Overview and Ancient Music
Music has been a part of Egyptian culture probably since its beginning. Tomb and temple paintings show a variety of musical instruments in both sacred and secular environments, and many of the dead were buried with instruments. This leads to the thought that music formed an integral part of not only Egyptian rituals, but also daily life and recreation. Sadly, no written pieces of music have survived, and no system of notation is known to have been developed by the ancient Egyptians. It would seem that music in ancient Egypt was, like so many of the arts at that time, passed down from one person to another in a form of "aural" tradition. Various universities and institutions are working to extrapolate what ancient Egyptian music might have sounded like based on present-day and known historical forms using recreations of instruments. Instruments known to have existed in ancient Egypt are roughly the same ones as have been created by nearly all civilizations. Lyres, harps, flutes, pipes, horns (not "true" horns as we know them, but instruments similar to the didgeridoo of the Australian Aborigines, the dragon-horn of Tibet, and the shofar of the Hebrew people), and of course, drums, cymbals, and other percussion. As the ages passed, new instruments were added in as they were developed or introduced from other peoples. Given Egypt's importance in the ancient world, one can easily assume that at one time or another, every kind of instrument ever created has been played in within its borders. The Arab musical tradition as it is known today developed between the AD 7th and 13th Centuries in the courts of Islam. The first great renaissance of Arab music occurred in Syria and the surrounding regions during the Umayyad Dynasty (AD 7th-8th Century). At that time Baghdad, in what is now Iraq, was a central city for musicians and performers, partly due to its ruler, the legendary Haroun al-Raschid. Arabic music, insofar as can be inferred reliably, traces its ancestry in part to the music of the 3rd Century Persians and the early Byzantine Empire (AD 4th-6th Century). These traditions in turn can trace themselves back in part to the works of the Greeks, themselves great lovers of poetry and song. But both are traced back to the ancient Semitic traditions which may have their origins in the music of the ancient Egyptians. The 10th Century music theorist Al-Farabi translated the major works of the ancient Greeks on music into Arabic: Aristotle's Problems, Themistius' commentaries on the Problems, Ptolemy's Harmonics, and the Elements of Music by Euclid. This increased the effect of the Greeks on Arabic music, but also gave a foundation upon which to build a concrete theory of Arabic music, which Al-Farabi did. Like Euclid before him, Al-Farabi was a mathematician and physicist, and so was able to examine musical structure from the scientific standpoint. But what was more, he was a musician and was perhaps better equipped mentally to study music as an art form and not cold mathematics. He focused not only on the science of sound but also the aesthetics and the enjoyment of music, a subject which the Greeks apparently had ignored. Structure of Arabic Music, or, "I've Got Rhythm"
The musical forms of the Arab and Islamic world are the predominant form of music in Egypt in its recent history (two millennia is recent to an historian). However, there is some weight to the idea that Arabic musical forms are in fact the product of ancient Egyptian musical forms. Such a discussion is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article. The Arabic forms are the most easily accessible for study and their basic traits have continued relatively unchanged for several centuries. Arabic music, like most other forms of the African tradition, is based largely on variation and improvisation of and upon a central theme. This makes it very similar in structure to jazz, which also has deep roots in...
Links: Chaba Fadela: Rai Rayi (Live, 1992)
Cheb Bilal: Rak Mrid 2002 |
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