The Full Wiki

Arabic music: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Arabic music or Arab music (Arabic: موسيقى عربية; ) 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. It also influenced and has been influenced by Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, Persian, Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkish, Indian, African (i.e. North African, Berber and Swahili) and European music (i.e. Flamenco). 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).


Pre-Islamic period

The development of Arabic music has deep roots in Arabic poetry dating back to the pre-Islamic period known as Jahiliyyah. Though there is a lack of scientific study to definitively confirm the existence of Arabic music at those times, most historians agree that there existed distinct forms of music in the Arabian peninsula in the pre-Islamic period between the 5th and the 7th century AD. Arab poets of that time - called شعراء الجاهلية or "Jahili poets" which translates to "The poets of the period of ignorance" - used to recite poems with a high musical rhythm and tone.

Music at that time played an important role in cultivating the mystique of exorcists and magicians. It was believed that Jinn revealed poems to poets and music to musicians. The Choir at the time served as a pedagogic facility where the educated poets would recite their poems. Singing was not thought to be the work of these intellectuals and was instead entrusted to women with beautiful voices (i.e. Al-Khansa) who would learn how to play some instruments used at that time (i.e. lute, drum, Oud, rebab, etc...) and then perform the songs while respecting the poetic metre. It should be noted that the compositions were simple and every singer would sing in a single maqam. Among the notable songs of the period were the "huda" from which the ghina' derived, the nasb, sanad, and rukbani'

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 musiqia 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.

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 Persiamarker 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.


By the 11th century, Moorish Spainmarker had become a center for the manufacture of instruments. These goods spread gradually throughout Francemarker, influencing French troubadours, and eventually reaching the rest of Europe. The English words lute, rebec, guitar, organ and naker are derived from Arabic oud, rabab, qitara, urghun and nagqara'.

The Arabs invented the Ghazal (love song), often used since in Arabic music.

Influence of Arabic music

A number of musical instruments used in Western 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,the harp and zither from the qanun,canon from qanun, geige (violin) from ghichak,and the theorbo from the tarab.

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 twentieth-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.

Sixteenth century

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 Persia or Turkey, possibly developing within the harems. Essential elements of belly dancing are the zills (finger cymbals). Examples have been found from 200 BC, suggesting a possible pre-Islamic origin.

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), or Alatee (singular), 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.

Female Harem

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 Zanzibarmarker were noted in the eleventh century for the quality of their song and dance. The "Epistle on Singing Girls", written by the Basramarker 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 Syriamarker, appeared at the Chicagomarker world's fair and caused a sensation.

Male instrumentalists

Musicians in Aleppo, 18th century.
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 or 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 .

Twentieth century

Early Secular Formation

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 "Arabic Music Legends".


Arabic Pop

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 accordionsolo 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 lyrics.

Arabic R&B, Reggae, and Hip Hop

There has also been a rise of R&B, reggae and hip hop influence of Arabic music in the past 5 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 Casablancamarker, 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.

Arabic electronica

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.

Arabic jazz

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.

Arabic rock

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 in Egypt, Meen and Dabke in Lebanon, and in Jordan with bands such as Jadal. The band Hoba Hoba Spirit from Morocco also popular, especially in the Maghrebi region. Rachid Taha, an Algerian musician, plays a fusion of Rock and Raï.

Musical regions

The world of modern Arabic music has long been dominated by musical trends that have emerged from Cairomarker, Egyptmarker. 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 Moroccomarker to Saudi Arabiamarker. In recent years, Beirutmarker 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 music

Secular 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).

Sacred music

Arabic religious music includes Jewish, 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)

Characteristics of arabic music

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 aesthetic homogeneity of the tonal-spatial and rhythmic-temporal structures throughout the Arab world whether compose or improvised, instrumental or vocal, secular or sacred." Touma describes this musical mentality as being composed of:
*The phenomenon of the maqām
*The predominance of vocal music
*The tendency toward small instrumental ensembles
*The 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.

Maqam system

A Maqam tone level example
Though it would be incorrect to call it a modal system, the Arabic system is more complex than that of the Greekmarker 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.


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 other ajnas.

More notes used than in Western scales

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).

Regional scales

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.

Practical treatment

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.

Vocal traditions

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 weddings.

Instruments and ensembles

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 Cairomarker. 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.

External links


  • Shireen Maalouf (2002). History of Arabic Music Theory: Change and Continuity in the Tone Systems, Genres, and Scales. Kaslik, Lebanon: Université Saint-Esprit.

  • Peter van der Merwe (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentiet.h-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN .

  • Habib Hassan Touma (1996). The Music of the Arabs, trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 1-57467-081-6.

Further reading

  • Lodge, David and Bill Badley. "Partner of Poetry". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 323–331. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN
  • Shiloah, Amnon. Music in the World of Islam. A Socio-Cultural Study 2001. ISBN
  • Julián Ribera y Tarragó. La música árabe y su influencia en la española (1985). ISBN -X
  • Fernández Manzano, Reynaldo. De las melodías del reino nazarí de Granada a las estructuras musicales cristianas. La transformación de las tradiciones Hispano-árabes en la península Ibérica. 1984. ISBN 84-505-1189-5
  • Fernández Manzano, Reynaldo y Santiago Simón, Emilio de (Coordinación y supervisión ed.). Música y Poesía del Sur de al-Andalus. 1995. ISBN 84-7782-335-9



Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address