MofA Week 6
Folk music and folkloricization in the Arab world
Listening examples to accompany readings and class discussions. Note the diversity of "folk music". How does the coherence of this category compare to that of the turath qadim (old turath of the 19th century and before)? To the newer extensions of the turath in the 20th century (mediated by radio, film, phonograms, TV) (we'll discuss these next)?
Folkloricization: the separation of music and context; musical recontextualization; musical symbolization/ideologization/commodification (in relation to notions of nation); removal of traditional audience and insertion of new audience; musical communication caused to cross boundaries of culture and class. All these processes induce corresponding musical changes as well.
Note that with the exception of the Fidjeri music and mawwal, all the folk music examples presented here were recorded on the stage of the Institut du Monde Arabe, an Arab cultural center in Paris, primarily for a French audience. The mawwal examples were recorded in Cairo, and produced by Long Distance- Real World Works, a label based in Paris, with support from Festival D'Automne a Paris.
The three Institut du Monde Arabe albums can be found in their catalog. (La Simsimiyya de Port-Said: Ensemble Al-Tanburah; Aux source du Rai: Cheikha Remnitti; La geste hilalienne: Sayyed al-Dowwi). Have a look at the album covers and read the French text if you are able (you can search the pdf file for the artists' names to locate the albums).
Generally: Examine the notes and cover art to "folk music" albums from a critical perspective. What features are emphasized in order to sell the "folk music" to a largely Western market?
How do religious and folk musics overlap? What happens when religious music is folkloricized, distanced from traditional meaning and context, treated as an unstudied cultural artifact of the anonymous masses? It is hard to imagine this happening to mainstream ritual sounds-- Qur'anic recitation, for instance. But Sufi music is often treated as a "folk" category, especially when it represents a distinctive visible or cultural minority, as it the case with the "black" Gnawa of Morocco, with the approval of many mainstream Muslims (who treat such traditions as popular superstition). (Similar groups are the Moroccan Hamadsha and the Stambouli of Tunisia, as well as the Zar of Egypt and Sudan).
Baba L-Rouami, featuring sintir (bass), vocals, darbouka drum (the metal cymbals, qarqaba, are not used on this track).
This is Gnawa music, performed by a Gnawa religious organization of Morocco, packaged for the world music world as "Gnawa Night Spirit Masters". Traditionally, this music is used to induce trance and spirit propitiation. Sub-Saharan African influences abound, in the music (use of pentatonic scale, polyrhythm, call-response singing, prominent metal clapper), trance behavior, and belief in musical interactions with the spirit world (for instance spirits are associated with tunes or rhythms). But the primary instrument, called sintir or gimbri (resembling a bass guitar) is related to other plucked lutes of the region, and Sufis share many of the same ideas and forms of social organization.
The Gnawa, who most probably came to North Africa via the slave trade, claim descent from the Prophet's first muezzin (mu'adhdhin, the caller-to-prayer), Bilal, himself of black African (Ethiopian) descent. Originally many spoke Bambara, though most speak Arabic today. Over the last few decades, Gnawa music has developed a large local and world music audience, and various fusion variants with rock and jazz artists (e.g. bassist Bill Laswell, jazz pianist Randy Weston, and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of rock group Led Zeppelin). Literary figures such as Paul Bowles have also embraced this music enthusiastically.
The Gnawa practice a healing ritual (derdeba or lila) involving music, movement, and trance, for spirit propitiation and therapy. They are close to Sufi groups in some ways; some of the spirits are Muslim, and Gnawa generally consider themselves Muslim. Like Sufis, they form a brotherhood, and practice an ecstatic liturgy; even the word "lila" (night) is common among Sufis to denote a nighttime ceremony. In other ways they are closer to myriad music-possession-healing groups of sub-Saharan Africa. The Zar ritual of Sudan and the Red Sea area is very similar, musically and philosophically. However the Gnawa are also an ethnic designation, and tend to intermarry; this is rarely true of Sufi orders (turuq) generally.
Gnawa music is a good example of "music of the Arab world" which cannot be regarded as "Arab music" in the usual sense.
Gnawa Stories provides an informative multi-media presentation.
Roots of Rai: Cheikha Remitti
Fidjeri songs of the Arabian Gulf
Fidjeri songs of the Arabian Gulf (Touma, The Music of the Arabs, pp. 88-95).
This remarkable tradition developed among pearl divers of the Gulf.
The Sira Hilaliyya
The Sira Hilaliyya (Reynolds, D. F. (1994). Musical Dimensions of an Arabic Oral Epic Tradition. Asian Music, 26(1), 53-94.)
Listen and also read the relevant portions of this interview with Professor Dwight Reynolds (the whole thing is fascinating, but start reading in earnest from the interviewer's question about the Bani Hilal; just search for the text "epic of the Bani Hilal" and start reading from there)
The sira has been folkloricized in a number of ways, in Egypt (the famous poet Abd al-Rahman al-Abnudi published one version; the director Hasan al-Geretly adapted it for the stage), and in Europe (performances by Hasan's troupe al-Warsha; performances on the stage of the Institut du Monde Arabe).
The Egyptian mawwal
Egyptian mawwal (Cachia, P. (1977). The Egyptian Mawwal: Its Ancestry, Its Development, and Its Present Form. Journal of Arab Literature, 8, 77-103.)
Listen and also read the notes online, providing a complete transcription of the mawwal performed. In fact, what is performed is a sequence of mawwal poems, each employing a different rhyme scheme. Strung together, they create a narrative form rarely heard today. The mawwal as purely musical genre, implying vocal improvisations on a poem (which need not itself be a mawwal), continues in secular urban music which represents the extension of the old turath, though most modern pop singers are not capable of performing it.
The Red Sea Simsimiyya
The Simsimiyya of the Red Sea region. (Shiloah, A. (1972). The Simsimiyya: A Stringed Instrument of the Red Sea Area. Asian Music, 4(1), 15-26.)
The audio presents two excerpts from a Paris performance by the Tanbura group from Port Said, featuring the simsimiyya (lyre) and voice.
The first song, "Shuftu al-Amar `ala al-sadr al-gamil" (I saw the moon on the breast of the beautiful one), in praise of beauty, is typical of this genre (maqam rast). The second, "Wa al-salaat `al-nabi" indicates a common phenomenon: the performance of Islamic folk music in genres and contexts that don't appear overtly religious, as a kind of benediction. Such songs often open or close performances of folk music. This one calls for blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad (maqam bayyati)
The group challenges traditional governmental folkloricization, and also creates their own forms on stage, and even in video clips. (Check out the videos on their website.)