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God Thot







Music has been an essential part of life since Ancient Egypt. 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 (prox 5500 – 3100 v.Chr). In the Old Kingdom (prox 3700 – 2200 v.Chr), harps, flutes and double clarinets were played. Percussion instruments, lyres and lutes were added by the time of the Middle Kingdom (prox 2000-1600). Cymbals, clappers frequently accompanied music and dance, as they still do in Egypt today.The Ancient Egyptian world view included many rituals designed to appeal to their pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and professional 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 rituals as well as worldly entertainment: it was skilful, rich and diverse and influenced by religion, politics, trade, conquest and invasion. Egyptian folk music, for example certain traditional sufi rituals and coptic music are nowadays the genres that are closest to ancient Egyptian music. Some of the rituals with ancient roots 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) had a profound influence on the arts and culture but the liturgical music of the Coptic Church is said to have preserved features of ancient Egyptian music. Dr. Raghab Moftah, who devoted his life and fortune to recording and analysing the Coptic music, says: “Scientific research has proved that the music of the Coptic Church is the most ancient ecclesiastical music which exists, and it constitutes the oldest school of music which the world now possesses.”

After the Arab Conquest (639), musical tradition entered a new era. 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 music 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, CD Daqat II

Egyptian shaabi music

CD Al Masdar, CD Music of the Fellahin, CD Music of the Ghawazee

Egyptian baladi music

CD Spirit of the Heart, CD Ruh El Fuad, CD Saltana

Egyptian art music

CD Monaga, CD Jewels