Category Archives: World music

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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Taarab and the Kiswahili language

Immediately after World War II, taarab orchestras and music clubs proliferated in coastal Kenya and Tanganyika, and on Zanzibar. They were formed by Waswahili, residents of the region who spoke the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. Through taarab music clubs, the Swahili people developed and paid homage to their language and traditions, providing the cultural basis from which political nationalism might operate.

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”. In the popular genre taarabmpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications–often competitive and antagonistic in nature–through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance.

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa, ed. by Frank D. Gunderson, Gregory F. Barz, and Terence O. Ranger (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-8778) and “Taarab clubs and Swahili music culture” by Henry Douglas Daniels (Social identities 2/3 [1996] 413–438; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-39500).

July 7 is international Kiswahili Language Day! Below is a performance of taarab music by the group Bi Kidude Zanzibar.

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Preparing for concerts and competitions using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text: A performer’s perspective

The Schoenfeld International String Competition is a prestigious event that challenges musicians to deliver exceptional performances, often requiring deep cultural and historical understanding of the pieces they play. One such piece, “陕北民歌-山丹丹开花红艳艳(编曲:薛澄潜;配器:朱彬 (Shǎn běi míngē-shān dān dān kāihuā hóngyànyàn biān qǔ: Xuēchéngqián; pèiq: Zhū bīn [Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies])”, arranged by Xue Chengqian and orchestrated by Zhu Bin for the 2023 violin competition, demands a nuanced interpretation rooted in the rich traditions of Chinese folk music. The song, as indicated by the competition, features a strong Chinese folk style, with sound effects imitating the morin huur (horse-head fiddle) and a timeless, beautiful melody. Using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text can provide invaluable resources for better understanding and preparing this piece. 

Researching Shanbei folk music

To begin, it is crucial to understand the cultural and historical context of Shanbei folk music. Shanbei, or northern Shaanxi province, is known for its distinctive folk songs, characterized by unique melodic structures and singing techniques. Articles like “陕北民歌演唱技巧探究 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu [Singing technique in northern Shaanxi traditional song])” by Wang Xinhui (Yuefu xin sheng: Shenyang Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/The new voice of yue-fu: The academic periodical of Shenyang Conservatory of Music 1:75 [spring 2002] 54-59; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-23054) provide an excellent starting point. The abstract indicates that the article delves into the vocal techniques specific to Shanbei folk songs, such as the use of pingqiang (平腔, “flat singing”) and gaoqiang (高腔, high-pitched singing), as well as the balance between true and falsetto voices. Accessing the full text allows for a deeper understanding of these techniques, which are essential for delivering an authentic performance.

Additionally,“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Cong hechang “Shanbei min’ge wu shou” kan Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui de lishi yingxiang [History and influences of Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui: Shanbei min’ge wu shou as an example])” by Liao Jianbing Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 2:140 [summer 2013] 85-90; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-8124) offers insights into the historical significance and adaptation of Shanbei folk songs. The abstract and full text discuss how these songs were arranged for choral performances, providing context that can inform the interpretation of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies.

Analyzing the composition and arrangement

Understanding the specific arrangement and orchestration by Xue and Zhu requires examining the compositional techniques they employed. Articles that discuss the arrangement and orchestration of similar pieces can offer valuable parallels. For example, examining how traditional elements are maintained or transformed in contemporary settings is crucial. 

The article “从陕北民歌同源变体关系看苦音宫调的构成 (Cong Shanbei min’ge tongyuan bianti guanxi kan kuyin gongdiao de goucheng [An exploration of the form of the kuyin mode in terms of the homologous variant relationship in northern Shaanxi folk songs])” by Yang Shanwu Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 3:137 [autumn 2012] 17-24; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2012-18701) is particularly relevant. It discusses the kuyin mode, a modal system characterized by slightly sharped fourth and flatted seventh degrees, which is prevalent in Shanbei folk music. This modal understanding can be directly applied to the analysis of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies, aiding in grasping its melodic and harmonic structure.

Synthesizing information for performance

Having gathered detailed information on the cultural context, vocal techniques, and compositional structure, the next step is to synthesize this knowledge into a cohesive performance strategy. This involves integrating the historical and theoretical insights into practical applications during practice sessions.

