International Council for Traditional Music

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

Report on the meeting of the Study Group on Music in the Arab World, Ba’abda, Lebanon, 20-21 March 2013

The ICTM Study Group on Music in the Arab World held its meeting on 20-21 March 2013 at the Antonine University in Hadath-Ba’abda, Lebanon in the frame of the annual meeting of its Higher Institute of Music, and jointly with it. The topic of the meeting was “The Situation of Music in the Arab World in the new Millennium”. 15 papers were presented in Arabic, French and English.

The Director of the Higher Institute of Music, Abou Mrad, welcomed the participants. He was followed by the dean of the Antonine University; father Germanos, who described the role andactivities of the Higher Institute of Music within the university. Scheherazade Hassan thanked the Lebanese hosts and expressed her regret as to the absence of some researchers who were unable to attend for budget reasons or for fear of the regional political instability.

She gave a brief summary of the aims and activities of the ICTM and its Study Groups, and went through the history of the Study Group on Music in the Arab world, its origins and aims, and mentioned that organising meetings in the Arab world, to make the interaction between local researchers and those coming from abroad possible, has always been an aim for this Study Group. However, the political and the economic situations in the Arab world since 2003 were hardly helpful and made many tentatives for a meeting almost impossible.

Regional upheavals, displacements of population

A number of papers were dedicated to the issue of regional war and upheavals and their effect on music and its practices. 

Evrim Hikmet Ogut’s (Turkey) “Singing in Limbo: the Musical Practices in the Chaldean-Iraqi Church in Istanbul” dealt with the use of church music by a community in a migration process focusing on their musical choir that performs religious traditions of different regions of Iraq.  Scheherazade Hassan’s (Iraq/France) paper “The Iraqi Maqām Between the Inside and the Outside” explored the effects of the difficult period of wars, sanctions, massive emigration, and sectarian strife on the practice of the Iraqi maqām today, both within Iraq and in the different diasporas. Jumanah Hassan’s (Iraq/US) “Iraqi music in the Twenty-First Century” presented the way Iraqi musicians in the US diaspora make use of the musical heritage of the Iraqi maqām in their multi-genre performances.

Maria Rijo (Portugal/England) “Revisiting Tradition in the New Millennium: Historical Overview and Comparative Analysis of the Process of Change in the Notion of Tradition in the Maghreb and Mashriq” correlated musical change with socio-political change and compared the changes in traditional renderings in Tunisia and Lebanon, suggesting it as a new turning point in the history Arabic music heritage. Kathleen Hood’s (US) “Syrian Druze Music in the New Millennium” referred to the rich musical tradition among the Druze in Syria with its local dance genres, Arab sung traditions, music influenced by the media and new lyrics inspired by political events, either in the support of the events in Syria or against them, that form now part of a repertoire performed in weddings and funerals.

Ahmad al Hamadani (Lebanon), “The Husseini Processions of the Lebanese Shi’a in the Last Three Decades: the Form and Identity Crisis”, followed the development of the musical discourse of the Lebanese Shi’a community, which seems to be heavily influenced by the Iraqi sessions of lamentation. 

Jean Lambert (France) “Music and Revolutionary Changes in Yemen” presented the transformation of musical practices in Yemen since 2000 pointing to the events of 2011 and 2012 which opened the way to the exchange between different categories of populations and between the multitude genres of the rich Yemeni music.    

Abdulwahab Redha Benabdallah (Algeria/France) “Ornamental Style in the Nawba as an Indicator of Decline in the Practice of Algerian Art Music During the Last Forty Years” studied the ornamental codes of the repertoire and indicated that through the European influence of tonal harmony and the excessive importance given to technique, ornamentation appears today as either highly impoverished or overloaded, giving birth to a non-traditional style which he regarded as a sign of decline. 

