Category Archives: Mass media

Palestine in song: An annotated bibliography

The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections from this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. In 2023, the Institut du Monde Arabe hosted the exhibition “Ce Que la Palestine Apporte au Monde” and supplemented it with a resources page on the topic. The IMA library also held an on-site exhibition of its book, movie, and music collection covering Palestine. 

Early documentation of music in Palestine, especially before the 1948 Nakba, is scarce. The writings of figures such as the composer, ʽūd player, and chronicler Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ (1897–1973) provide a rare glimpse into the vibrant urban music scene under Ottoman rule and the British Mandate, and represent early attempts to document social and cultural life through personal narrative in the first half of the 20th century. The establishment of the Palestine Broadcasting Service by the British Mandate authority in 1936 marked the beginning of a new era, introducing a hybrid style of Arab music through Radio al-Quds’s iconic phrase hunā al-quds (this is Jerusalem) which became a sonic marker that endures to this day. However, the fate of the radio’s archives, including magnetic tapes and records, remains shrouded in mystery, with only some documents available at the National Library of Israel. After 1948, Palestinian folklore studies grew, reflecting the aspirations of the Palestinian liberation and nationalist movement. 

Recording of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ performing a muwaššaḥ. Source: Excerpt from a digitized magnetic tape that appears on an audio CD accompanying the book القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003).
A portrait of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

Publications on Palestinian music proliferated after the second Palestinian exodus of 1967, alongside significant developments in musical production and dissemination. Concerned with the impact of historical events and tragedies on the continuity of Palestinian sung poetry and musical genres, scholars, historians, and folklorists documented the lyrics of sung poetry and their broader social context. In the realm of performance, the El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, founded in 1979 in Rāmallāh, became a leading organization showcasing the performance practice of Palestinian traditional song and dance internationally. Documentation efforts concurred with the emergence of a new wave of music making, characterized by a genre of socially engaged songs known as al-uġniyyaẗ al-multazimaẗ and the experimentation with new styles that incorporated non-Palestinian musical elements. Such were the repertoires of the Palestinian Sabreen band and other non-Palestinian Arab musicians who drew on broader pan-Arab sensibilities and musical styles to engage with and advocate for the Palestinian cause. During the Second Intifada (2000–05), local music education centers, such as Al Kamandjâti Association and the Palestinian Institute for Cultural Development (NAWA), served as hubs for fostering burgeoning musical talent in the West Bank and presenting Palestinian musicians on the world stage. The work and contribution of these two schools attracted the interest of many journalists and scholars. 

El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe in al-Bīrah in 1981. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
A performance of أغنية وطنية (A patriotic song) by Sabreen Band, from their 1992 album موت النبي (Death of a prophet).

In recent years, Palestinian musicians have embraced new musical genres and used new media to produce, disseminate, and distribute new musical creations. Palestinian hip hop has emerged as a transnational genre, engaging Palestinian and Arab audiences locally and among their diasporas globally, reflecting the transnational dimension of the Palestinian struggle. New productions and arrangements of folk melodies and songs are circulating on new streaming platforms, attracting younger generations and drawing the attention of scholars from different disciplines and fields. 

The importance of written documentation and scholarly studies of Palestinian music, whether in Arabic, English, or French, that analyze the context and content of different genres and styles performed at the nexus of contested geographies, cannot be underestimated. Palestinian music and its historiography remain resilient, despite challenges such as neglect due to ongoing displacement, the erosion of traditional forms of expression, threats to historical records, and the risk of appropriation. The titles listed in this annotated bibliography feature Palestinian and non-Palestinian authors who document the rich heritage of Palestinian music and analyze current trends in Palestinian music making. 

– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM

A video portrait of the band DAM produced by the Insitut du Monde Arabe.

Annotated bibliography 

ʽArnīṭaẗ, Yusrá Ğawhariyyaẗ. الفنون الشعبية في فلسطين (Popular arts in Palestine) (4th ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54151; IMA catalogue reference]

The tangible and intangible forms of folklore, encompassing popular musical expressions, embroidery customs, and ceremonial practices associated with marriage and celebrations, serve as testimony to the enduring heritage and cultural continuity of the Palestinian people. The present effort to document select aspects of Palestinian folklore several purposes: first, to safeguard these manifestations of popular culture and ensure their continuity; second, to forge a robust connection between present and history; third, to uncover the creative dimensions inherent in Palestinian folklore; and ultimately, to inspire fellow researchers in music and the arts to undertake similar endeavors in documenting Palestinian folklore. Folk songs should be approached with the same urgency to study and preserve such as other Palestinian traditions. Popular songs’ characteristics are detailed, including the characteristics of colloquial dialects, the melodic content, maqam structure, ornaments, and more. Transcriptions of the melodies of 66 songs, along with their transcribed lyrics, are included from different cities. The songs are grouped by topic or occasion, as follows: children’s songs and lullabies; songs of religious holidays and celebrations; love and wedding songs; songs of war and encouragement; work songs; drinking, satirical, and political songs; dance songs; funeral chants and laments; and songs of stories and tales. Popular song represents the Palestinian peoples’ ways of life and social customs and is a spontaneous expression of collective feelings and aspirations. 

ʽAwaḍ, ʽAwaḍ Suʽūd. دراسات في الفولكلور الفلسطيني (Studies in Palestinian folklore) (Munaẓẓamaẗ al-Taḥrīr al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26665; IMA catalog reference]

Folklore is a cornerstone of the Palestinian national identity. Rooted in the region’s history and cultural diversity, Palestinian folklore includes songs, dances, handicrafts, costumes, games, popular idioms, myths, legends, and rites-of-passage traditions. Bedouin folklore is of particular interest, as Bedouins constitute a considerable demographic group within the Palestinian population. Selected song lyrics of northern Bedouin songs are transcribed, with commentary on their meanings and contexts provided. Bedouin dances are presented within their cultural context and social significance is explained.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. ديوان الدلعونا الفلسطيني (The book of Palestinian dalʻūnā) (2nd ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54149; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian sung poetry forms is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Palestinian folklore. This study is the result of four years of field and archival research spanning from 1986 to 1989. It documents 3000 verses of dalʻūnā, a form of sung poetry, which were collected through oral narration by numerous dalʻūnā narrators representing 144 towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza. The content, which primarily concerns themes of love and adoration, is divided into nine distinct categories, each addressing various facets of love and other subjects such as advice, praise, pride, religion, and reconciliation. The primary love-themed dalʻūnā are subdivided into specific topics, each accompanied by selected dalʻūnā lyrics. These topics include: the glorification of dalʻūnā; patriotic love; depictions of life cycle events; romantic love, including both general and specific aspects of love and beauty; descriptions of physical attributes of the beloved and virtues of people; platonic love; marital relationships, including aspects of marriage, divorce, and related issues; and expressions of nostalgia, complaint, and lament. Finally, the meanings of select terms that appear in dalʻūnā are explained, along with the names of important dalʻūnā reciters.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. “الأغاني الشعبية المناضلة: فلسطين في أغانيها حتى بعيد نكبة 1948—دراسة ميدانية” (The popular songs of the Palestinian liberation struggle up to and including the 1948 Nakba: An ethnographic study), ʽᾹlam al-Fikr 18/2 (1987) 241260. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31249; IMA catalog reference]