For instance, incorporating the singing techniques discussed in“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu)” can enhance the authenticity of the performance. Practicing the transitions between pingqiang and gaoqiang will help in achieving the characteristic sound of Shanbei folk music. Additionally, understanding the kuyin mode from the article by Yang Shanwu can guide the interpretation of the melodic lines, ensuring they resonate with the traditional Shanbei sound.

In a similar way, instrumental musicians and performers can leverage the extensive resources available through RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text to deepen their understanding of the pieces they play. By accessing scholarly articles that provide historical context, technical analysis, and cultural insights, musicians can enrich their interpretations and performances. This scholarly approach not only enhances their technical proficiency but also allows them to connect more deeply with the music’s heritage and artistic intentions, ultimately leading to more informed and compelling performances.

–Written by Laurentia Woo, a RILM intern and currently a junior at Columbia Preparatory School. Laurentia also studies violin with Professor Li Lin at the Pre-College division of the Juilliard School.

Below is a performance of Xue Chengqian’s Song of praise by South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim at the 2016 Schoenfeld International String Competition.

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A landmark resource in ethnomusicology

The Garland encyclopedia of world music was first issued between 1988 and 1994 by Garland Publishing as a ten-volume series of encyclopedias of world music, organized geographically by continent. An updated second edition appeared between 1998 and 2002. Widely regarded as an authoritative academic source for ethnomusicology, the series features contributions from top researchers in the field globally.

RILM Music Encyclopedias includes volumes from the series on Africa (edited by Ruth M. Stone), The United States and Canada (edited by Ellen Koskoff), Southeast Asia (edited by Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams), South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent (edited by Alison Arnold), The Middle East (edited by Virginia Danielson), East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea (edited by Robert Provine), and Australia and the Pacific Islands (edited by Adrienne L. Kaeppler). Each volume consists of three sections that cover the major topics of a region from broad general issues to specific music practices, introductions to each region, its culture, and its music as well as a survey of previous music scholarship and research; major issues and processes that link the regions musically, and detailed accounts of individual music cultures. The special tenth volume compiles reference tools, criteria for inclusion into the series, and information about the encyclopedia’s structure and organization.

The entries synthesize in-depth fieldwork conducted since the 1960s, as well as recordings, analysis, and documentation. The publication is generally considered a landmark achievement in ethnomusicology. While ethnomusicologists may appreciate The Garland for its critically designed components, non-ethnomusicologists can embrace the encyclopedia for its capacity to serve as a primer on world music.

Find the Garland encyclopedia of world music in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

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Vocal music of the southern Philippines

Among the non-Islamic highland communities of Mindanao in the Philippines, singing is not just a form of entertainment but is also embedded in formal or ritualized gatherings. The Agusan Manobo healing ritual is a good example of such context where the tud-om song genre is performed by a medium (acting as the host) before family members and the sick patient (the guest). The same song is always sung in this ritual as a way to resolve misunderstandings among members of the community.

The T’boli people have a song genre called setolu, which is performed after a woman has accepted a gift offered by the man courting her. Setolu represents a sung debate where two singers–a man and a woman, who respectively embody the roles of wife-taker and wife-giver–compete against each other to negotiate the marriage arrangement as a type of social exchange. This is similar to the Maguindanao dayunday and the Sulu sindil, both of which also represent a vocal debate or dialogue between male and female singers, often heard after weddings and ceremonial events to welcome visitors and give thanks. As a form of entertainment, the dayunday is a competition between two men and a woman or two women and a man, who take turns singing with a Western guitar from eight o’clock in the evening until four o’clock the next morning. The performers openly debate the worthiness of the marriage suitor, usually taking the form of humorous denigration.

In the neighboring island of Palawan, a vocal music called kulilal features sensual and metaphorical images of love. Kulilal does not represent a courtship but is a song of seduction in which a woman playing the zither is invited into an adulterous relationship. During the performance she is flanked by two men who take turns singing and playing their two-stringed lutes (pictured above).

Learn more in a new entry on the Philippines by Jose Buenconsejo in MGG Online.

Below is a contemporary performance of dayunday in Maguindanao.