There followed the presentation of Abou Mrad (Lebanon), “The Semiotic Indicators of Musical Acculturation”. He mentioned the urgency in describing and classifying the different elements of hybridity in the Arabic musical language proposing to approach it through an analytical procedure of a semiotic-maqāmist nature, adapted to the methods of literary criticism.  

Musical education

Most of the Lebanese contributions of musicians-musicologists dealt with musical education in the context of a society under a highly western influence. They revealed striking examples of how musical education in the Arab world in general, through its institutes with their western teaching methods, transformed local style. They all revealed a strong awareness of the vita l importance of transmitting local and mashreqi “Arab Oriental” traditions and style in all levels of musical teaching. 

Boushra Bechealany’s (Lebanon) paper on “The State of Musical Education in Lebanon in a Context of Overshadowing Local Musical Traditions” criticised the acculturation and westernisation in teaching musical practices in Institutes and media spread in Lebanon, in diverting Lebanese children from their traditions.  

Celine Waked “Learning the ‘Oud in the Arab Mashreki musical tradition: a Didactic Modelization” treated the problem of ‘oud teaching in Lebanon academia and defended a “transmissive initiation among teachers”. M Amer Didi (Lebanon) on “Teaching of ‘Oud in Lebanon and its Problematic” questioned the role of an instrument which under western influence and fascination in technical issues now speaks a language in which does not belong. Ghassan Sahhab (Lebanon), in   “Problems of Teaching the Qanun in the Academic Context in Lebanon”, showed the devastating Western influence in teaching Arab instruments that appears in the excessive importance given to the use of transcription, in the use of western teaching methods of violin or other instruments, and in neglecting to transmit Arabic musical forms. Arab instruments are thus turned away from their initial role of transmitting the secrets of traditions to insist on the primacy of technical performing capacity.

M. Hayyaf al Yasin’s paper on “The Traditional Popular Songs in Northern Lebanon, as Socially and Educationally Performative” argued that tradition can and should continue to be transmitted to the young which would strengthen ties between different generations and develop a natural transmission.  He then gave a most moving demonstration of the results of his efforts to teach traditional music at four educational institutions in North Lebanon, by presenting four year-old children who without difficulties could sing popular traditional songs. 

Archiving and documentation

An interesting session was devoted to the archiving and documentation of Arabic Music. A documentary film revealed to us the existence in Lebanon of “The Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research AMAR” established in 2009 with the aim of preserving and disseminating traditional Arab Music. The foundation seeks to encourage the educational transmission and practice of Arabic traditional music and aims at its dissemination and at promoting public awareness of its richness. Since its establishment, the foundation succeeded in acquiring some 5000 records and 6000 hours of recordings on reel, digitalised in its modern studio and conserved in its archive. While expanding its collections through acquisitions, the foundation organises concerts, lectures and seminars. It is with regret, seen the very compact programme of the meeting, that it was not possible to visit this important foundation, situated in a different geographical location.

Mustapha Said (Egypt), Director of the Foundation for Archives and Research on Arabic music, in his paper “Arab Music Archiving and Research Foundation Between Heritage Preservation and Internal Development” questioned the extent to which contemporary musicians should learn from commercial recordings and to what extent imitating details of old recording should be pursued.

A special session of the Institute of Music was devoted to present the contents of the new volume of the University’s annual journal RTMMAM, Revue des Traditions Musicales des Mondes Arabe et Méditerranéen this year dedicated to “Sémiotiques et psychocognition des monodies modales”.

A general closing discussion was followed by a very interesting and original concert in which a Levantine oratorio was performed. Based on the seven last words pronounced by Christ, as they appear in the four bibles, they are performed with well known Syriac, Maronite, Byzantine and Coptic chants and with music from the Arab Oriental Art Music. Accompanied by instrumental improvisations, the Oratorio was performed by the ensemble of classical Arab Music of Antonine University. The concept and direction are of Nidaa Abou Mrad who played the violin, accompanied by qanun with two chanters.