Popular songs accompanied the Palestinian people during their resistance against the British Mandate, the events leading up to the 1948 Nakba, and in the decades that followed, and are an integral part of the broader Palestinian popular literature. The defining characteristics of these songs include their oral transmission, use of colloquial dialects, anonymous authorship, and intergenerational transmission. While the thematic range of popular literature expressed through songs is diverse, this study focuses specifically on lyrics pertaining to themes of patriotism and nationalist aspirations. Song texts are analyzed and categorized in relation to political events, including the 1929 Palestine riots, the British siege of Nāblus in 1936, the 1938 revolt, the 1948 Nakba, mass displacements, and the 1952 Egyptian Revolution. The brief contextual commentaries are supplemented with analysis of thematic content offering eulogies for martyrs, hopes for repatriation, feelings of nostalgia for the homeland, criticisms of Arab leaders, and aspirations for liberation. 

al-Bāš, Ḥasan. الأغنية الشعبية الفلسطينية (Palestinian popular songs) (2nd ed., rev. and enl.; Dimašq: Dār al-Ğalīl, 1987). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31205; IMA catalogue reference]

The documentation of popular songs facilitates a connection to the historical roots of Palestine, serving to illustrate various expressions of everyday life. Popular songs serve as poignant expressions of the liberation aspirations of the Palestinian people, while also foregrounding the rich religious and ethnic diversity of Palestine. The analysis of popular songs is presented on the basis of both formal attributes and the social contexts in which they are performed, as follows: mawwāl, ʽatābā and mīğā; šurūqiyyāẗ; taḥdāyaẗ or ḥadāʼ; songs of dabkaẗ and popular dances such as dalʻūnā, ğufraẗ, ya ẓarīf al-tūl, farʽāwiyyaẗ, and others; wedding and zaffaẗ songs and tarwīdaẗ; zağal and muwaššaḥ. In addition, these songs are further examined in relation to the social occasions during which they are traditionally sung, including rituals surrounding childbirth, circumcision, lullabies, religious celebrations honoring prophets and saints, engagements, weddings, and various forms of labor such as fishing, farming, and harvesting. After the 1948 Nakba, a notable thematic shift toward nostalgia emerged as a unifying motif across different song genres. A convergence in repertoire between Bedouin, rural, and urban song traditions is also noted. In addition, a commitment to poetic meter is maintained, indicative of the enduring significance of poetry. Finally, contemporary performance practice incorporates diverse song forms, both in terms of structure and thematic content, highlighting the dynamic nature of Palestinian musical expression over time.

El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]

Explores the ways in which young rap artists navigate the contradictions in the public spheres of everyday urban life. The discourse of resistance that permeates scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. In the context of the rap scenes in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, political sentiments are expressed through objection, confrontation, and repetition—a set of processes that depend on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but could be approached as subversive in their own terms. The conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.

al-H̱alīlī, ʽAlī. أغاني العمل والعمال في فلسطين (Work and labor songs in Palestine) (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Dār Ibn H̱aldūn, 1980). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1980-21275; IMA catalogue reference]

Studying the songs of workers as a social class allows us to understand and appreciate their contribution to the broader spectrum of Palestinian folklore. Approaching the development of Palestinian folk songs through the lens of class struggle parallels the evolution of poetic forms and themes, moving from traditional forms to romanticism, realism, and socialist realism. These phases, manifested in both content and form, correlate with the broader class and nationalist struggles that have existed in Palestine since the late 19th century, culminating in the revolutionary movements of 1936–39 and the Nakba of 1948. Beginning in the 1950s, Palestinian folklorists began to adopt new methodologies and theories based on dialectical materialism to understand and analyze folklore and other cultural expressions. This approach facilitated the inclusion of peasant and urban cultural expressions, allowing for a nuanced exploration of class dynamics, societal transformations, and continuity. The study of select labor-related songs offers insights into various occupational domains, categorized as follows: agricultural labor songs, lyrical themes related to land cultivation, shepherding, forced displacement from agricultural lands, and migration to urban centers in search of employment; songs of construction workers; songs of fishermen and hunters; and songs of artisans, street vendors, drivers, barbers, and of similar occupations. It is important to recognize that certain professions have disappeared as a result of historical events, technological advancements, and changes in societal structures, thus affecting the repertoire of accompanying songs. Nevertheless, some work songs have been adopted and survived in other contexts, such as weddings and celebrations, where they are celebrated as emblematic expressions of Palestinian nationalism. 

Ḥassūnaẗ, H̱alīl Ismāʽīl. الفلكلور الفلسطيني: دلالات وملامح (Palestinian folklore: Symbolism and characteristics) (Rāmallāh: al-Muʼassasaẗ al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ li-l-Iršād al-Qawmī, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51501; IMA catalogue reference]

Folk songs are a vibrant expression of Palestinian folklore, along with other expressions such as traditional folk storytelling, folk poetry, idiomatic expressions, games, and other cultural practices. The significance of folk songs lies in their pervasive presence across all aspects of Palestinian life. These songs serve as conduits for popular wisdom and narrative, evident in genres such as children’s songs, lullabies, work songs, lament songs, bukāʼiyyāt, and others. With their rich depictions of nature and the land, folk songs are a celebration of Palestinians’ deep connection to their homeland. To illustrate the uses and themes of folk songs, the full text of three popular poems, six ahāzīğ, 20 texts of mawwāl, 20 texts of ʽatābā, 16 texts of mīğanā, five texts of ğifrā, 15 texts of ẓarīf al-ṭūl, and dozens of verses of other poetic sung forms are included.

Ǧawhariyyaẗ, Wāṣif. القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51500; IMA catalogue reference]

The memoirs of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ are a remarkable treasure trove of writings on the life, culture, music, and history of Jerusalem. Spanning over four decades (from 1904 to 1948), they cover a period of enormous and turbulent change in Jerusalem; changes lived and remembered from the perspective of the street storyteller. An ʽūd player, music lover, and ethnographer, poet, collector, partygoer, satirist, civil servant, local historian, devoted son, husband, father, and person of faith, Wāṣif viewed the life of his city through multiple roles and lenses. The result is a vibrant, unpredictable, sprawling collection of anecdotes, observations, and yearnings as diverse as the city itself. 

