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Weddings and other festivities which include the 'Sufi zikr' rituals are strongholds of traditional music. But we also hear echoes of ancient Egyptian rhythms and instruments even in contemporary Egyptian folk music.
Today the sounds of Egyptian music may be blended with Turkish, Arabic, and Western elements. Nonetheless, it sounds unusual to European ears.
The instruments are different. The Egyptian tabla drum seems vaguely familar - but Egyptian reed instruments seem to produce buzzing drones instead of tunes. The tonal structure is different. Even the rhythms are different. The 'maqamat' system of tonality has a passing resemblance to Western modes, but each each tone is divided into thirds, with added 'microtones' flung into the mix.
Arabic rhythms are governed by the 'awzan' - patterns of 'dum' (downbeats), 'tak' (upbeats) and rests.
Rhythm and improvisation is central to Egyptian music. The the first indigenous Egyptian pop music emerged in the 1910sm, and the Egyptian pop music scene is alive and kicking - still distinctively Arabic, and often used to promote powerful religious or political messages.
The increasing popularity of percussion and Egyptian vocal music around 700 AD (and still evident today) sparked the development of an Egyptian form of musical notation. Singing is still vitally important to Egyptian music - even instrumentalists begin by learning to sing the 'maqams'.
'Umm Kulthum' (in Arabic) syn. 'Om Kalsoum' (in Egyptian Arabic) was the most famous singer in the twentieth-century Arab world - see THE VOICE OF EGYPT: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology) by V Danielson (see illustration).
Born in Tamay ez-Zahayra, next to El Senbellawein, she started singing as a child, and her father, an Imam, dressed her as a boy so that she could sing in concerts without causing undue comment, because women performing in public were considered akin to protitutes. As an adult - large lady with very small feet - she became a singer, songwriter and actress, earning the title 'Star of the East' (kawkab el-sharq). Umm Kulthum's live performances could last many hours as she interacted with the audience as she performed, repeating phrases to manipulate the emotion in the room - and even at the request of then audience. She gave up acting because of the lack of personal and emotional contact with the audience.
She was prevented from marrying a member of the Egyptian Royal family, but as her successful grew she became very influential in Egypt, exerting considerable powerful in business and in the media. However, she remained proud of her peasant origins, and always liked to cook in the traditional peasant style for her husband - especially her favourite meal of okra.
This is a comparative literature study of Egyptian Narrative Ballads. The fascinating texts - from erotic tales to accounts of contemporary deeds of violence - have been meticulously transcribed and translated by an academic Arabist who has lived in Egypt for a quarter of a century. Linguistically satisfying, the study breaks new ground, and features many elaborate and linguistically challenging puns.
The author demonstrates how few of the modernistic values held by the educated Egyptian élite have percolated to the masses - and how unreliable the 'literature of this élite' may be as the prime indicator of cultural change.
As well as graduate and undergraduate level linguists and literary historians, critics of comparative literature, students of Arabic studies, anthropologists, folklorists and social scientists will gain useful insights into modern Egyptian society from Popular Narrative Ballads Of Modern Egypt
This study of the life of the Prophet Muhammad draws from the narrative ballads, classical odes, Qur'anic chantings and melodies of the secular songs of 51 contemporary Egyptian singers. "The People's Muhammad" is shown as authoritative, supernatural - and also as a vulnerable human being.
A detailed study of Egyptian Dance throughout history, including the various types of dance, the body movements used, the accompaniments and instruments, the costumes and differences between men's and women's dances. Egyptian dancing today is also considered.
"Serpent of the Nile" traces the origins of the ancient art of Arabic dance. It has survived both religious disapproval, commercialism and the influence of Western ideas about art and entertainment. Wendy Buonaventura demonstrates how Arabic dance has survived and changed over time, with extra illustrations in this new edition.
103 colourful images of dancers, saints, flowers and animals, all taken from the textile collection of Rose Choron. The images in the book are mainly from the third to seventh centuries, asd include examples from rare weavings made by Egypt's Coptic Christians, and some from the Islamic period.
Hossam Ramzy, Egypt's "Ambassador of Rhythm" was born in Cairo, and was given his first drum - an Egyptian tabla - when he was three. He studied music in Egypt, then in Saudi Arabia (inspired by Bedouin rhythms - see Bedouin Tribal Dance Feat Gypsies of the Nile - and was acclaimed in England as a Jazz and Latin style drummer. Returning to the Egyptian dance rhythms and his first love, the tabla. Hossam has collaborated with Peter Gabriel, and with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (ex Led Zeppelin) for their triple platinum reunion album 'No Quarter - Unledded', then joined their world tour.
