'Trends' in Middle Eastern music - spin-off from discussion on culture/dance

adiemus

New member
Aziyade said this 'Of course modern Egyptians (for example) are AWARE of goings-on in America (for example). But has what happened HERE directly affected what happens THERE -- as far as dance and music? What great and distinguishing features of Western music and dance do we see in Egyptian or Turkish or Lebanese music and dance? I think that would make a very interesting thread because I think there are far fewer direct effects and affects than people realize.'

So I thought I'd take up the challenge and start looking at how non-Middle Eastern music has influenced ME music.

I'm not a musicethnologist, but I am a researcher and I've studied classical western music for a long time, so this is something I've pondered for a long time.

Firstly, there are some major differences between traditional or classical Arabic music and all western music
- the distinction between the primacy of melody in Arabic music and the inclusion of harmony in western music is the first one that comes to mind
- the maqamat that don't look at all like the scales that western music uses
- the rhythm and time signatures that are very different and more complex than most western music

What has happened is that Arabic musicians have gradually adopted western musical instruments - this has restricted the tones available within a maqam. So modern Arabic music sounds more like western music than early Arabic music simply because the tones are more similar (semi-tones rather than intermediate tones).

Some other things I've noticed is the role of amplification and recording styles.
Non-amplified or acoustic music sounds very different from amplified music. The bass tones, the tabla and dombek are much more prominent than in earlier recordings.

I can also hear simpler rhythms in many of the sha'abi songs and more modern pop songs - much more use of 4/4 timing, with tabla or dombek motifs over the top, but I don't think I've heard a 9 or 10 beat pop song ever!

As I say, I'm not a musicethnologist, but these are some of the things I can hear - I'd love to hear what other people can identify.
I think these are the things that ME music has adopted from western music - I'm personally not sure it's a good thing, but it's not my music! I just mourn the loss of those wonderfully complex and intricate tones and rhythms that people have had for so many generations, all in the space of about 100 years...
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
What has happened is that Arabic musicians have gradually adopted western musical instruments - this has restricted the tones available within a maqam.
I think it did -- at first -- A LOT! My teacher said some traditional songs (in quarter-tone maqams) had their maqams shifted to ones without quarter tones in order to accommodate the electric guitar and synthesizer and accordion which were, at that time, incapable of handling quarter-tones.

But newer instruments can be set or programmed in such a way that they CAN handle quarter-tone maqams. Now I DON'T know if that means that now the music has shifted BACK to the original maqams. ???


Some other things I've noticed is the role of amplification and recording styles.
Non-amplified or acoustic music sounds very different from amplified music. The bass tones, the tabla and dombek are much more prominent than in earlier recordings.
Here's a curious thing though -- we seem to have lost traditional bass instruments in favor of maybe an electric bass? You hardly ever see the tabla baladi or the nagrazan in concerts anymore. Or were those instruments really ever used for dance music?

One thing I'm trying to work out is that the art music doesn't seem to have changed THAT MUCH but the dance music and pop music has. This seems normal and would reflect the changing culture. But how much does the art music affect the dance music, and vice versa.

I think you COULD argue that the whole idea of a dance music genre in Egypt is a Western idea. (Music specifically composed for dance performance.) I'm not prepared to argue for or against that just yet, but it's a thought.


I can also hear simpler rhythms in many of the sha'abi songs and more modern pop songs - much more use of 4/4 timing, with tabla or dombek motifs over the top, but I don't think I've heard a 9 or 10 beat pop song ever!
I would wonder about the historical significance of say the 10/8 songs -- were they meant for dancing, or just for singing or listening? If they were meant more for singing, I can see why they wouldn't "transition" to pop music.

I just mourn the loss of those wonderfully complex and intricate tones and rhythms that people have had for so many generations, all in the space of about 100 years...
They're still there!! I have friends who send me songs of modern compositions in the classical "art" style. It still exists, and "classic" Raqs Sharqi music still exists and is still being composed, but just not in the quantity that it was during the 60's and 70's, I guess.