Lama, Patrick. La musique populaire palestinienne (Palestinian traditional music) (Paris: Éditions du Témoignage Chrétien, 1982). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1982-3130; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian popular music is part of a broader Palestinian cultural heritage influenced by Arab-Islamic culture. To understand Palestinian popular music more fully, one must first analyze the Arab vocal aesthetics, musical modes, and the rhythmic systems from which it derives. Here, the homophonic and monodic structures of Palestinian popular music, the role of repetition, and rhythmic variations are analyzed. Brief definitions and excerpts from lyrics of syllabic chants are also covered. These chants include al-dalʻūnā, ẓarīf al-ṭūl, al-firʻāwiyyaẗ, al-ğafraẗ, al-sāmir, al-saḥğaẗ, al-ğawlaẗ, al-ʻiqīlī, al-qarrādī, w-ʻallā, al-mlālā, al-hiğīnī, al-ğaʻīdiyyaẗ, al-maṭlūʻ, al-šubāš, and other forms such as al-iskābaẗ, al-mʻannaẗ, al-tarwīdaẗ, al-mawwāl, al-ʻatābā, al-šurūqiyyāẗ, as well as other recited forms such as al-mhāhā, al-qaṣīdaẗ, al-mḥūrabaẗ. Transcriptions of repetitions in melodic phrases are included to better illustrate the role of repetition in Palestinian popular song and music.

Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap, trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse (Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference

Features photographs of Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as the wider urban spaces in which the alternative and Palestinian music scenes thrive. The daily lives and activities of musicians are captured by the photographer. Some images are accompanied by brief written commentary, quotes, or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include SAZ (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad, founder of the Sabreen Band. 

Shammout, Bashar. الإرث الفلسطيني المرئي والمسموع: نشأته وتشتته والحفاظ الرقمي عليه–دراسات أولية وتطلعات مستقبلية (The Palestinian audiovisual heritage: Origin, dissemination, and digital preservation–Preliminary studies and future prospects) (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-74761; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian audiovisual heritage is central to the preservation efforts of institutions, collectives, and individuals in Palestine and among Palestinian communities abroad. The study and documentation of the history of film, photography, and sound recording technologies in Palestine, as well as an assessment of the current state of collections and archives, contribute to the preservation of the Palestinian collective memory. Such topics are approached from three angles: the historical background of key audiovisual materials and archives, the dispersion and fragmentation of collections across archival institutions and private collectors coupled with challenges related to access, and the application of best practices in digital archiving methodologies to assist archivists and researchers in their preservation and dissemination efforts. This study is among the first to examine the status of issues facing Palestinian audiovisual heritage, inspired by a perspective rooted in archival studies. 

Rooney, Caroline. “Activism and authenticity: Palestinian and related hip-hop in an international frame”, The Arab avant-garde: Music, politics, modernity, ed. by Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson and Benjamin J. Harbert (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013) 209–228. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-8742; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian hip hop draws on national and international cultural influences, protest poetry, and improvisational techniques. The genre is exemplified by the works of the Palestinian hip hop group DAM and its lead member Tamer Nafar as well as the works of the British rapper and activist Lowkey. The concept of “language pollution” is used to explain the lyrical and thematic content of selected lyrics by the two artists. Themes of class struggle and resistance to occupation are contextualized through the lens of hip hop aesthetic techniques, inspired by the utopian internationalism of liberation hip hop. While Palestinian hip hop can be analyzed as an avant-garde art form, its musicians subvert some avant-garde aesthetics through their lyricism, orality, and connections to both national and international communities.

Tolan, Sandy. Le pouvoir de la musique: Une enfance entre pierres et violon en Palestine, trans. by Jean-Philippe Rouillier, Catherine Boussard, and Bernard Devin (Paris: Riveneuve Éditions, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-74953; IMA catalogue reference]

The story of Ramzi Aburadwan, a refugee who grew up under military occupation and pursued his dream of becoming a musician. Ramzi’s deep love of music led him to collaborate with international musicians, culminating in his being recognized by Daniel Barenboim, who invited him to join the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. In 2002, Ramzi founded the music school Al Kamandjâti in Rāmallāh, which quickly became a hub for music education and collaboration. The school attracted musicians from around the world who were eager to teach and learn with young students in the West Bank and beyond. The biography of Ramzi, along with the history, work, and impact of Al Kamandjâti, is detailed through Ramzi’s life, collaborations, and hundreds of interviews with his acquaintances from various countries. This narrative is interwoven with Palestine’s broader historical and political context since the 1980s.

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Filed under Asia, Mass media, Performers, Politics, Popular music, World music

Global designs for 78 RPM record sleeves

78 RPM sleeve from India

The 78 RPM record was originally a means of commerce intended to make money. When recording engineers were dispatched across the globe to capture sounds and voices, there was no intention to preserve the recordings that they created. The point, at the time, was to attract as many customers as possible to buy phonograph machines. It was largely an accident that these recordings turned out to be quite meaningful for diasporic populations who had moved away from their homelands. Such recordings became essential to people who otherwise would not have had access to their music, and they purchased gramophones and records to feel closer to homeland and as accompaniment to ritual feasts, births, weddings, and other cultural events.

78 RPM sleeve from Burma

Sales increased as immigrants crossed the oceans. Record production was kept cheap. Discs were disposable and longevity was not central to their design, and so were the first 78 RPM sleeves, which were plain, cheap paper with no printing. Many record companies and store owners eventually realized the potential of using the sleeves as advertisements for the recording (and other items). From those early recordings, we learn that the information on the sleeve did not necessarily have to refer to the record it held. Some simply were a shoutout for the record company’s brand, for accessories, and gramophones. Others mentioned the company’s roster of musical talent.

Below is Reto Muller’s collection of global 78 RPM record sleeves of the early 20th century. Learn more in “A short tour of global 78 RPM records and sleeves” by Reto Müller (ARSC journal 54.1 [Spring 2023] 123–129). Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text.

78 RPM sleeve from Finland
78 RPM sleeve from Peru
78 RPM sleeve from China

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Filed under Mass media, Visual art, World music

Makmende, the Kenyan global pop icon superhero

The video for the song Ha-he by the Kenyan experimental pop music group Just a Band features a character named Makmende Amerudi as its protagonist. Within a week of its release on YouTube, Ha-he received nearly 25,000 views and fans began creating their own original Makmende tales, videos, and artwork, leading global media outlets to label Makmende “Kenya’s first viral internet sensation”. Using a contemporary style of hand-held camerawork and shallow depth of field, the video’s graphics, characters, and storylines are reminiscent of 1970s blaxploitation films. As the mysterious tough-guy protagonist, Makmende appears more comfortable sneering than smiling, and like other blaxploitation characters, he sports an Afro hairstyle, open dress shirt exposing his chest, disco-style pants, and dark aviator sunglasses. Other male characters in the video are similarly dressed, while the only female (the damsel in distress) wears a natural short hairstyle, large hoop earrings, a headscarf, and tight pants, reminiscent of blaxploitation icon Pam Grier. Multiple camera angles in the video are reminiscent of the “bullet time” visual effect in The Matrix, and near the end of the video, Makmende ties a red necktie around his head, drawing parallels to Japanese samurai and cult vigilante Rambo.

As technological innovators, young, urban Kenyans seized the moment to reappropriate outdated stereotypes of weakness into aspirations of strength as they projected Kenya into a global online conversation. Through this meme, Makmende became more than a fictional superhero; he represented Kenya’s present and future. While some have considered Makmende as an example of a transnational cultural flow originating in the Global South, this meme, in its cultural and social context, can also be attributed to how and why Kenyans used Makmende to represent themselves. While many video memes are rooted in imitation and parody, the participatory playfulness surrounding Makmende created a “meme of aspiration” through which certain Kenyans collectively reimagined a hypermasculine hero who could lead the nation toward political and economic stability at home and cultural and technological prominence abroad.