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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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The nobat in Malay court life

The nobat, a percussion-based music ensemble, has performed in the Malay courts of maritime Southeast Asia since the coming of Islam to the region in the 13th century. The nobat originates in the Islamic traditions of the Middle East and has long been incorporated into the sacred court regalia as a symbol of a sultan’s power and sovereignty. The ensemble also is revered for its perceived mystical powers and its ability to consolidate and maintain sociopolitical order. The spread of Islam saw the nobat and its musical practice travel via ancient land and sea routes across Asia to develop by accommodating different local cultures and belief systems.

Drawing patrons from some of the greatest Muslim empires, the sounds of the nobat in palaces symbolized the installation of new rulers, announced the arrival of dignitaries, signaled prayer times, and instilled courage among soldiers on the battlefield. The emergence of the nobat as a court institution was less a result of the collective agency of the masses than a desire of the Malay ruling elites. The ensemble developed during a period when societies were governed by absolute monarchs, military commanders, and regional governors who had the means and purpose to patronize it. Along with the nobat, ruling elites also were responsible for supporting the advancement of the arts and sciences generally, and many musicians, poets, painters, philosophers, and scientists found themselves under court patronage.

By the late 20th century, the nobat mostly went silent as sultanates declined in visibility and power. The few that have survived continue to perform in the sultan’s courts of Kedah, Perak, Selangor, and Terengganu in Malaysia and in Brunei.

Read more in “The nobat: From Muslim antiquity to Malay modernity” by Raja Iskandar Bin Raja Halid in Performing arts and the royal courts of Southeast Asia. I: Pusaka as documented heritage, edited by Mayco A. Santaella (Leiden: Brill, 2023) 139–160. Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

The video below features a performance of the nobat in Kedah, Malaysia.

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Celebrating Tyagaraja ārādhana in South India

The social organization of musicians in South India is often reflected in the Tyagaraja ārādhana, the annual death-anniversary celebration in honor of the revered composer Tyagaraja (1767–1847, pictured above). Thousands of musicians appear at this huge annual celebration, including men and women of different social communities and performance traditions. These musicians include performers in the Karṇāṭak art music tradition–ubiquitous in the contemporary concert halls of South India–as well as two closely related performance traditions sharing the Karṇāṭak musical language of raga and tala: the periya mēḷam instrumental tradition of Hindu temple ritual music and the music ensemble (formerly known as cinna mēḷam) that accompanies the South Indian classical dance form bharatanāṭyam.

After Tyagaraja’s passing in 1847, some of his disciples (śiṣya) would visit his gravesite at Tiruvaiyaru on the anniversary of his death each January. The commemorations were at first extremely simple; the disciples would pray, sing songs, and return home. As Tyagaraja’s lineage of students and students’ students multiplied, more musicians came to the site to offer their worship. About 60 years after Tyagaraja’s death, the commemoration became institutionalized, due to the efforts of two Brahmin brothers from the village of Tillaisthanam, adjacent to Tiruvaiyaru. These brothers, Narasimha Bhagavatar and Panju Ayyar, collected sufficient money and food to feed the Brahmins who would assemble for the rites. Narasimha Bhagavatar, a disciple’s disciple of Tyagaraja, also published a major edition of Tyagaraja’s kriti compositions and a biographical account of the composer in 1908.

The dynamic nature of the Tyagaraja ārādhana, which takes place over three days each January, in the town of Tiruvaiyaru, Tanjavur district, in Tamil Nadu, facilitates the study of two parameters at the heart of India’s changing social organization: gender and caste. Attention to these two central parameters illuminates other aspects of social organization such as the patronage, presentation, and transmission of music, and people’s attitudes about music, musicians, and music making. In locating caste and gender relations within the history of the Tyagaraja celebration, the roles played by two important transitional figures, namely Sri Malaikottai Govindasvami Pillai and Srimati (Smt.) Bangalore Nagaratnammal, illustrate the changes in the gender and caste organization of South Indian musicians in the 20th century.

Read on in The Garland encyclopedia of world music. South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Below is a video of the 172nd Tyagaraja ārādhana circa January 2019.

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The corrido and Cesar Chavez

The corrido is a Mexican folk music that narrates a story or series of events in verse. The genre has developed in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States over the past 200 years. Similar to how the jarabe genre is closely linked historically to Mexican Independence (1810-1821), the corrido is linked with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). Unlike the former, the corrido is not typically danceable. It was one of the most popular song manifestations of the early 20th century, although its origin dates back to the Spanish colonial era. In the 18th century, the corrido was a popular type of country song found primarily in the states of Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. A significant difference between the corrido and other forms of Mexican narrative song is that corrido verses tend to feature many syllables with narration usually in the second or third person.