Something interesting that I was reading that would affect the FUTURE of Arabic music is that not very many young people are interested in taking the time to learn to play complicated instruments like the qanoun. Given the choice between buying a synthesizer and learning to play moderately well in a couple of years, or spending 10 or more years learning a traditional instrument -- well, they're opting for the synthesizer. So are we going to be losing the traditional instruments in a generation or two?
 

adiemus

New member
Great points!
I don't have answers to your questions - they're really interesting and probably more something that a musicologist would know. But my impression is that once things like maqamat are changed to accommodate semitoned instruments it's not likely that they'll revert - except, as you say, in arts music (western 'classical' music). I'm guessing that indian music must have gone through some very similar changes too.
10/8 music is danced to (and it's awesome to do so) but arabic pop doesn't seem to include it.
There probably is quite a difference between 'arts' music and pop and it would be really interesting to know whether pop is a western concept - although there hasn't really been a non-singing arabic music tradition, or so I've heard. Most music is written for singing even if the recordings we as dancers use are instrumental versions of them, and so loads of the 'old' songs are a bit like drinking songs or folk songs from the UK!
 

Noiseman433

New member
Classical Indian music has been surprisingly resilient. Somehow in India, they have managed to keep the tradition alive despite (or maybe just because) the training has been incorporated into a more academic situation. The same can't be said for Arabic or Turkish music.

While the art music has transitioned into the university setting, it is still more often than not taught traditionally in conjunction with Western Classical music (India doesn't teach Western Classical with the Indian classical as a general rule).

The art music versus pop music is more of a Western distinction--and that distinction is starting to influence the division throughout the world to an extent.

The origins of the 10/8s are so interesting--I don't think anyone has really come to a consensus of whether it emerged out of Andalusia or was something developed in Ottoman Classical Music and then fused with the Andalusian Muwashah tunes. Hard to say in an Art music genre that literally has hundreds of rhythmic modes (aka usuller). And like a vast majority of Art musics all over the world, it is as likely to be instrumental as it is to be vocal.

As for instruments changing the tradition. Possibly--but i think techniques and praxis can change it more. I'm recalling how many Thai classical musiians felt when the Tai government instituted an initiative to preserve Thai Classical music since an alarming number of older master musicians were dying without having any students to pass on their music. The musicians felt that by writing down the music, which had elements of improvisation as most of the world's musics do, those who would train to read the music weren't as adept in the art form as those who learned traditionally.

I know one of the debates during the Cairo ongress in the 30s was whether or not to include or accept Western instruments (like the violin) as part of the traditional ensembles--BUT also whether or not using Western notation would debase the art form. Similar debates regarding recordings -- which is just an aural way of "notating" music--have always been discussed.

I'm not really sure how much any of this is adversely affecting indigenous art musics, but probably nowhere near as much as most people fear.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
Classical Indian music has been surprisingly resilient. Somehow in India, they have managed to keep the tradition alive despite (or maybe just because) the training has been incorporated into a more academic situation. The same can't be said for Arabic or Turkish music.

While the art music has transitioned into the university setting, it is still more often than not taught traditionally in conjunction with Western Classical music (India doesn't teach Western Classical with the Indian classical as a general rule).

The art music versus pop music is more of a Western distinction--and that distinction is starting to influence the division throughout the world to an extent.

The origins of the 10/8s are so interesting--I don't think anyone has really come to a consensus of whether it emerged out of Andalusia or was something developed in Ottoman Classical Music and then fused with the Andalusian Muwashah tunes. Hard to say in an Art music genre that literally has hundreds of rhythmic modes (aka usuller). And like a vast majority of Art musics all over the world, it is as likely to be instrumental as it is to be vocal.

As for instruments changing the tradition. Possibly--but i think techniques and praxis can change it more. I'm recalling how many Thai classical musiians felt when the Tai government instituted an initiative to preserve Thai Classical music since an alarming number of older master musicians were dying without having any students to pass on their music. The musicians felt that by writing down the music, which had elements of improvisation as most of the world's musics do, those who would train to read the music weren't as adept in the art form as those who learned traditionally.

I know one of the debates during the Cairo ongress in the 30s was whether or not to include or accept Western instruments (like the violin) as part of the traditional ensembles--BUT also whether or not using Western notation would debase the art form. Similar debates regarding recordings -- which is just an aural way of "notating" music--have always been discussed.

I'm not really sure how much any of this is adversely affecting indigenous art musics, but probably nowhere near as much as most people fear.
*bookmarking this page* :D
 

Zumarrad

Member
the maqamat that don't look at all like the scales that western music uses
I have a notation of one of them - Rast or Ajam - that looks exactly like C major, but the internet tells me this is WRONG. Yeah, they are interesting little blocks!

I do wonder to what extent they have been tuned TO the western scale. If someone writes a maqam and they write the first note in it as middle C, has it always actually BEEN middle C or have a) notators thought "that's about middle C, I'll write it as middle C and/or b) have musicians, used to listening to western tunings and/or working from notations based on a western scale, tuned their own ears to middle C when the note 200 years ago might have been... a little less bright? A little brighter?

