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Arab Music

maqamat, Arab Music, Arab heritage, religious song, Electronic keyboards

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Arab Music, music of the Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa. The tradition of Arab music has been cultivated throughout Arab regions for thousands of years. Although Arab music has undergone many changes over the centuries, it has retained certain distinctive traits.

Folk Music

Hundreds of local folk traditions are found throughout the Arab region. Some of these traditions carry traces of musical practices of peoples with whom Arab populations have had contact. The rich drumming traditions of the Arab Gulf states, for example, are believed to result from extensive contact with African traders. The Gnawa tradition of Morocco takes its name from Guinean slaves brought to Morocco from West Africa. Nubian music in Egypt draws upon a distinctive melodic system that utilizes five tones and incorporates distinctive rhythms. In many cases, local listeners would certainly include these traditions as components of Arabic music and would assert their cultural value as part of the Arab heritage.

Popular Music

Popular Arab music draws from both folk and classical Arab styles, depending on the interests and experiences of the musicians and their audiences. Electronic keyboards tuned to the maqamat commonly accompany singers of colloquial verse in popular songs. The drums and rhythms of folk music are a fundamental part of the large concerts at which young musicians perform. In some cases, singers adapt their vocal styles or language to appeal to non-Arabic-speaking audiences while trying to retain something of the Arab music tradition.

Arab Music and Other Music Traditions

The tradition of Arab music does not stand alone, but exists alongside related traditions in Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia. There are common elements among the predominantly melodic systems of Persian dastgah, Azerbaijani mugam, Turkish makam, Uzbek-Tajik shashmaqam, and Uygur maqam from China. Traditions of Qur'anic recitation and religious song that originated in Arab regions are shared by Muslim communities worldwide. For example, Indonesia and Pakistan foster rich traditions of recitation. Similarly, the religious chants of the Middle Eastern churches, such as the Syrian Maronite and the Egyptian Coptic churches, are shared by members of their churches around the world.


Danielson, Virginia, B.Mus., M.Mus., Ph.D.

Curator of the Archive of World Music, Harvard University. Music editor of the "Middle East Studies Association Bulletin".

Article key phrases:

maqamat, Arab Music, Arab heritage, religious song, Electronic keyboards, cultural value, Arab nations, common elements, young musicians, popular songs, West Africa, Central Asia, North Africa, Iran, tones, Turkey, China, Egypt, Indonesia, drums, centuries, Middle East, language, example, cases, changes, experiences, interests, members, years

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