Toward the end of the 20th century, drug trafficking or illegal trafficking of narcotics, especially between Mexico and the U.S. southern border, became a popular theme of contemporary corrido songs with the term “narcocorrido” attributed to such songs. According to Rafael Acosta, a professor at the University of Kansas who has studied narcocorridos, the genre narrates the stories of “people who feel, many times justifiably, that they are neglected by state and economic apparatuses and look for possibilities of rebellion and socioeconomic advancement”. Acosta compares the stories in narcocorridos to films and songs about Italian gangsters of the early 20th century or outlaws trafficking moonshine in the era of 1920s prohibition.

Corrido musicians, however, have primarily sung about oppression, history, the daily life of peasants, and other socially relevant topics. For instance, listen below to the song El corrido de César Chávez written by Felipe Cantu and first performed in 1965 at the California state capitol in Sacramento, the endpoint of a three-week march led by Chávez and the United Farm Workers union from Delano to protest unfair practices against farmworkers.

Celebrate the civil rights and labor movement activist César Chávez on 31 March (César Chávez Day) by reading more about the history of the corrido genre in Diccionario enciclopédico de música en México. Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

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Qamar: A pioneering singer of Iran

In the post 1970 revolution era, women musicians in Iran, especially women vocalists, have represented a challenge to societal norms and have inspired new musical trends. Such trends, however, have largely been inconsistent with the gendered restrictions of the Iranian state’s cultural policies which limit the musical activities of women, especially singing in public. Iranian society has long been one where religion and politics have been integrated into everyday life. With Islam as the official state ideology, this integration has been felt even more deeply. There is, however, a significant gap between such cultural policies, dominant official discourse, and the changing spiritual, intellectual, and cultural needs of Iranian society.

In this context, the emergence of women solo singers performing in public is unprecedented in Iranian history and must be understood in terms of the political, social, and intellectual changes of the late 19th and early 20th century. These changes included different processes of modernization including greater communication politically with the international community, the opening of modern schools, the establishment of a printing press, the creation of a modern educated or intellectual class (munavar al-fekr), the emergence of a literary renaissance movement (Bazgasht-i adabi), and a change in the country’s constitution. The Iranian public, especially the urban educated class, at the turn of the 20th century longed for changes in gender norms and for the participation of women in social and cultural spheres, including in the public performance of music. The early period of the Constitutional Revolution marked the beginning of Iranian classical music concerts performed in public. It was not until 1924, however, when the singer Qamar al-Moluk Vazirizade (better known as Qamar) gave her first concert at Tehran Grand Hotel, that an Iranian woman would perform before an audience of men in public.

Qamar was born in the small city of Qazvin but later moved to Tehran where she adopted her family name in honor of Ali-Naqi Vaziri, an Iranian musician who improved the social status of musicians and expanded the role of women in music. Qamar lost her father a month before she was born, and her mother died when she was only 18 months old. She was raised by her grandmother, Khair al- Nesa’, a reciter of the Qur’an and a religious professional narrator for women-only audiences (rouzeh-khani). Khair al Nesa’, who was known for her strong reciting voice, quickly took notice of Qamar’s interest in singing and encouraged her to join the performances–making them more captivating and helping Qamar to cultivate her singing voice. Qamar later recounted, “Those singing experiences in my childhood gave me the courage to sing in public”. Similar to the renowned Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, Qamar’s professional career as a singer was influenced by and connected to her religious background.

From 1927 to 1937, Qamar’s career flourished, and she became one of the first Iranian singers to record for the gramophone market. Some of her songs reflected the social conditions and hardships faced by Iranian people after World War I. Furthermore, her recordings were even performed in public spaces such as theaters. Qamar is generally known to have played a significant role in the development of Persian classical music as a genre and expanded its popularity in aristocratic circles to wider society in the early 20th century.

Learn more in “Voicing their presence: Postrevolution Iranian female vocalists in context” by Malihe Maghazei [Popular communication XV/3 (2017), 233–247]. Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

Listen to a recording by Qamar al-Moluk Vazirizade below.

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