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Arab Music - Part Four


Ali Jihad Racy, Ph.D.

Reprinted here from the original chapter in The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance, John Hayes, editor, in the second edition (1983) by Eurabia (Publishing) Ltd. and in the third edition (1992) by New York University Press with the kind permission of the author, Professor Ali Jihad Racy, Ph.D.

The html code, hyperlinks, and linked knowledge webs associated with this chapter are not part of the original chapter cited above, and are authored by Jack Logan, Ph.D.

In Levantine and Iraqi villages, certain wind instruments are inseparable from wedding songs and dances. One is the open-ended, end-blown reed flute that is known as minjayrah among the Lebanese and shabbabah among the Palestinians. This flute type has a limited melodic range, but produces a distinctly ornate and breathy tone, often combined with the performer's intermittent humming. Unlike the urban nay, this flute is often played by shepherds.

Another essential wind instrument is the double-clarinet type, the mitbiq in Iraq and the mijwiz, literally "doubled," in Lebanon and its vicinity. This instrument consists of two identical reed-tubes, each having five or six holes. Fitted into each tube is a smaller tube, slit in a manner enabling it to vibrate and produce a sound. Unlike flute types, the mijwiz and other double clarinet types are played by a process known as "circular breathing," which allows the performer to produce a continuous non-interrupted sound. Comparable in blowing technique and construction is the Palestinian yarghul, which has, instead of two melody tubes, one melody tube and a longer tube without holes, used for producing a sustained accompanying sound or drone.

In the Levant and Iraq, double-reeds or oboe-type instruments are also played characteristically with a tabl, a large double-sided drum. The zamr, or the zurna, usually accompanies folk dances and is typically used at outdoor festivities.
One instrument played in both folk and urban contexts in this same region is a long-necked fretted lute with metal strings commonly called buzuq. Generally associated with itinerant Gypsies, the buzuq has a carved sound-box and resembles the Turkish saz from which it appears to have been derived. Modern versions with mechanical pegs also exist.

In this area, percussion instruments include the darbukkah, a conically shaped hand-drum of pottery or metal, and the daff, a small tambourine used typically by the Lebanese performers of zajal, or sung folk-poetry.

In Egyptian folk music, particularly in villages along the Nile, a wide variety of instruments exist. Instrumental music plays a prominent role, and larger ensembles of melody and percussion instruments are typical. Doubling, or using more than one of the same instruments in the same ensemble, is fairly common. The instrumentalists are usually professionals who perform under the direction of a rayyis, a leading instrumentalist.

Among Egypt's folk instruments is the salamiyyah, an open-ended reed-flute, characteristically breathy in tone and commonly seen in folk-oriented Sufi performances. The zummarah is comparable to the Lebanese mijwiz, while the arghul resembles the Palestinian yarghul. The double-reed mizmar appears characteristically with a large double-sided drum called tabl baladi. Typically, three mizmars play together.
The rababah, a two-string spike fiddle whose sound box is made from a coconut shell, is characteristically used by the sha'ir to accompany folk epics.
The percussion instruments of Egypt are numerous and play an essential role in the music. They include the riqq, a tamourine-like instrument, the tablah, the tabl baladi, the tar, a large frame drum, and the mazhar, a large tambourine, with sets of cymbals.
Small brass finger-cymbals, or sajat, are used by the dancers.

The Arabian Gulf region presents a wide variety of instrument types and playing techniques. Percussion plays a central part. In terms of sonority and construction, the instruments seem to reflect the area's exposure to the Levant, Africa, and perhaps South Asia. Pearl fishermen's songs, or fijri, of Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain employ percussive sound in the form of complicated group hand-clapping. In these songs, a small double-sided hand-drum, known as the mirwas, is used. Large, slightly elongated, double-sided drums, comparable in features to both Indian and African drum-forms, are also used. Another member of the pearl fishermen's song ensemble is the jahlah, a clay pot played with both hands. In addition, the Gulf region features a variety of wind instruments including both double and single-reeds, in addition to the nomads' single-string rababah.

North Africa has numerous folk instruments, both melodic and percussive. These instruments accompany various genres of dance and song, both secular and sacred. The instruments also represent the large ethnic variety found within this vast geographical area. In matters of construction and playing technique, they also demonstrate the influence of both the Asiatic Near East and Africa proper.

North African folk instruments include the qasabah, an end-blown reed flute which produces a breathy sound enriched with overtones. Used mostly to accompany songs, this instrument is common in Southern Algeria and the Oasis area of Tunisia.

A North African single-reed instrument comparable to the Levantine mijwiz, but equipped with two horn bells, is the maqrunah, which is commonly played in Libya and Tunisia.

In these countries, and in Algeria, this instrument also appears with a bag and is played in the bagpipe style. In this form it is known by the name mizwid, literally "bag," or "food pouch."
The qas'ah -- a large, shallow kettledrum found in southern Tunisia.

The double naqqarah -- pottery kettledrums of Morocco.


Double-reed instruments are also prevalent. The zukrah of Tunisia and the ghaytah of Morocco play an extensive role in public festivities. In Morocco, ensembles usually combine several of these instruments with percussion. A long natural trumpet called nafir is occasionally used in Morocco as a signalling instrument.

Fretless, long-necked lutes, whose sound boxes are covered with skin, appear to be a speciality of western North Africa and certain parts of the African Sahara. The Moroccan ginbri, whose neck is cylindrical in shape, is common among members of the Ginnawa brotherhood, whose religious rites are apparently rooted in sub-Saharan Africa. Another common instrument, whose function is comparable to that of the rababah in Egypt and among the eastern Bedouins, is the Moroccan folk rabab, a long-necked fiddle with a round skin-covered sound box and a single string made of horsehair positioned to the side rather than in front of the neck. It is typically used for voice accompaniment by the rwayyis, a professional group of entertainers and praise singers.

In North Africa, percussion instruments include the tabl, a cylindrical double-sided drum; the qah'ah, a large, shallow kettledrum found in southern Tunisia; the double naqqarah, pottery kettledrums of Morocco; and various forms of vase-shaped hand-drums and tambourines. In Moroccan Berber music of the Atlas Mountains, a number of snare frame-drums, or bandirs, may be played simultaneously. This group of instruments also includes the qaraqib, metal clackers that roughly resemble double-castanets and are held two in each hand. These are commonly used by Ginnawa performers, particularly during weddings and other festive events.

Finally, instruments of the Arab world have been influenced by urbanization and Westernization. Folk instruments are becoming popular in the cities and are frequently modified to suit urban musical styles. Concurrently, urban instruments are being introduced into folk musical traditions. In the Arab world, Western instruments are prevalent and in some cases are connected with new musical repertoire. Keyboard instruments are usually adjusted to produce some of the neutral intervals of Arab music. Viewed in their great variety, Arab musical instruments are a living testimony to Arab history, musical and visual aesthetics, and the social and cultural facets of a rich and complex society.

Listen to a performance of Arab Music and Dance in Schoenberg Hall at U.C.L.A.from the 1997 U.C.L.A. Spring Festival featuring the Near East Ensemble directed by Prof. Jihad Racy, with guest percussionist Souhail Kaspar and guest dancer Sahra.

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