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egyptian music

egyptian music –
history
Egyptian music has been an important part of Egyptian culture since ancient time. The ancient Egyptians credited the god Thod with the invention of music. The earliest material and representational evidence of Egyptian musical instruments dates back to the pre-dynastic period. In the Old Kingdom, harps, flutes and double clarinets were played. Percussion instruments, lyres and lutes were added by the time of the Middle Kingdom. Cymbals frequently accompanied music and dance, as they still do in Egypt today. Ancient Egyptian religion included many rituals designed to appeal to their pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and special troupes were formed and trained specifically for this purpose. Musical troupes also found patronage in royal and private households and entertained the elite during their sumptuous banquets. Ancient Egyptian music was linked to religious rituals as well as worldly entertainment: it was skilful, rich and diverse and influenced by religion, politics, trade, conquest and invasion.Egyptian folk music, including the traditional Sufi zikr rituals, is the contemporary music genre that is closest to ancient Egyptian music. These rituals have preserved many of its features, rhythm and instruments. Egyptian folk instruments bear a striking resemblance to their pharaonic ancestors. An ancient arghul for example was found in the tomb of Tutakhamen and can be seen in the Egyptian Museum. Ethnomusicologists can also draw conclusions on how certain instruments were played in ancient Egypt from the position of the hands, for example, and from how they are played today in different regions in the country. Here again, striking similarities between the past and the present have been found.

The Christian era (beginning in 43) and the Arab conquest which followed (639) had a profound influence on the arts and culture of Egypt. The liturgical music of the Coptic Church is said to have preserved features of ancient Egyptian music. After the Arab conquest, musical tradition entered a new era and thrived. As they did with all other art forms, the Arabs promoted music, enabling a fine and complex art to develop, which spread and flourished across the Arab Empire.  Arabic music is usually said to have begun in the 7th century in Syria during the Umayyad Dynasty. Early Arabic music was influenced by Byzantine, Indian and Persian forms, which were themselves influenced by earlier Greek, Semitic and ancient Egyptian music.

Egyptian music throughout history has blended indigenous ancient Egyptian traditions with African, Arab, Turkish and Western elements. Diverse music genres have derived from these influences, each of which is characterized by a particular lawn (colour). The music genres found in Egypt are interconnected and have impermeable borders through which a constant flow takes place from one genre to the other.  For example, an Egyptian qanun player may perfom for a small gathering of music lovers, be a member of a radio ensemble and play in night clubs in Cairo or London. An accordion might accompany a classical orchestra and the next day play at a baladi wedding in the streets of Cairo. Keeping this special situation in Egypt in mind, we can today distinguish 6 different genres:

  • Egyptian shaabi or folk music traditions
  • Egyptian religious music traditions
  • Egyptian baladi or urban folk music tradition
  • Arab/Egyptian art music
  • Egyptian film music
  • Egyptian pop music

The Egyptian shaabi or folk music traditions are rich and diverse and differ according to the region: the first, southernmost area around Assuan with its Nubian and African influences; the second called Upper Egypt or the Sa´id from Luxor to Gerga; thirdly the region from El Minya to the Nile Delta and the shores of the Mediterranean, and finally Egypt’s deserts and oases. Egypt’s rural people, the Fellahin, the Sa´ida, the Bedu, the Nubi and other tribes like the Nawar settled along the Nile throughout the centuries and have formed a complex society with diverse ethnic, religious and social backgrounds. They have passed on their music traditions orally, without any system of notation, from generation to generation, throughout Egypt’s long history. These traditions are always closely intertwined with the social and religious life of the ethnic groups of each region, but are increasingly threatened by socioeconomic changes in society, politics and growing religious fundamentalism. In Egypt itself, music has not been documented to a large extent and few good quality recordings exist. Egyptian religious music, such as the liturgical music of the Coptic Church, the Sufi music of the mystical branch of Islam, or the Islamic Koran recitations, is threatened by the growing influence of an aggressive version that is being spread by the conservative Islamic branches. The Egyptian urban music tradition, baladi music, was born out of Egyptian city life at the turn of the last century (1920s). It has been influenced by European instruments like the accordion but follows the musical structures of the Egyptian shaabi music. This music form is also called Egyptian jazz and reached its creative climax in the 1970s. Today, the masters of this music form have reached old age and baladi music is almost a thing of the past. Like the shaabi music traditions, this particular form of music has not been documented much in Egypt because it belonged to and derived from the lower social classes. Arab/Egyptian art music and Egypt’s film music are well documented in recordings and films as Egypt was the centre of the Arab film and music industry for many decades (1940s – 1950s). These music forms are taught in conservatories and art schools around the country. This is also true for Egyptian pop music which follows the rules of business and commerce. These facts also explain why we have our focus on the shaabi and baladi music traditions, which are in danger of dying out.

CD tip:

Egyptian percussion

CD Daqat I  (tanz raum), CD Daqat II  (tanz raum)

Egyptian shaabi music

CD Al Masdar (tanz raum), CD Music of the fellahin, CD Music of the ghawazee

Egyptian baladi music

CD Spirit of the Heart (tanz raum), CD Ruh El Fuad (tanz raum), CD Sultana (tanz raum)

Egyptian art music

CD Monaga (tanz raum),  CD Jewels (tanz raum)

Egyptian music – instruments Egyptian folk instruments or shaabi instruments bear a striking resemblance to their pharaonic ancestors.