Hossam has toured extensively with European and Arabian artists, collaborated on award-winning film sound tracks, including Star Gate and The Last Temptation Of Christ, and released many albums of Egyptian dance and world music, including "Immortal Egypt" (with Phil Thornton, winner of New Age Voice Award for "Best Contemporary World Music"), 'Secrets Of The Eye' and 'Sabla Tolo - Journeys into pure Egyptian Percussion'.
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Youssou N'Dour performs his album "Egypt" entirely in Arabic, in an almost conversational style, with a small group of Senegalese musicians and singers. More deeply and traditionally religious than his previous music, this album is a Sufi 'take' on Islam. Senegalese Youssou N'Dour is one of Africa's most popular international singers.
Archeaological 'fever' affected people worldwide - including nineteenth century composers, as can be heard in the Egyptian Splendour collection. Aida shows Verdi's intense interpretation of Egyptian colour and vitality (with an undercurrent of Italian nationalism!) Johann Strauss's Egyptian March is really Viennese, spiced with some exotic twists to the tunes, and Grieg's Arab Dance shows a vaguely Arabic modal harmony. Massenet's Meditation from his opera Thais is an Egyptian love song: warm-hearted, almost sentimental - and utterly beautiful.
Claude Debussy loved eastern music, pouring the 'shimmering sonorities' of eastern musical scales into pieces like 'Canope', for piano.
Two fantasies for piano really make this collection stand out. Africa Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra" shows Saint-Saens experimenting with combinations of classical harmonies and (for him) wildly unusual melodies and rhythms. Mily Balakirev's Islamey Oriental Fantasy for Piano sounds outrageously exotic - and is one of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire.
Arab music is fascinating - but puzzling and sometimes difficult to get to grips with if you haven't grown up listening to it. Would you like to understand more of what you're hearing? This book will do it for you - it's not a dry and dusty academic work - it's readable, it makes sense and after reading you will enjoy Arabic music even more.
This case study focuses on modern day Egyptian Music. Based on extensive fieldwork, it explores the role of music in creating a regional, national, and community identity. It considers how melodic and rhythmic music underpins Egypt's art, folk and popular music, the relationship between Islam and music and the effects of westernization and modernization on Egyptian Music today.
This ethnomusicologist, distinguished performer and composer has produced an 'intimate portrayal of the Arab musical experience'. Focusing on 'tarab' (a combination of indigenous music and the ecstatic feeling it arouses) he explains the complex effects Arabic music has on its listeners.
He shows how Arabic musicians learn and get their inspiration, how they use of love lyrics as 'tools of ecstasy', the relationship between performers and listeners, and the influence of 'technological mediation and globalization'.
Most of this scholarly and richly documented book is fairly accessible to general readers, except for the particularly academic final chapter.
Traditional baladi style music with a strong traditional Egyptian feel
There's a fantastic range of CDs or DVDs - why not teach yourself how to belly dance?
Beginners Guide To Bellydance (Audio CD - 2008) Rough Guide to Bellydance Cafe (Audio CD - 2007) The Rough Guide to Bellydance (Audio CD) Introduction To Bellydance (Audio CD) The Exotic Art Of Bellydance (DVD - 2007) Bellydance Superstars: Solos From Monte Carlo (DVD - 2006) Bellydance Superstars (DVD - 2004)
Various Bellydance compilation CDs featuring bellydance music from Egypt, Lebanon, Arabia and Turkey
This Elibron Classics edition is a facsimile reprint of a 1892 edition by William Heinemann, London.
Notes for the Nile is a fascinating, eminently readable period-piece from 1892 which starts with an introduction: 'Precepts for Travellers'. There are some fascinating entries, including including:
On Tombs; With Flinders Petrie at the Medum Pyramid; How I Saw the Great Pharaoh in the Flesh: A Reminiscence of the Bulak Museum; Seti I, the Father of Pharaoh the Great: An Historical Sketch; First Impressions of Thebes.
However, the key elements of this work is the music - the 'notes' of the title, which are rendered in metrical form.
They are, in effect, musical settings of 'The Oldest Book in the World' ('The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep') and nine 'Hymns of Ancient Egypt'.