Read more in “Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s collective reimagining as a meme of aspiration” by Brian Ekdale and Melissa Tully (Critical studies in media communication 31/4 [2014], 283–298).

Watch Makmende in action in the video for Just a Band’s Ha-he below.

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Filed under Africa, Gender and sexuality, Mass media, Politics, Popular music

The emergence of “música popular brasileira” (MPB)

In practice, the term música popular brasileira, often referred to by the‎ acronym MPB, does not apply to a particular genre of Brazilian music. Although it came into widespread use around 1965, the term had been used since at least 1961, when it appeared in the liner notes of Carlos Lyra’s LP Bossa nova. Initially, the acronym MPB emerged around 1959 as a synonym for bossa nova, a genre inspired by jazz, carioca, samba de morro, and music of northeastern Brazil. The term was further popularized after the television show Jovem Guarda began featuring local pop and rock artists in 1966–many of the artists on the show, including Elis Regina, Wilson Simonal, pianist César Camargo Mariano, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, became associated with the term. At this time, MPB came to designate Brazilian music that was not considered rock per se but had pop as well as rock influences. MPB also came to signify a new age of Brazilian music, associated with younger artists; the term was not applied to the so-called “old guard”, which included musicians such as Adoniran Barbosa and Clementina de Jesus or samba musicians like Martinho da Vila.

By 1981, MPB referred to all music made in Brazil—the term was so expansive that even rock bands who sang entirely in English were categorized under the term. Many Brazilian performers in genres as diverse as rock, soul, and funk, were promoted as MPB acts at the time, including Gal Costa, who was heavily inspired by Janis Joplin, and the band Barão Vermelho, a Brazilian version of the Rolling Stones (pictured above). In the city of São Paulo, radio broadcaster Musical FM started a trend by promoting itself as “Rádio MPB” in the 1990s with a format that featured “modern MPB”. The term música popular brasileira, although not a genre in itself, foregrounds the aesthetic choices made by Brazilian musicians since the 1960s, and debates over the use of the term in relation to national identity (or the notion of “Brazilianness”) along with issues of transculturalization and hybridity have taken place since its emergence.

Read the full entry on música popular brasileira in the Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular (2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias, and “Só ponho bebop no meu samba…: Trocas culturais e formação de compositores na formulação da MPB nas décadas de 1960-70″ by Luiz Henrique Assis Garcia [El oído pensante (January 2017), 49–73] in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text.

Below are some examples of artists who fall under the term música popular brasileira. The first is Elis Regina performing Águas de Março, followed by Barão Vermelho’s Bete Balanço, and finally, Gilberto Gil’s Palco.

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Filed under Mass media, Popular music, Reception, South America, World music

Radio Caroline and U.K. pirate radio

Pirate radio stations on offshore ships were only significant for less than a decade but had an enormous impact on broadcasting. In the United Kingdom independent radio had been heard since the 1930s on Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg. These stations were founded by Captain L. F. Plugge and had offices in London. The U.K.’s General Post Office (GPO), the state postal system and telecommunications carrier at the time, refused them telephone facilities to transmit concerts live, so they recorded concerts by touring seaside resorts and recording bands on 16-inch 78 rpm gramophone records that were then shipped to Brussels and taken by train to Luxembourg to be relayed.

Radio Luxembourg had the most powerful transmitter in Europe at the time. British firms were soon paying a total of £400,000 a year for advertising on programs and sponsoring them. One of the most popular was the Ovaltine Show featuring the Ovaltineys and the Ovaltineys’ Orchestra. These first commercial stations were largely lost in World War II when most of the transmitters were destroyed—although the Germans took over Radio Luxembourg to transmit propaganda. It survived after the war and took the new format of the Top 20 series from U.S. radio.

On March 29, 1964, a new development hit the airwaves and captured the imagination and loyalty of the younger listeners. Radio Caroline first broadcast from a ship anchored off the Essex coast just outside British territorial waters. There had been other pirate offshore radio stations before that, broadcasting to Scandinavian and other northern European countries, but Radio Caroline was to become the most successful and long-lived. It was started by an Irish businessman called Ronan O’Rahilly, who had been trying to promote a young singer named Georgie Fame. He was turned down by the main record companies and decided to start his own company. He even took the records to Radio Luxembourg and was rejected by them as their airtime was mostly taken by the large record companies. In desperation, O’Rahilly decided to start his own radio station.

He bought an old passenger ferry and secretly refitted it in a southern Ireland port before mooring it off the coast of Harwich. The first disc played on Radio Caroline was The Beatles’ Can’t buy me love by DJ Simon Dee. Other pirate stations proliferated off the British coast in the coming years: Radio Atlanta, transmitted from the ship Mi Amigo, and later merged with Radio Caroline while the original Caroline ship went north to anchor off the Isle of Man to become Radio Caroline North.

Read the full entry on pirate radio in the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Listen to the opening broadcast of Radio Caroline with Simon Dee on 29 March 1964.

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Leenalchi, Korean music, and nationalism

The South Korean pop band Leenalchi consists of four singers, two bassists, and a drummer. Their 2019 album, entitled Sugungga, was based on a pansori piece, and the song Tiger is coming saw significant success after the music video was used to promote South Korean tourism. Leenalchi’s creative interpretation of pansori’s rhythm and harmony attracted over 50 million views for the video and launched their international career. Behind this success, one can also see the historical development of gug’ak (Korean traditional music) and efforts to restore, modernize, popularize, and globalize it. Part of this modernization process has been the fusion of pop music and gug’ak.

After 35 years of Japanese occupation (1910-1945) and the subsequent Korean War (1950-1953), the restoration of tradition became a national priority for many Korean musicians. Under the direction of the Korean government, installed under the Japanese administration, various aspects of Chŏson culture, including the education system and performing arts, suffered a drastic decline–court music was no exception. In this context, Korean traditional music sought restoration, and moreover, an increase in its repertoire through new compositions. 

Nationalism played a significant role in the modernization of Korean traditional music. According to Kim Hee-sun, South Korea sought a cultural identity that was uniquely Korean, and traditional music became integral to the narrative of nationalism. Cold War politics further reinforced the role of Korean traditional music as a tool to promote anti-communist ideologies in opposition to the North Korean regime. Through numerous overseas performances during the Cold War, South Korea presented itself as a civilized and cultured nation. Furthermore, Korean traditional music was performed at world events like the Seoul Olympics in 1988 to bolster national pride and identity among South Korean people.

Cover art for Leenalchi’s 2020 album Sugungga.

The modernization process also included establishing Korean traditional music departments in higher education. Historically, traditional music was associated with those of lower social status, due to the lower position of musicians in Korean society. However, the establishment of these departments, with government support, elevated the status of Korean traditional music from a low status art form to a respected and even elite profession. For instance, the four singers in Leenalchi are graduates of Seoul National University’s Korean traditional music program, which was established in 1959.