I recently got George Sawa's early Egyptian qanoon CDs, which have tons of pieces with complex, long, non 4-4 rhythms etc by the way, and was interested in his sleeve notes regarding the old style of playing versus the new one (which involves levers so musicans can play western scales). He was trained in both and the old style he uses on his refurbished vintage qanoon basically involves using your thumb to bend the strings for quarter tones. To play like that, you'd have to have a very very good ear.

But I wonder, are even the best ears retuned? And what pitch are the notes really anyway? Even western music is tuned differently than it was a few centuries ago - I believe it's as much as a semitone higher.
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
I have a notation of one of them - Rast or Ajam - that looks exactly like C major, but the internet tells me this is WRONG. Yeah, they are interesting little blocks!
Zum -- have you read any of Scott Marcus's articles or his book Music in Egypt? He discusses this in detail -- excruciating detail for someone who is not a musician - lol. Apparently it's more a mathematical description -- the sequence of tones and steps. He breaks the C to C scale up into 1200 "cents" and shows how Western and Arab spacing of those 1200 units are different. <--- I really did not explain that well at all, but it's in chapter 2 of his book and a lot of it is notated out in his supplemental material on his website.

The note we call Middle C is actually also called the note "rast" which is also referred to as "Do." From what I gather from Marcus's articles, Middle C/ Note Rast has always been "tuned" the same, whether it was western or eastern. However E and B do not "tune" the same.


I do wonder to what extent they have been tuned TO the western scale. If someone writes a maqam and they write the first note in it as middle C, has it always actually BEEN middle C or have a) notators thought "that's about middle C, I'll write it as middle C and/or b) have musicians, used to listening to western tunings and/or working from notations based on a western scale, tuned their own ears to middle C when the note 200 years ago might have been... a little less bright? A little brighter?
Well, if I understand Marcus, it has always been the same -- for that particular note (C, rast). How it's actually PLAYED is a different story.

Marcus makes the case that there is an entire tradition of music theory for maqamat -- BUT, no matter how much you study it, there are always going to be completely different rules for PERFORMING it. There is a theoretical tradition and then the practical tradition. In the theoretical tradition you don't have "accidentals" in certain places and certain notes are always played in a certain way. However in the practical tradition, musicians throw in accidentals when they feel like it, and often that certain note will be played slightly flattened from how it's "supposed" to be played, just cause the musician likes it that way, or because that's how his dad always played it.


eta -- when dealing with a singer, I wonder if the musicians typically "re-tune" based on the vocal qualities and abilities of said singer? As Singer ages and the voice changes, does his "middle C" change as well? If you're not using a pitch pipe or something with electronic tuning to set the primary note, isn't your perception of middle C/rast going to be subjective?
 
Last edited:

Aziyade

Well-known member
I know one of the debates during the Cairo ongress in the 30s was whether or not to include or accept Western instruments (like the violin) as part of the traditional ensembles--BUT also whether or not using Western notation would debase the art form. Similar debates regarding recordings -- which is just an aural way of "notating" music--have always been discussed.
I've heard both Blues musicians and Bluegrass musicians say you can't notate it or it spoils the organic quality of it and then it's no longer Blues. Heck, I think at the BEST of times the notation is only a guideline or a rough map to show you the approximate progression up and down the scale the song will take.

I'm not really sure how much any of this is adversely affecting indigenous art musics, but probably nowhere near as much as most people fear.
I tend to agree but haven't pursued it.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
I don't exactly know the name of the instrument but it incorporates several other instruments electronically. From the buzz I've heard, many Arab musicians hate this instrument, and personally, I think it does not quite capture the same allure as an orchestra instead. But based on the costs of paying a live band vs. this electronic instrument, I guess some places are settling for this.

I too am bookmarking this thread.
 

shiradotnet

New member
I'm not really sure how much any of this is adversely affecting indigenous art musics, but probably nowhere near as much as most people fear.
I think the biggest threat to indigenous art music is probably the rise of pop music whose purpose is designed for disco dancing in the clubs rather than for listening to on the radio. The monotonous beat, the lack of variation in energy/volume, and so on.... With this being the place that the mass media are investing their money, funding for art music will dry up, and therefore so will the population of musicians who invest their time/energy/passion in creating and performing it.
 

