Sunday, February 2, 2014


The ancient Egyptians attributed the invention of music to Hathor, which Osiris used to try to civilize the people on earth. Egyptians tended to use a variety of percussion instruments, string instruments (including lyres, lutes, and harps), and woodwind instruments (including flutes including one called the ney, recorders, and double clarinets). 

Arabic music consists of maqamats, which are like melodic modes that are also the basis of improvisation, showing the pitches, patterns, and the particular developments for a certain piece of music. To me, these are similar to Indian ragas, although I’m not sure how they might be different. I’d definitely have to do more in-depth research on that. Ordinarily, the most common types of these modes most Egyptian music is written is based on the Phrygian dominant scale, Phrygian scale, double harmonic scale (also called the Arabic scale), or the Lydian scale. 

Egyptian music served many functions.  It was a way to bring social and class issues to the table in a subtle way.  And both Muslim and Coptic music is important to the development of Egyptian music as well.  The music of Lower Egypt (the part closer to the Mediterranean) and Upper Egypt (farther south, including Nubia) have their own varieties of style and instrumentation. As Egypt moved into the late 19th and on into the 20th century, influences from European music took hold as well as Egypt’s influences on European music, including Giuseppe Verdi’s Egyptian-themed opera Aida.

Dancing in Egypt was extremely important and all social classes used dance as a means of expression.  Dance also had its functions, and there were many different kinds of dances used for different events. The lower classes had dance competitions and dance festivals, and the upper classes had harem dances and others. The main difference was that the upper classes were usually socially forbidden to dance in public – a joy that the lower classes enjoyed. There were dances where people danced by themselves, danced in pairs (usually female-female and male-male), or danced in a group.  Sometimes they used props, such as “castanets” and canes.

I did find some modern music on Spotify.  One musician I found is Ramy Gamal. He has a mix of traditional-sounding Arabic music mixed with a little bit of dance feel to a couple of the songs, but I thought most of the songs are slower. I like it, though. Khaled Salim is another who also has similar music.

However, if you are wanting more upbeat songs, I found Amr Diab’s album Rewind (Remix). I like this one much better. Even though, I think this is the original version of the song. But, oh well. 

Marwa Nasr is one of the few female musicians that I was able to find, although I’m sure there are probably a lot out there. The album I listened to was more of a pop/R&B style mixed with the traditional Arabic music. Nesma Mahgoub is another female musician of this same style.

I found the album Al Malek Howa Al Malek by Mohamed Mounir. He was an important musician who emerged in the early years, and has become an icon for all musicians. (The video posted is a newer song with images from the 2011 Revolution -- I wish I knew what the lyrics meant.) I’m kind of at a loss as to how to describe the music from this album. It certainly falls in the traditional style of music, with a lot of percussion as a basis to the music, various string instruments and woodwinds, and the vocals include the lead male voice along with female backup singers who sing in response. Many of the songs are fast-paced, but there are a few slower songs. This album, as well as the others, highlights the traditional styles of Arabic singing with trills and changes in inflection. One thing that separates traditional Middle Eastern and Indian music from European music is that they divide the intervals further than the traditional half-step taught in most classroom music. They often utilize quarter-steps that Western listeners find difficult to accept and not interpret the pitch as flat or sharp.  Sometimes, I think it’s difficult sometimes for Western listeners to open their minds to other musical concepts outside of what is normally taught.  I know it was difficult for me in the beginning, but now that I’m far more open to other culture’s music, it’s really a cool thing.

Up next: the food

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