At the end of the Cold War, Korean traditional music adapted to the global market and was used as a tool of national propaganda. The increasing number of young musicians graduating from Korean traditional music programs opened new doors, allowing musicians to explore new forms of Korean traditional music. For example, several projects involved Korean traditional musicians in transnational ensembles, situating Korean traditional music in a global context. In 1993, under the leadership of Park Bum-hoon, a group of musicians from Chung-Ang University joined Orchestra Asia, a group consisting of musicians from Korea, China, and Japan. At the 2009 ASEAN-Korea Summit, musicians from Southeast Asia were invited to perform together with Korean musicians in a large orchestra. More recently, Korean traditional musicians, such as the members of Leenalchi, have taken different approaches to fusing popular music cultures and positioning themselves in a global market.

Leenalchi performing at WOMAD 2023.

Developments in Korean traditional music, situated in a new social context beyond the court, enabled musicians to explore their creativity in novel ways. Listening to Leenalchi, free from the constraints of the static “Korean traditional music” label, one hears the breaking of the aural connections between traditional music and national politics–signaling a new era of Korean music as Leenalchi and others venture beyond the realm of tradition.

–Written by Shiho Ogura, RILM intern and MA student in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

Below is Leenalchi’s well-received video promoting Korean tourism.

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Filed under Asia, Mass media, Performers, Popular music

Metal Blade Records, pioneering heavy music label

Metal Blade Records was founded in 1982 by Brian Slagel, who felt that Los Angeles metal scene was not receiving the attention it deserved from the record industry. Slagel–then employed at the metal emporium, Oz Records, and developing one of the earliest metal fanzines, The New Heavy Metal Revue–enlisted friends to distribute a recorded compilation of unsigned acts. The label’s first release, The New Heavy Metal Revue Presents Metal Massacre, included Black ‘N’ Blue, Metallica, and Ratt. Although intended as a side project to promote his fanzine, favorable response spurred Slagel to release more Metal Blade compilations as well as separate LPs by bands such as Dark Angel, Demon Seed, Destruction, Fates Warning, Flotsam and Jetsam, Hellhammer (aka Celtic Frost), Lizzy Borden, The Obsessed, Omen, Sacred Reich, Slayer, Sodom, Trouble, and Voivod.

By the mid-1980s, the label was considered a linchpin of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, providing an alternative to the AM-friendly hard rock of Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Quiet Riot. Metal Blade’s commercial potential was greatly enhanced by a distribution agreement with Enigma/Capitol Records in 1985. Not only was the label now able to better promote established artists, but its newly created subsidiary, Death Records, aggressively pursued cutting-edge talent, including Atheist, Cannibal Corpse, Corrosion of Conformity, Cryptic Slaughter, and The Mentors. In addition, the company broadened its roster to encompass alternative and AOR fare as exemplified by the likes of Armored Saint, Goo Goo Dolls, Junk Monkeys, Nevada Beach, and Princess Pang.

In 1990 Metal Blade signed a multitiered distribution deal with Warner Bros. which freed the label to concentrate on artist development. Dissatisfaction with the arrangement, however, led Metal Blade to return to independent status with distribution by R.E.D. In the meantime, the company continued to cultivate talent, most notably Amon Amarth, Cradle of Filth, Goatwhore, 200 Stab Wounds, Crisis, The Crown, Cirith Ungol, God Dethroned, Whitechapel, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Six Feet Under, and The Black Dahlia Murder. It also helped facilitate the revival of powermetal by acquiring Destiny’s End, Labyrinth, and Sacred Steel.

Metal Blade celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2022. When asked about label’s longevity, Slagel said, “In the very beginning, none of us [in] the L.A. metal scene ever thought metal was going to get as big as it has. Looking back on it, it was just amazing to be in that city at that time. You had Mötley Crüe and Ratt on one front, and then Metallica, Slayer, and everything else on the other coming from the same city at the same time. We were all just dumb, young kids, and we loved the music. I couldn’t play an instrument, so I figured, well, I guess I’m going to try [doing a record label]. . . I think metal is in a really good spot now. There are a lot of new bands coming up that we’re pretty excited about.”

Read more in Encyclopedia of recorded sound (2005). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Below is a short documentary featuring Brian Slagel and others discussing the origins and significance of Metal Blade Records on heavy metal history.

Explore some previous related Bibliolore posts:

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Instant Classics: RILM’s Top 8 Reviewed Texts, 2020–21

Once again, the reviews are in! Another installment has arrived of RILM’s Instant Classics series, which chronicles and collects the books indexed in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that have received the most reviews in academic literature. This most recent list collects publications covering a wide range of musical topics that were released between 2020 and 2021, listed in order from least to most reviewed.

As always, this list should be viewed as a living document that will become outdated as reviews continue to be written. Despite the inherent limitations, collecting these texts in this way generates a valuable archive of the topics, methodologies, and perspectives that earned the attention of music scholars during a brief period in time. As we zoom out, patterns may emerge that provide insight into the topical trends that have contributed to music discourse in the early decades of the 21st century.

We may also pause over which voices are being heard in music research, the interests of the publishers who are amplifying them, and the types of audiences being targeted. Although this list may inevitably serve as means of promotion, it is not meant to be viewed uncritically. We can appreciate these texts’ contributions to musical knowledge while simultaneously being aware of the powers held and challenges faced by the publishing firms and university presses that sell them.

And finally, do keep in mind that RILM can only disseminate the writings on music to which it has access. You are invited to help make RILM Abstracts be as complete as it can be by visiting our website and submitting your review! We thank you in advance and wish you a happy summer of reading!

– Written, compiled, and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM

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#8. Osborne, Richard and Dave Laing, eds. Music by numbers: The use and abuse of statistics in the music industry (Bristol: Intellect, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-99384]

Abstract: Examines statistics within the music industry. Its aim is to expose the historical and contemporary use and abuse of these numbers, both nationally and internationally. It addresses their impact on consumers’ choices, upon the careers of musicians and upon the policies that governments and legislators make.

#7. Slominski, Tes. Trad nation: Gender, sexuality, and race in Irish traditional music. Music/culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54789]

Abstract: Just how “Irish” is traditional Irish music? This book combines ethnography, oral history, and archival research to challenge the longstanding practice of using ethnic nationalism as a framework for understanding vernacular music traditions. The author argues that ethnic nationalism hinders this music’s development today in an increasingly multiethnic Ireland and in the transnational Irish traditional music scene. She discusses early 21st-century women whose musical lives were shaped by Ireland’s struggles to become a nation; follows the career of Julia Clifford, a fiddler who lived much of her life in England, and explores the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ musicians, and musicians of color in the early 21st century.