The tanbura is a pentatonic, five-stringed lyre, particularly known in Upper Egypt and often seen in Cairo in ancient times. It has a bowl or rectangular-shaped resonator and a wooden frame consisting of two laterals supporting a yoke. The right-hand fingers usually sweep across all the strings at once while the left hand fingers are used to stop the strings whose tones are not needed at that moment. This technique resembles that shown on monuments in ancient Egypt.

The Suez region provides a type of instrument of a slightly smaller size called simsimiyya. The instrument emerged in the region of the Suez Canal probably around the turn of the 20th century. Until recent times each ship employed a simsimiyya player who would bring joy to the voyage and it was also believed that they had the power to make the winds rise. It is linked to the bambutia dance, singing and also the practice of the zar.

The rababa is the earliest known fiddle, a bowed instrument with two strings, and is associated with folk Instrument Rababaand art music. The rababa was used by classical takht ensembles before being replaced by the western violin. The playing of the rababa can reach sophisticated heights and in these moments the line between art and folk music becomes blurred.

The nay with its many variations is a flute made of a reed with five or six finger holes on the front and one on the back. It occupies a major place in the Egyptian folk music tradition, the mystical Sufi orders as well as in art music. It is one of the oldest and simplest known instruments from the days of the ancient Egyptians. The kawala is a variation of the nay. It is shorter than the nay and has an additional finger hole.

Instrument Mizmar

The mizmar is a wooden oboe with a conical bore. Different mouth pieces can be exchanged and produce different tones with a penetrating sound.

Traditionally this instrument accompanies songs, public processions and certain traditional dances such as the tahtib, Egypt’s combat dance performed by men, raqs el khail, the dance of the horse, and gawazee dances.

There are many sizes and types of mizmar instruments. The smallest that is just 30 cm long is called a sibs.

Egyptian percussion instruments are numerous and important as rhythm is vital in Egyptian music:
Instrument Tabla BaladiThe tabla baladi accompanies the professional mizmar ensembles at processions and dances. It is a double-skinned bass drum, beaten with a thick stick on one side and with a thin stick on the other side. The tabla baladi hangs at an angle from the player’s neck.

The nagrazan is a copper drum that hangs around the musician’s neck and is played with two wooden sticks held in both hands. It is used for the traditional tahtib music as well as Sufi music.

Tablah

The heavy vase-shaped drum made of earthenware and fish skin is called tabla or darabuka. It was used traditionally by the awalim to accompany their wedding songs and is still present in most shaabi ensembles.

The doholla is the tabla’s bigger brother with a deeper sound. The duff is a simple wooden frame drum with a single membrane made of goat skin.

Instrument Sagat

The tiny round copper cymbals which are attached to dancers’ or musicians’ thumbs and middle fingers are called sagat. They were used by the awalim and the ghawazee to accompany their singing and dancing.

mustafa abdel aziz

The arghul is double-piped clarinet with a mouthpiece. The longer tube acts as a drone and produces a very rich sound. It is a typical Egyptian instrument which traditionally accompanied epic songs, mawaweel and dances. An ancient arghul was found in the tomb of Tutakhamen and can be seen in the Egyptian Museum. The virtuoso playing of musicians like Mustapha Abdel Aziz reminds us of its noble past. He passed away some years ago.

The accordion is a European invention from the 19th century. It is mostly associated with the common people and was spread by Europeans who emigrated to different countries. It became popular among folk musicians and has been integrated into traditional music styles all over the world.

In Egypt the accordion is used in the urban baladi music, which developed in urban areas like Cairo, Alexandria or El Minya during the turn of the last century. Instrument AkkordeonThere it took on an important role in the instrumental solo improvisations and the accompaniment of the Mawal, the improvisation of the voice. The European accordion has been adjusted technically by Egyptian musicians to play the quarter tones in Egyptian music. It is interesting to know that different accordion craftsmen or players like Gamil Gamel often tune the same registers in a slightly different manner to personalize their accordion. Other European instruments that have been incorporated into this particular musical form are the saxophone, the clarinet and the trumpet.

The music instruments found in the Egyptian-Arab art music are req, oud, kamanga (violin) and qanoon.

egyptian music – percussion concerts Whether in Stockholm, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Zürich, London, Paris or Cairo, his playing enthralls audiences around the world: the rhythms, sounds and beats he entices from his drum, the speed at which his long, supple fingers move over the fishskin of the tablah. Ibrahim el Minyawi combines the strong natural rhythms of Egypt and the complex repertoire of Arabian music to switch playfully between rural and classical music from his country. In this way, he manages to create a new style from a century-old tradition without losing touch with his roots. The concerts he gives accompanied by his son Ali Abdel Alim are a rarity, because this duo are the only darabuka players who perform purely percussion concerts and play solo for an entire evening.percussionIf you would like to book Ibrahim & Ali El Minyawi please contact: info@tanz-raum.com
egyptian music  –
CD recordings
Past, current and future music projects give rise to stage, CD and DVD productions. These again help to preserve the wealth of Egyptian music, which is partly in danger of dying out, for future generations.

musiker 1musiker 2musiker 3Pure enthusiasm for Egypt is what makes us record music from this country. We believe that there are many others who share our excitement and would like to help to preserve a rich and beautiful part of the world cultural heritage. Thank you for supporting the artists by buying our records. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoyed making them!

These recordings featuring outstanding Egyptian composers, singers and musicians playing classical, contemporary and traditional music are a valuable addition to the collections of music lovers, teachers and dancers and can be ordered directly from the music shop on this website.

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