Aziyade

Well-known member
I think the biggest threat to indigenous art music is probably the rise of pop music whose purpose is designed for disco dancing in the clubs rather than for listening to on the radio. The monotonous beat, the lack of variation in energy/volume, and so on.... With this being the place that the mass media are investing their money, funding for art music will dry up, and therefore so will the population of musicians who invest their time/energy/passion in creating and performing it.
Just curious, Shira -- do you see that happening in the US?
 

shiradotnet

New member
Just curious, Shira -- do you see that happening in the US?
I think it happened in the U.S. in the early 20th century.

In the U.S. today, symphonies, operas, and ballets have a following that's probably going to continue despite changing trends in pop music. They're supported by not only ticket prices, but also by government funding and other grants. I think their primary challenge will be driven by general economic trends, since ticket sales and grants usually dry up during recessions.

However, there's not a lot of NEW "art music" gaining traction in this market - any ballet company will tell you that their bread-and-butter comes from the Nutcracker, and any opera company will tell you that their income-generators are Aida, Magic Flute, Carmen, etc. I had season tickets to Opera San Jose for about 7 years, seeing 4 operas per year, and only one of those operas in all that time was a brand-new composition. Everything else was "traditional" classics. New compositions don't sell season tickets.

The "art music = pop music" notion died out in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Rhapsody in Blue comes to mind as being one of the last popular-appeal U.S. compositions in a classical format. People continued composing, but the 20th-century art music went into experimental directions that simply didn't appeal to the public. Composers who aimed for the concert-hall market were too busy trying to be avant-garde with atonal formats, Sprechstimme, and such, and the public wasn't interested. Only the die-hard artsy-fartsy concert hall crowd wanted that stuff, and it wasn't the sort of thing the emerging radio industry would play. The public preferred more danceable music such as George Cohan, ragtime, swing, R&B, rock & roll, etc.

We SOMETIMES see new music in a classical format emerging from Broadway, but aside from Andrew Lloyd Weber, there haven't been any significant new composers attracting widespread public attention outside of the specific New York scene. And Broadway keeps going back to revive old favorites, which shows the dearth of significant new composers today.

The thing that makes Egyptian classical music different from U.S. classical music is that in Egypt the classical music was still the actual pop music as recently as the 1970's and 1980's. For example, the music of Abdel Halim Hafez, Oum Kalthoum, and Warda was all in a classical format. While it's true that shaabi started getting some traction through the efforts of Ahmed Adaweyya and others starting around the 1970's, the disco trend in Egypt didn't really take off in a big way until the 1990's.
 
Last edited:

mafadalo

New member
Wow, fascinating stuff and great to see people getting into a meaty topic like this.

It's interesting what we consider art music in Egypt for example, as before Said Darwish, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, et al, as classical art music was I believe, Ottoman classical art music. Much of this based on the takht ensemble which pretty much disappeared once the above started experimenting and expanding their orchestras.

I once read in Al Ahram (Egyptian Newspaper) an article regarding when Mohamed Abdel Wahab, initially starting composing and the old timers were horrified at his "modern" music. We of course now consider this classical and have become used to this as the art music.

However, one thing that Shira said which I agree with to an extent, is that a lot of this classical music from the 20th century was the popular music, and still is popular, but before them what was the equivalent of popular music? Since the Ottoman style was much more an elite style of music, I always thought it would be sha'abi, but in this instance what we would now consider folk music as opposed to modern sha'abi which I understand is for a lot of people also their "pop" music.

I don't believe art music will ever die, the Middle East is a pretty big place and even if Egypt doesn't stay as the powerhouse behind this music, there are still composers in other countries who are producing classical music and musicians.
 

shiradotnet

New member
It's interesting what we consider art music in Egypt for example, as before Said Darwish, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, et al, as classical art music was I believe, Ottoman classical art music. Much of this based on the takht ensemble which pretty much disappeared once the above started experimenting and expanding their orchestras.
Yes, I personally think of the original Arab art music as being the muwashahat. These were typically played on classical instruments such as oud and qanoun, as you say in a takht style of band.

However, one thing that Shira said which I agree with to an extent, is that a lot of this classical music from the 20th century was the popular music, and still is popular, but before them what was the equivalent of popular music? Since the Ottoman style was much more an elite style of music, I always thought it would be sha'abi, but in this instance what we would now consider folk music as opposed to modern sha'abi which I understand is for a lot of people also their "pop" music.
I see a difference between the pre-mass-media genre of sha'abi versus the post-mass-media genre of sha'abi.

My analogy in the U.S. would be that we had traditional songs that you could sit around a campfire and sing, while someone (not a professional musician) would bring a guitar to accompany it. And then we have the slickly-packaged pop singers who have PR agents, corporate money backing them, etc.
 