#6. Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven’s lives: The biographical tradition (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11238]

Abstract: When Beethoven died in March 1827, the world of music felt an intense loss. The composer’s funeral procession was one of the largest Vienna had ever witnessed, and the poet Franz Grillparzer’s eulogy brought the tensions between the composer’s life and music into sharp focus: the deaf and aloof genius, the alienated and eccentric artist, unable to form a lasting relationship with a woman but reaching out to mankind. These apparent contradictions were to attract many Beethoven biographers yet to come. The story of Beethoven biography is traced, from the earliest attempts made directly after the composer’s death to the present day. It casts a wide net, tracing the story of Beethoven biography from Anton Schindler as biographer and falsifier, through the authoritative Alexander Wheelock Thayer and down to the present. The list includes Gustav Nottebohm, the first scholar to study Beethoven’s sketchbooks. With his work, biography could begin to reflect on the inner life of the artist as expressed in his music, and in this sense, sketchbooks could be seen as artistic diaries. Even Richard Wagner thought of writing a Beethoven biography, and the late 19th and early 20th century saw the emergence of French and English traditions of Beethoven biography. In the tumultuous 20th century, with world wars and fractured politics, the writing of Beethoven biography was sometimes caught up in the storm. By bringing the story down to our time, it identifies traditions of Beethoven biography that today’s scholars and writers need to be aware of. Each biography reflects not only on the individual writer’s knowledge and interests, but also his inner sense of purpose as each writer works within the intellectual framework of his time.

#5. Brennan, Matt. Kick it: A social history of the drum kit (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11043]

Abstract: The drum kit has provided the pulse of popular music from before the dawn of jazz up to the present day pop charts. This provocative social history of the instrument looks closely at key innovators in the development of the drum kit: inventors and manufacturers like the Ludwig and Zildjian dynasties, jazz icons like Gene Krupa and Max Roach, rock stars from Ringo Starr to Keith Moon, and popular artists who haven’t always got their dues as drummers, such as Karen Carpenter and J Dilla. Tackling the history of race relations, global migration, and the changing tension between high and low culture, the author makes the case for the drum kit’s role as one of the most transformative musical inventions of the modern era. He shows how the drum kit and drummers helped change modern music—and society as a whole—from the bottom up.

#4. Austern, Linda Phyllis. Both from the ears & mind: Thinking about music in early modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8218]

Abstract: Offers a bold new understanding of the intellectual and cultural position of music in Tudor and Stuart England. The author brings to life the kinds of educated writings and debates that surrounded musical performance, and the remarkable ways in which English people understood music to inform other endeavors, from astrology and self-care to divinity and poetics. Music was considered both art and science, and discussions of music and musical terminology provided points of contact between otherwise discrete fields of human learning. This book demonstrates how knowledge of music permitted individuals to both reveal and conceal membership in specific social, intellectual, and ideological communities. Attending to materials that go beyond music’s conventional limits, these chapters probe the role of music in commonplace books, health-maintenance and marriage manuals, rhetorical and theological treatises, and mathematical dictionaries. Ultimately, the author illustrates how music was an indispensable frame of reference that became central to the fabric of life during a time of tremendous intellectual, social, and technological change.

#3. Frühauf, Tina. Transcending dystopia: Music, mobility, and the Jewish community in Germany, 1945–1989 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-1]

Abstract: Discusses the role music played in its various connections to and contexts of Jewish communal life and cultural activity in Germany from 1945 to 1989. This history of the Jewish communities’ musical practices during the postwar and Cold War eras tells the story of how the traumatic experience of the Holocaust led to transitions and transformations, and the significance of music in these processes. As such, it relies on music to draw together three areas of inquiry: the Jewish community, the postwar Germanys and their politics after the Holocaust (occupied Germany, the Federal Republic, the Democratic Republic, and divided Berlin), and the concept of cultural mobility. Indeed, the musical practices of the Jewish communities in the postwar Germanys cannot be divorced from politics, as can be observed in their relations to Israel and U.S. On the grounds of these conceptual concerns, selective communities serve as case studies to provide a kaleidoscopic panorama of musical practices in worship and in social life. Within these pillars, a wide spectrum of topics is covered, from music during commemorations, on the radio and in Jewish newspapers, to synagogue concerts and community events; from the absence and presence of cantor and organ to the resurgence of choral music. What binds these topics tightly together is the specific theoretical inquiry of mobility.

#2. Robinson, Dylan. Hungry listening: Resonant theory for Indigenous sound studies. Indigenous Americas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4582]

Abstract: Listening is considered from both Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives. In a critical response to what has been called the “whiteness of sound studies”, how decolonial practices of listening emerge from increasing awareness of our listening positionality are evaluated. This involves identifying habits of settler colonial perception and contending with settler colonialism’s “tin ear” that renders silent the epistemic foundations of Indigenous song as history, law, and medicine. With case studies on Indigenous participation in classical music, musicals, and popular music, structures of inclusion that reinforce Western musical values are examined. Alongside this inquiry on the unmarked terms of inclusion in performing arts organizations and compositional practice, examples of “doing sovereignty” in Indigenous performance art, museum exhibitions, and gatherings that support an Indigenous listening resurgence are offered. It is shown how decolonial and resurgent forms of listening might be affirmed by writing otherwise about musical experience. Through event scores, dialogic improvisation, and forms of poetic response and refusal, a reorientation is demanded toward the act of reading as a way of listening. Indigenous relationships to the life of song are sustained in writing that finds resonance in the intersubjective experience between listener, sound, and space.

#1. Ross, Alex. Wagnerism: Art and politics in the shadow of music (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4721]

Abstract: For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and U.S. culture. Such colossal creations as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over 21st-century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. A German translation is cited as RILM 2020-61241.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Analysis, Classic era, Ethnomusicology, Jazz and blues, Mass media, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Politics, Popular music, Religious music, Romantic era, World music

Singing the revolution in the Arab world: An annotated bibliography

The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections of this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. Since the onset of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, the Institut du Monde Arabe has hosted exhibitions and concerts featuring musicians and artists who are at the heart of the cultural production in the region.

Illustration by artist Amado Alfadni featuring the young female protestor Alaa Salah, nicknamed the “Kandaka” of the Sudanese revolution of 2018-2019 for her role in mobilizing protesters through revolutionary chants. Kandaka refers to the name of ancient Nubian queens and the design is a remake of the old perfume label “Bint El Sudan” (the daughter of Sudan). Illustration used with permission. 
“It takes a revolution/To find a solution”
- From the song “Revolution” by the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM.

Revolutions and popular movements are characterized by a distinct soundscape defined by chants, songs, and the rhythmic movements of collective bodies. The act of protesting in the Arab world is often encapsulated in the idiom kasir ğidār al-ṣamt (to break the barrier of silence); in contrast, the authorities’ act of oppression is referred to as an act of silencing. 

Since the turn of the 20th century, the peoples of the Arab world have composed, disseminated, and rendered songs and chants against all forms of domestic, foreign, secular, and religious oppression. Musicians, vocalists, urban poets, and rappers all moved people to act in spaces, public and virtual. In music literature, these songs and chants are referred to by different names: al-aġānī al-ṯawrīyaẗ (revolutionary songs), aġānī al-iḥtiğāğ (protest songs), al-aġānī al-multazimaẗ (socially committed songs), and al- aġānī al-waṭanīyaẗ (patriotic songs). With the rise of communist and leftist movements in the Arab world during the 1960s and 1970s, aesthetic judgment was defined by the level of social and political consciousness of music and songs.

