Interpretive skill plays a particularly important role in Egyptian raqṣ šarqī, which is customarily improvised by a solo dancer to live musical accompaniment. The heterophonic structure of classical Egyptian music involves layering instruments, each of which simultaneously performs its own ornamentation on the melody, rather than adding harmonies.
As an intermediary between the music and the audience, the dancer has the ability to direct the audience’s attention to a particular instrument or embellishment by emulating its rhythm, pitch, and dynamics in movement. In so doing, the raqṣ šarqī dancer chooses not only what the audience will see, but also what they will hear.
The concept of muḥāsabah (analytical listening) illuminates how, by being a sammīʿa (skilled listener), the dancer can enhance the audience’s appreciation of the music, temporarily making them skilled listeners as well. Ultimately, raqṣ šarqī performance is a multisensorial practice that combines sounds, sights, and movements in order to heighten the audience’s aesthetic and emotional experience.
This according to Listening with the body: The raqs sharqi dancer as musical interpreter by Ainsley Hawthorn (St. Johns: Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, & Place (MMaP), 2020).
Above, a raqṣ šarqī dancer in Cairo with her ensemble, photographed by Dan Lundberg; below, Dr. Hawthorn presents her research.
Toward the middle of the 13th century B.C.E., shortly after a granddaughter of the great Hittite king married the Ugaritic ruler, a matrimonial scandal shook the kingdom. The first lady of the city-state of Ugarit was accused of disporting herself with the nobles, of “ceaseless enjoyment” with them: the Akkadian word ṣiāḫum (to laugh joyfully, to flirt) was the discreet description of conjugal infidelity.
“To laugh” had been the euphemism for sexual intercourse and physical love for at least 700 years, as is attested in Paleo-Babylonian love songs. Already in Sumerian songs of the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., the verbs “to delight” and “to utter joyful cries” were used to describe amorous play.
The language of love in Aššurian songs is one of metaphors and discreet allusions; carnal love is mentioned only indirectly, through stock literary devices stemming from a long tradition. Amorous metaphors include “the scent of cedar is your love”, “she seeks the garden of your opulent love”, and “today my heart is full of play and music”.
This according to “La musique des amoureux” by Brigitte Groneberg (Dossiers d’archéologie 310 [février 2006] pp. 50–54).
Above, a Paleo-Babylonian plaque; below, Peter Pringle performs his recreation of an ancient Egyptian song that uses similar metaphors.
Filed under Antiquity, Asia
The virtuoso Egyptian singer Umm Kulṯūm (أم كلثوم) has been acclaimed as representing the voices of the people throughout the Arab world.
Following a long historical tradition of well-known, respectable female singers, Umm Kulṯūm’s repertoire revolved around Arabic poems with historic themes and colloquial Egyptian Arabic songs. Performed during a time of rejection of all things colonial in favor of all things Egyptian, her songs, both textually and melodically, reflected this emphasis.
The role of listeners is crucial in constructing the identity of her voice and their usage of live and recorded performances for their own purposes. Songs from Umm Kulṯūm’s repertory illustrate how social identity may be embedded in music using specific musical cues understood by the performer and her audience.
This according to “Voices of the people: Umm Kulthūm” by Virginia Danielson, an essay included in Women’s voices across musical worlds (Boston: Northeastern University, 2004, pp. 147–165).
Today is Umm Kulṯūm’s 110th birthday! Below, Baeed anak (Away from you) at the Olympia Théâtre in Paris, November 1967.
The ancient land of Assyria, long divided among modern nations, lives again—in cyberspace.
Exiled around the world, Assyrians have established an Internet homeland, Nineveh on line. This portal links to many other Assyrian websites and hosts articles about Assyrian concerns.
Music has proved to be a decisive factor in uniting this virtual community and its corporeal counterparts. Assyrian songs have become powerful tools for shaping and communicating Assyrian identity—and even for learning the ancestral language.
This according to “Translocal communities: Music as an identity marker in the Assyrian disapora” by Dan Lundberg, an essay included in Music in motion: Diversity and dialogue in Europe (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2009) pp. 153–172.
Below, the Iranian singer Gaggi performs Assyrian pop.