Noiseman433

New member
I think the biggest threat to indigenous art music is probably the rise of pop music whose purpose is designed for disco dancing in the clubs rather than for listening to on the radio. The monotonous beat, the lack of variation in energy/volume, and so on.... With this being the place that the mass media are investing their money, funding for art music will dry up, and therefore so will the population of musicians who invest their time/energy/passion in creating and performing it.
Most definitely! Art music ensembles all over the world are slowly dying. The one exception being in India (as I mentioned in another thread, i think) where they've managed to institutionalize their art music at the expense of Western Classical music AND they have a strong popular music tradition of their own in filmi music/Bollywood. Things are changing a bit there as well, but not nearly so fast as in other countries.

Interestingly, in Thailand there was a resurgence of interest in Thai Classical music after the release of a movie, "Overture"--basically a Thai version of the American movie "Crossroads" (with Ralph Machio and Steve Vai as the "Devil")--but focusing on traditional thai Classical instruments rather than pop instruments like the guitar that Crossroads focused on. i think it's another example of how different media can help to reinforce each other--if the guitar weren't so ubiquitous in American pop music (and therefor imported throughout the world) I would suspect the explosion of so many people worldwide taking up the guitar wouldn't be nearly as big an issue (along with the styles that go along with electric guitars).
 

mafadalo

New member
Most definitely! Art music ensembles all over the world are slowly dying. The one exception being in India (as I mentioned in another thread, i think) where they've managed to institutionalize their art music at the expense of Western Classical music AND they have a strong popular music tradition of their own in filmi music/Bollywood. Things are changing a bit there as well, but not nearly so fast as in other countries
True, a lot of art music ensembles are disappearing, but is this a complete surprise since life now and 100 years ago is completely different, we have many more things to entice us instead people don't necessarily have the time or inclination to spend their life devoted to an instrument.

As well there isn't really a patronage system anymore, even though it is a lovely thing for a musician to spend their entire lifetime devoted to learning an instrument and playing it for our pleasure, they do have to eat and live at the end of the day, and unless there is some serious support either from the government or very wealthy individuals, it is unsurprising that they are going to either learn something that is easier and that also makes them more money and who can blame them?

A lot of art music has always been marginal, it has always been very wealthy individuals that have supported this type of music, the plebs have always been listening to their sha'abi (oldstyle or new).

When Said Darwish, Mohamed Abdel Wahab and the other great composers came along, they pretty much did a mix of the very traditional with the more indigenous aspects of Egyptian music. With the advent of radio which helped spread this music to a much wider audience, it's no surprise that it became very popular for a number of decades before cassettes came along and helped spread other forms of popular music instead.

India has definitely come back from its period of colonialisation and the old arts are flourishing, however, Indians generally tend to have a much higher respect for their arts then Egyptians do. When I lived in the UK, There was an Indian art academy which taught all the arts rigorously and showcased their students and visiting artists all the time. This isn't a complete surprise since there is a very big population born in India or from an Indian background.

I have never seen an Egyptian academy of traditional arts outside of Egypt, but I believe there is something similar in Egypt, but I'm not sure what their emphasis is on Arabic classical music. I used to go to the Egyptian Cultural Centre in London, for performances but the only ones I remember are a sha'abi performance of musicians and dancers from a school in Luxor, some sufi munshid performances but I don't ever remember any classical music performances by an Egyptian ensemble in London, unless they were happening and not widely advertised.

Noiseman, I think you hit the nail on the head with the comment "where they've managed to institutionalize their art music at the expense of Western Classical music" if Egyptians did this would we see a resurgence in their classical music traditions?
 

Noiseman433

New member
Noiseman, I think you hit the nail on the head with the comment "where they've managed to institutionalize their art music at the expense of Western Classical music" if Egyptians did this would we see a resurgence in their classical music traditions?
Possibly--it's really hard to say. The Indians started out that way (as did the Bulgarians and to an extent the Azeri) so the indigenous musics of those countries are strong and have been strong.

And then there are countries like France and Canada that have cultural quotas for their media outlets to help support/promote and protect local artists from the cultural global economy. Hard to say how much that is helping (though it is, in not so obvious ways).

Don't know if doing it at this late date would change much. And to an extent that was what the Cairo Congress in 1932 (as well as the few that followed) was supposed to address.

And see--I don't see that much of a difference between a traditional Royal or Aristocratic patronage system and, say, a preference majority 'patronage' system. An art musician in the past or a pop musician in current times are both ultimately being supported by some kind of system that they have little control of in the end.
 
Top