Music and Performing Arts

Music and Performing Arts

Music in the World of Islam

In a discussion about music in the world of Islam, it is first important to distinguish that Muslims do not use the term "music" in the same manner employed in the English language and in other Western languages. The Arabic term for "music," musiqa, does not apply to all types of artistic vocal and instrumental arrangements of sounds or tones and rhythms; rather, the Muslims term this general case "handasah al sawt," or "the art of sound." Musiqa, or "music," applies rather "only to particular genres of sound art, and for the most part it has been designated for only those that have a "somewhat questionable or even disreputable status in Islamic culture" (al Faruqi, 1986). "Handasah al sawt" is a recently coined term used by Muslims to separate their Islamic conception of "music" from that held in the Western and non-Islamic world, which, as we will see, often contrasts in very fundamental and critical ways.

Islam and popular music in Senegal: the emergence of a 'new tradition'

The city of Dakar is a visual and verbal testament to the pervasive influence of Islam on Senegalese popular culture: ubiquitous fleets of yellow and blue cars rapides, the city's main transport system, display across their hoods the word alhamdulillahi(1) (Praise be to God); streets are named after important local Muslim figures: Allees Thierno Seydou Nourou Tall, Autoroute Seydina Limamou Laye; businesses such as Clef Minute de l'Islam (Islam Instant Key) on Avenue Blaise Diagne incorporate religion into their name: images of the mosque of Touba, the holy city of the Mouride Sufi order, grace the facades of small restaurants and bread kiosks; and in a local nightclub, well dressed Dakarois dance to popular singer Youssou Ndour's hit song about the founder of the Mouride order, Cheikh Amadou Barnba. In this article I explore the influence of Islam on a single aspect of Senegalese popular culture, but one which more than any other has transcended international boundaries, namely popular music.

Islam and the Creative Imagination in Senegal

In few other places in the creative traditions of sub-Saharan Africa is the factor of Islam more prominent and influential than in Senegal. Manifested on the level of form and subject-matter and spanning a wide cross-section of talent in both the traditional and modern media of creative expression, this prominence and influence can be attributed to a number of factors ranging from the artistic maturity, religious sensibility, intellectual astuteness and ideological orientation of individual artists to the more general impact that Islam, as a dominant religious force, is perceived to have had on secular life in Senegal. These factors, to a large extent, determine the various ways in which individual Senegalese artists define themselves and their art vis-a-vis Islam, in particular, and society, in general, definitions which creatively translate into formal choice, thematic focus and, to use a cliche, “message”.

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Jack Shaheen, New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001. 574 pages.

When it comes to Arab characters in movies, Hollywood has only one kind: Bad Arabs. So argues Jack Shaheen, professor emeritus of mass communications at Southern Illinois University and a former CBS News consultant on Middle East affairs in his new book, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. In this groundbreaking study, Shaheen provides long-awaited evidence that since “cameras started cranking to the present,” Hollywood, for more than a century, has targeted Arabs. It has portrayed them, knowingly or unknowingly, as “uncivilized religious fanatics and money-mad cultural ‘others’.” He convincingly makes the case that filmmakers must not be pardoned for distorting and sacrificing the truth under the false pretext of artistic license.

The Poetics of Islamic Legitimacy: Myth, Gender, and Ceremony in the Classical Arabic Ode

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. 383 pages.

In The Poetics of Islamic Legitimacy, Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych effectively debunks the myth that the classical Arabic panegyric ode  (qasidat al-madh) is merely a descriptive, prescriptive, or sycophantic poetic genre by demonstrating its dynamic engagements with what she terms “Arabo-Islamic court life.” The book builds on her previous work (e.g., The Mute Immortals Speak [Cornell University Press: 1993]), using an approach that blends an understanding of myth, rite, and archetype in the classical Arabic qasidah with historically grounded, contextualized interpretations of these poems. Her insightful, close readings of individual poems are coupled with a detailed exploration of the classical Arabic qasidah’s social and ritual functions – from the pre-Islamic period, through its early days, and continuing through the Umayyad and `Abbasid periods.

Centre For Medieval Studies Middle Eastern and Islamic Influence on Western Art & Liturgy: Cultural Exchanges in Late Antiquity & the Middle Ages

Central to the conference, held during March 5-6, 2004, at Trinity College, University of Toronto (Canada), was the desire of its organizer, Andrew Hughes, to find analogies in other disciplines to his speculation that the European plainsong (liturgical chant) of the Middle Ages was performed in a manner similar to that of Middle Eastern music (“Continuous Music: Natural or Eastern? The Origins of Modern Performance Style”). His speculation stemmed from decades of discussions with his colleague Timothy McGee about the nature of musical sound. Oral transmission, its replacement by various difficult-to-interpret notations, and an often polemic rejection of Arabic influence make the investigation difficult and controversial.1 McGee responded (“Some Concerns about Eastern Influence in Medieval Music”) and later, working from practical experiments presented by a group of graduate students attending the conference, offered a very interesting new interpretation. Some reservations were expressed by Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute, London), a distinguished Arabist with musicological qualifications. He was invited to comment on the initial round table and the conference as a whole.

Music Education and Muslims

Diana Harris, Stoke on Trent, UK and Sterling, USA: Trentham Books, 2006. 149 pages.

Diana Harris presents her research on teaching music to Muslim students in the United Kingdom. She argues that music educators have to take into account that music is a sensitive issue formany Muslims. The fact that music education is compulsory for British pupils until the age of fourteen presents an ethical dilemma for those who, for religious reasons, do not feel comfortable participating in music classes. With this book, the author intends to help state schoolteachers understand the history and position of music in Islam and help teachers in state and independent Islamic schools provide music classes that their students might find more acceptable.

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