraising. You will join in this project!

I view CSL with El Mastaba as a form of Participatory Action Research: applied research that is formulated and carried out collaboratively, erasing lines between insiders and outsiders, academics and non-academics, students and communities.

CSL with El Mastaba

This link -- El Mastaba Community Service Learning Project--contains background information on El Mastaba, and its constituent bands.

In support of El Mastaba's goals (listed above) we will:

  • Divide into teams (2-3 students each), each team devoted to one of the El Mastaba bands.
  • Each team will:
    • Edit and annotate a set of band-related videos on YouTube, using archival footage or documentaries, available on our class account or via links from eClass (see eClass for details). Note that you do not have to do *all* the videos relating to your band! You should start by selecting a short video segment, then adding metadata of various kinds, to get the hang of it, and see how it goes.
      • 1) Add atemporal administrative (technical), structural, and descriptive metadata to the videos, including XML code following Dublin Core standards. Use this metadata generator to automatically create a few lines of XML code that you can insert into the YouTube videos' text field. (I'll demonstrate in class.) Besides these lines of XML you can also add YouTube tags, as well as a free prose description in the text box.
      • 2) Add temporal metadata, by annotating archival footage, noting points of starting and stopping, entry of particular musicians and instruments, technical issues (quality, framing), and other temporal features. This will be useful for future editing of rough footage, and also as a running commentary on polished documentaries.
      • 3) Use YouTube (or other) editing facilities to create a new short (< 5 minutes) documentary featuring the band. You may use original video sources, combined with titles, graphics, voiceover, or anything else you care to add.
      • IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you begin to invest time on video work it will be crucial to back up what you've done. I suggest downloading video that you've edited online for safekeeping.
    • Develop an annotated bibliography of sources and references (online and off) relevant to the band, by thoroughly scouring the secondary and primary source literature [team: you can work on this together, but sign your annotations so I know who did what. Everyone should contribute at least 7 scholarly sources (10 for graduate students). These need not be directly about the band, but will be relevant to anyone who seeks to understand the band's music.] Add all sources to your Zotero library, and annotate there. This assignment doesn't have to be submitted or uploaded - I will access it on Zotero.
    • Write a short online paper linking to this literature, positioning the band within its broader social, culture, and historical contexts-- suitable for incorporation as CD liner notes, concert program notes, or El Mastaba web text [individual - everyone hands in a different paper; 5 pages undergrad; 10 pages grad]
    • Carry out one or more of the following projects, depending on team member skills (we will discuss the options together later): [team or individual, as you like. PLEASE decide as a group what you plan to do and let me know!]
      • Transcribe and analyze segments of the band's music, with attention to texture, melody, rhythm, modality. (You may wish to consult my framework for etic analysis of music, derived by building on ethnomusicological terms in common use). (musicians, musicologists, theorists, composers, ethnomusicologists)
      • Design an album cover or website highlighting the band and helping connect to potential audiences, in Egypt and abroad (artists, designers)
      • Design a content management system suitable for displaying online media (audio and video).
      • Develop a strategic marketing or fundraising plan, including links to like-minded Canadian government, business, and non-profit organizations (business-minded folks)
      • Design a social media platform and plan (web-minded folks)
      • Critique El Mastaba's current website, from perspectives of design and content, and propose improvements, including replacement texts
      • Analyze ways in which class, religion, and gender cross-cut El Mastaba's cultural mission
      • Research related performing arts (e.g. theatre, dance, photography, film) and how they might be linked to music in El Mastaba's mission
      • Another task (to be approved by the instructor)
    • Present this work to the class for discussion and critique, and submit a final summary report, to be shared with El Mastaba.

During the term, we will also strive to find opportunities--by email or skype--to interact directly with El Mastaba musicians and staff, in order to further our collaboration.

Evaluation and grading

The evaluation of each requirement is on a scale from 0-4 points. These scores are combined according to the percentages indicated in order to produce a final numeric grade. This grade is rounded to the nearest numeric value in the table below, in order to determine the final letter grade. In exceptional cases the grade A+ may also be assigned. Expectations for 568 are higher than for 468. Extra credit assignments (mentioned throughout this outline) can help push you upwards over a letter grade boundary. They will never detract from your grade.

  • attendance and participation: 10%
  • map quiz: 5%
  • reading presentation: 5%
  • each SC paper: 15% (30% total)
  • event ethnography: 10%
  • CSL project: 40%
    • video metadata (atemporal, temporal) and edited short: 10%
    • annotated bibliography: 10%
    • paper: 10%
    • other selected task(s) : 10% (extra tasks offer possible extra credit)

Each assignment is to be uploaded to eClass before class on its due date. Thereafter, an eighth point will be deducted, and an additional eighth point for each subsequent day of lateness (e.g. 8 days' lateness lowers an A to a B).

