T. M. McComb
music is one of the world's major musical systems. It has a long history,
and some musicologists believe it is substantially similar to what was
performed in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Roman era. Unfortunately,
the truly classical forms are dying out, and there are few first rate
performers left for purely authentic improvisation. This does not imply
that other forms & genres are not prospering, although they are not
the focus of my interest here. This page is not comprehensive in any sense.
Arabic music is modal and monophonic. The modal system is sometimes based
on theoretical octave scales of 17, 19 or 24 notes, although the temperament
is not generally equal, and the practice is essentially diatonic (the
infrachromaticism expressed in "neutral thirds"). The favorite modes (maqamat)
come from throughout the greater Arab world. Classical Arabic theory &
practice can be seen as a great synthesis of both the earlier classical
traditions as well as regional melodic forms.
The most serious
musical expression has historically been solo instrumental improvisation
(taqsim), although there are related vocal forms (layali).
Musicians modulate frequently, and indeed a performance which remained
in a single mode would not be considered fully artistic in nature. Much
of the art is in the way a performer will select and prepare his modulations,
especially in terms of following a tangential train of thought and back
again. There are a wide variety of instruments, although plucked strings
are the most visible (including the 'ud, which is where Europeans
got the lute). In addition, there are instrumental & vocal ensembles
with a wide regional variation.
some of the primarly classical treatises, and continues to have a strong
music tradition. This recording is a fine anthology with a nice selection
of instruments and forms:
- Taqâsîm &
Naïve Anthology of Traditional Musics (UNESCO) D8038
The World Music Library
label also has several recordings of Arabic classical music from Egypt
and Iraq, but they are not quite as dynamically charged. However, it is
only a matter of degree, and I have kept this list extremely brief.
An individual recital
of more recent provenance by an Egyptian singer and ensemble:
- Arabesques vocales
- Aïcha Redouane
/ Ensemble Al-Adwâr
Institut du Monde Arabe 321015
This is one of the
most compelling examples of the wasla suite on record, and shows
a real dynamism in terms of synthesizing forms from the greater Arabic
world. Synthesis was one of the main principles of the Arabic classical
tradition, and so this recital is especially valuable.
Perhaps the most
compelling recording of improvisatory Arabic instrumental classical music
currently available on CD:
- Taqasim: Improvsation
in Arab Music
- Ali Jihad Racy
/ Simon Shaheen
Some Arabic instrumentalists
have suggested that this is the only sufficiently strong & truly improvisatory
modern recording of their music, but for many others it is a pointless
remark, due to the quality of relatively obscure archival material. Ali
Jihad Racy is an ethnomusicologist from Lebanon who teaches at UCLA.
artist of some merit:
- Munir Bachir:
Live in Paris
- Naïve Inedit
- Munir Bachir:
- Naïve Inedit
Munir Bachir (1930-1997)
was an Iraqi 'ud player with a very contemplative playing style. His recitals
can be quite potent and evocative.
recording which seeks out a more systematic contemporary technique based
on modal relations:
- Syria - Maqâmat
- Muhammad Qadri
Naïve Inedit W 260105
Muhammad Qadri Dalal
plays with the ensemble "Al Kindi" and has produced a rather personal
elaboration of classical style in seldom-used modes.
For some older
styles of this region, some of which played a role in the development
of what became the Arabic classical music, see the list for the ancient
There are also
many recordings of classically-influenced Arabic popular music, as well
as orchestral recordings. These are beyond the scope of the present discussion.
Finally there are archival recordings being released, from the beginning
of the century, before the traditional styles went into decline.
I will try
to keep up on other releases which might appear. Unfortunately, time constraints
have prevented me from doing a good job updating this page, but hopefully
I will have a real opportunity to gather a wider variety of material eventually.
For now, I emphasize that it makes a rather poor survey, and I genuinely
hope I can find the time to research some of the more obscure recordings
which are available with effort.