The history of independence and protest movements in the Arab world is interlinked with a crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression, and is marked by the movement of peoples across regional borders and beyond. Writers on music have commented on the phenomena of protest songs in their home countries as well as the circulation of songs across borders and cross-cultural influences among Arab diasporas in exile, acknowledging the continuous connections between communities at home and elsewhere.

Given the cosmopolitan contexts in which musicians and poets work and perform, the musical and poetic production of non-Arabic-speaking peoples of the region is noteworthy: The Algerian Kabyle vocalist Lounès Matoub (1956–98) singing in Kabyle, youths living abroad rap in European languages, and Moroccan urban poets known as Jil Lklam (Generation of Words) mix the languages and dialects of Amazigh and Arabic, fusing them with expressions in French, English, and Spanish. 

The music that carries protest and political themes is as diverse as the dialects and languages present in the Arab world. The patriotic and nationalist songs of the first half of the 20th century draw from the rich repertoire of al-qaṣīdaẗ al-ʽamūdīyaẗ (vertical poetry), fusing with local melodies and European-style orchestration and arrangement. Other songs rely on local dialects and musical sensibilities to appeal to the broader masses. Among the anti-colonial and independence songs, the Tunisian “Tūnis al-yūm brāt mi al-tankīdaẗ” stands out, sung here by legendary Tunisian vocalist Saliha (1914–58).

Tunisian musician Ṣalīḥaẗ performs “Tūnis al-yūm birāt mi al-tankīdaẗ”

The songs of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that offer social and political commentary rely on local folk styles and instruments, as can be observed in the revolutionary songs of the Sabreen group (Palestine) and the revolutionary anthems of the Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq (Iraq). The songs of Nass el Ghiwane (Morocco) feature elements of rwais, and the rebel songs of Groupe El-Ouali (Mauritania) use the subversive lyrics of Sheikh Imam (1918–95) from Egypt. In the last decades, rock, reggae, rap, hip hop, and other popular genres have served as a source of inspiration for bands such as Mashrou’ Leila (Lebanon), DAM (Palestine), and Cairokee (Egypt), with its aspirational lyrics and rock instrumentation that respond to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. “Ya El Medane” is one song that expressed the aspirations of the youth during the Egyptian revolution.

Cairokee’s “Ya El Medane”

Protest songs in the Arab world are forms of expression that break boundaries, defy expectations, and challenge reality. They hail from the Atlas Mountains to Tangier and Algiers, and find a receptive audience in the banlieues of Paris; chants are heard in Tahrir Square and move protesters in Sana’a, Beirut, and Tunis. 

The writings featured in this annotated bibliography present and carefully analyze songs accompanying key political and social events. These include nationalist protest movements that unfolded in the Arab world in the last century, from anti-colonial movements and national movements in the first half of the century to chants that accompanied the revolutions of 2011 and beyond.

– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM

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Select Bibliography

  • Caubet, Dominique and Amine Hamma. Jil Lklam: Poètes urbains (Casablanca: Éditions du Sirocco; Mohammedia: Senso Unico Éditions, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56443; IMA catalogue reference]

The Moroccan music scene that emerged in the mid-1990s has become a crucial part of the overall cultural scene of the country. Rappers, slammers, reggae musicians, creators of metal music and non-music genres such graffiti and break dance have all initiated an urban movement that mixes genres and contributes to a multicultural Morocco. The evolution of discourse emerging from the underground scene to the public sphere is explored, with attention to the lyrics of songs expressing a young generation that is concerned with taboo subjects, cool music, and tough texts. Eloquent, humorous, sensitive, angry, and poetic, this creative and rebellious generation expresses, in multilingual tongues—vernacular, Amazigh, mixed with French, English, and Spanish—its love for its homeland along with its desire for dignity, freedom, and a future. A new generation of artists is revealing, in addition to its eloquence and its extraordinary talent for writing and composition, an unquenching determination to be heard. The generation adapted the American counterculture’s ethos of do-it-yourself and solidarity while using new technology and social media to share its music. Including interviews with experts on the new music scene, a selection of song texts shared in their original language and translated to French, and rich iconography, the book represents a platform for the new generations of artists to be heard and seen, a generation that is the true echo of the youth.

  • Dridi, Daïkha and Omar Zelig. “La petite musique du voyage au bout de la nuit: Quand la musique se revolte, entre ‘bizness’ et poesie”, La pensée de midi 4 (mai 2001) 65–71. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-49702; IMA catalogue reference]

Abstract: A description and an interpretation of the music scenes in 2001, after ten years of political violence that Algeria witnessed. The aftermath of violence and political stances in music genres and scenes, old and new, is discussed. Local genres such as raï, Kabyle militant, and chaabi triste sorrowful chaabi capture a general spirit of hopelessness, but also of hope. Case studies and performances such as the hip-hop group Intik and the group Ragga-Gnawi are explored, and the performance and the following banning of Baaziz’s “Algérie mon amour” is interpreted against the backdrop of political upheavals in Algeria. Algerian hip hop is a rhythmic, musical, and lyrical rupture from everything that preceded it.

  • El Mazned, Brahim. “Les rwayss, ou la musique amazighe comme résistance”, Le monde arabe existe-t-il (encore)?, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama 1 (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2020) 190–193. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-71413; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Approaches Amazigh (Berber) music as an expression of cultural, social, and political resistance. Rwayss is a genre that originates in the Sous region, the center of Amazigh culture, and incorporates singing, dance, and a religious ceremony. The setting where rwayss is traditionally performed is described, and new scenes of rwayss in urban spaces in Morocco and in Europe, especially in France and Belgium, are analyzed. Resistance to musical assimilation and the importance of continuity in rwayss and its connection to the past are considered the main expression of resistance that the tradition holds.

  • El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. Library of modern Middle East studies (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]

Abstract: Explores the ways in which young Arab rap artists navigate the contradictions in the urban and public spheres in everyday life. The discourse of resistance permeating scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. Within the context of the rap scenes in Beirut and Ramallah, political feeling is expressed through objection, confrontation, repetition—a set of processes that hinges on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but should be approached as subversive in their own terms. Conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Beirut and Ramallah, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.

  • Houssais, Coline. “En chansons: Florilège musical révolutionnaire”, Il était une fois…: Les révolutions arabes, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2021) 239–248. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-101344; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Provides a selection of songs that marked the history of revolutionary and nationalist songs. Most of them were initially poems later set to music. All the case studies feature a short background on the poet, the performer, and the historical context. Brief background information is then followed by the lyrics in Arabic and  a French translation. Among the case studies featured are Min djibalina (From our mountains)  by Mohamed Laid Al Khalifa from Algeria, Irdatou al-hayat (The will to live) by Abou el Kacem Chebbi from Tunisia, “Ana Afriqi ana Soudani”  by Alsir Gadour from Sudan, Ounadikoum (I call upon you) by the poet Tewfik Ziad from Palestine, and other cases from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria.