All course components are evaluated using letter grades, or numbers on a scale from 0-4. Letter grades are converted to their numerical equivalents, then combined in a weighted average (as given above), rounded to the nearest numeric value and converted to a letter grade. Number-grade conversions are performed according to the following table:
A: 4.0
A-: 3.7
B+: 3.3
B: 3.0
B-: 2.7
C+: 2.3
C: 2.0
C-: 1.7
D+: 1.3
D: 1.0
F: 0.0

Official statements

Course prerequisites: none
Course-based ethics approval, Community service learning: Required
Past or representative evaluative course material: see instructor
Additional mandatory instruction fees: No

Policy about course outlines can be found in Section 23.4(2) of the University Calendar. (GFC 29 SEP 2003).

Academic Integrity
“The University of Alberta is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. Students are expected to be familiar with these standards regarding academic honesty and to uphold the policies of the University in this respect. Students are particularly urged to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Code of Student Behaviour (online at ) and avoid any behaviour that could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence. Academic dishonesty is a serious offence and can result in suspension or expulsion from the University.

Learning and working environment
The Faculty of Arts is committed to ensuring that all students, faculty and staff are able to work and study in an environment that is safe and free from discrimination and harassment. It does not tolerate behaviour that undermines that environment. The department urges anyone who feels that this policy is being violated to: • Discuss the matter with the person whose behaviour is causing concern; or • If that discussion is unsatisfactory, or there is concern that direct discussion is inappropriate or threatening, discuss it with the Chair of the Department. For additional advice or assistance regarding this policy you may contact the student ombudservice: ( ). Information about the University of Alberta Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Procedures is described in UAPPOL at

Academic Honesty:
All students should consult the information provided by the Office of Judicial Affairs regarding avoiding cheating and plagiarism in particular and academic dishonesty in general (see the Academic Integrity Undergraduate Handbook and Information for Students). If in doubt about what is permitted in this class, ask the instructor. Students involved in language courses and translation courses should be aware that on-line “translation engines” produce very dubious and unreliable “translations.” Students in language courses should be aware that, while seeking the advice of native or expert speakers is often helpful, excessive editorial and creative help in assignments is considered a form of “cheating” that violates the code of student conduct with dire consequences. An instructor or coordinator who is convinced that a student has handed in work that he or she could not possibly reproduce without outside assistance is obliged, out of consideration of fairness to other students, to report the case to the Associate Dean of the Faculty. See the Academic Discipline Process.

Recording of Lectures:
Audio or video recording of lectures, labs, seminars or any other teaching environment by students is allowed only with the prior written consent of the instructor or as a part of an approved accommodation plan. Recorded material is to be used solely for personal study, and is not to be used or distributed for any other purpose without prior written consent from the instructor.

Attendance, Absences, and Missed Grade Components:
Regular attendance is essential for optimal performance in any course. In cases of potentially excusable absences due to illness or domestic affliction, notify your instructor by e-mail within two days. Regarding absences that may be excusable and procedures for addressing course components missed as a result, consult sections 23.3(1) and 23.5.6 of the University Calendar. Be aware that unexcused absences will result in partial or total loss of the grade for the “attendance and participation” component(s) of a course, as well as for any assignments that are not handed-in or completed as a result. In this course, 8% of your grade depends on regular attendance and energetic participation.

Policy for Late Assignments:
See Evaluation and Grading, above.

Specialized Support & Disability Services:
If you have special needs that could affect your performance in this class, please let me know during the first week of the term so that appropriate arrangements can be made. If you are not already registered with Specialized Support & Disability Services, contact their office immediately ( 2-800 SUB; Email; Email; phone 780-492-3381; WEB ).

Media Archives and Departmental Broadcasting of Audio-visual Material
Audio or video recording of performances, lectures, seminars, or any other academic or research environment activities are carried out by the Department of Music for archival purposes. These archives may be collected and housed in the Music Library. Recorded material is to be used solely for non-profit, educational, research, and community outreach purposes, and is not to be used or distributed for any other purpose without obtaining the express permission from all parties involved.

Please be advised that your solo or group performance may be featured on the University of Alberta's Department of Music website and/or social media platform(s). If you object to this use of audio and/or video material in which you will be included, please advise your instructor or the Department of Music in writing prior to participating in any performance, lecture, seminar or public event held by the Department of Music.

Previous students' research

Course research from previous years....