  • Institut du Monde Arabe. Hip Hop: Du Bronx aux rues Arabes [Exposition, Paris, Institut Du Monde Arabe, 28 Avril–26 Juillet 2015], ed. by Aurélie Clémente-Ruiz (Gent: Snoeck; Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-89747; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Issued as part of the exhibition Hip Hop, du Bronx aux Rues Arabes organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in 2015. The book is divided into three sections: the birth of a movement, a new aesthetic, and rap and society. The editors approach hip hop not simply as a genre but as an aesthetic, a lifestyle in perpetual evolution and a continuous transformation. In the preface, the director of the Institut du Monde Arabe remarks on the recourse of young Arab generations to hip hop as a way to express frustration with current realities and to vocalize their aspirations. Articles by multiple authors covering various topics and aspects of hip hop history and its adaptation by contemporary Arab artists are included.

  • Massad, Joseph. “Liberating songs: Palestine put to music”, Palestine, Israel, and the politics of popular culture, ed. by Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005) 175–201. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-31981; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Analyzes the role of patriotic, nationalist, and revolutionary songs in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, approaching songs as a register for the changing dynamics of the Palestinian struggle and the various populations and demographics involved in it at different stages of the country’s history. Themes of the songs include the fight for liberation, the dream for Arab unity and solidarity, and the struggle for refugees’ rights. Songs are categorized in three historical phases. The first phase is marked by the growing support for pan-Arabism, the rise of Palestinian guerrillas, and the underground scene in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second phase comprises songs produced by non-Palestinians following the great defeat of 1967. The third phase covers songs that accompanied the first intifada (1987–93). Overall, resistance songs were subject to many transformations throughout the second half of the second century and beyond. Musicians and artists moved away from state-sponsored productions to underground scenes in Palestine and among its displaced population. Nowadays, Palestinian resistance and patriotic songs have reached a wide reception and have become a founding aspect of Arab and Palestinian popular culture.

  • Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap. Trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse (Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Presents photographs featuring Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as photos of the broader urban spaces in which the alternative and broader Palestinian music scene flourishes. The photographer followed musicians in their everyday lives and captured aspects of their activity. The photographs are occasionally accompanied by brief written commentary and by quotes or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include Saz (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of  DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip-hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad (founder of Sabreen Band).

  • République Arabe Sahraouie Democratique. Groupe El- Ouali chants et danses sahraouis: Une culture de résistance (Nouakchott: Ministère de L’information de la République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26413; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Surveys the works, repertoire, and style of the Mauritanian music and dance company Groupe El-Ouali, and situates them within the broader landscape of cultural resistance in Mauritania in the 1970s and the liberation movement led by the Front Polisario. Groupe El-Ouali was formed by amateur musicians and militants and performed live concerts and disseminated their music on cassettes. The book covers dance styles such as the war dance Dance de ausred, which was performed during the resistance movement led by the Front Polisario against the Spanish occupation of the Sahara, and La touiza, a women’s dance. The book also includes lyrics of selected songs by Groupe El-Ouali translated into French. The songs express themes of revolution and independence, as well as relationships to the land, national identity, and the values of the nationalist movement.

  • Shalaby, Nadia A. “A multimodal analysis of selected Cairokee songs of the Egyptian revolution and their representation of women”, Women, culture, and the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, ed. by Dalia Said Mostafa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2017) 59–81. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-90149; IMA catalogue reference]

Abstract: Analyzes the music videos Ṣawt al-ḥurrīyaẗ (Voice of freedom), Yā al-mīdān (O Tahrir Square), and Iṯbat makānak (Stand your ground) by the Egyptian band Cairokee. The three music videos were released during the year following the breakout of the Egyptian revolution on 25 January 2011, and each reflects the popular mood accompanying the phases of the revolution. The creation and reception of meaning through these music videos is a product of lyrics, music, and other semiotic resources such as visual cues, photographs, camera angles, framing, range of shots, and gaze. The visual design of each music video is discussed to show how multimodal discourse is formed through the employment of various visual, verbal, and musical modes. Finally, the presence and the agency of women in the three music videos are analyzed following the same analytical model.

  • Skilbeck, Rod. “Mixing pop and politics: The pole of raï in Algerian political discourse”, The Arab-African and Islamic worlds: Interdisciplinary studies, ed. by Kevin R. Lacey and Ralph M. Coury (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000) 289–302. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-83623; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Documents the rise of popularity of raï and of kabyle musics among young Algerians at home and among the country’s diasporas, covering the origins and early development of raï in the early 20th century and documenting its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Raï is a hybrid genre that merges Arabic and Bedouin poetry and incorporates local and Western instrumentation. Raï song texts can be categorized in terms of clean raï, which narrates stories of love, and dirty rai, which deals with forbidden sexual desires, alcoholism, and alienation. At the start of the Algerian civil war in 1991 raï became one of its battlefields, and while raï itself was not political, it became political insofar as it represents marginalized social classes through expressions of themes that are deemed taboo or unethical by society or political authorities. During the civil war raï artists were banned, and some were murdered by religious guerrilla groups. One important case study presented is the raï song El harba way? (To flee but where to?) by Cheb Khaled, which became the anthem of protesters during the political crisis of 1988.

  • Al-Sayyid, ʽUmar. Kalām al-ġīwān (Rabat: Ittiḥād Kuttāb al-Maġrib, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-50214; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: A comprehensive collection of song lyrics by the Moroccan group Nās al-Ġīwān, compiled by one of its members. The preface includes key information about the group and presents a critical take on various commentators’ views on the phenomenon of Nās al-Ġīwān, their musical career, and their popularity in Morocco. Formed in the 1960s, the group accompanied and contributed to the cultural, artistic, and political movement that was unfolding in Morocco. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by a growing popular protest movement that Nās al-Ġīwāne marked with their lyrical and musical contribution. However, one should not reduce the group’s artistic production to a political message. Nās al-Ġīwān merged musical and lyrical elements belonging to four cultures—African, Arab, Amazigh, and Saharan—providing a case study of how to properly reclaim musical and cultural heritage and identity. The concept of a Nās al-Ġīwān dictionary of terms is introduced.

  • Šalābī, Fawzīyaẗ. Qirāʼāt munāwiʼaẗ (Tripoli: al-Dār al-ʽArabīyaẗ li-al-Kitāb, 1984). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1984-28079; IMA catalogue reference

Abstract: Approaches political songs from the 1960s through the 1980s as expressions of contemporary Arab consciousness. The difference between the Arab intellectual elites fueling the conscious cultural movement and the Arab masses who follow with little critical take is explored. Political songs that do not give lip service to intellectual elites, but rather engage and express the real suffering of the people, are highlighted, distinguishing between progressive songs (al-aġānī al-taqaddumīyaẗ) of politically and socially engaged people and political songs (al-aġānī al-siyāsīyaẗ) of authoritarian states and the Arab right. Case studies from Morocco (Nās al-Ġīwān), Tunisia (Aṣḥāb al-Kalimaẗ), Iraq (Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq), and Egypt (al-Šayẖ Imām) are included.

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