What are some distinct differences between the Arab and Western musical minds?
http://picosong.com/9XxF/ An Arab Melody.
With large sections of the West and the Arab World ramping up tensions, and getting ready to throw themselves foolishly into another needless full scale war, I wanted to pose this question.
One could say that “the Arab mind” and the “Western mind,” even after many centuries of close contact and interaction, are not able to comprehend each other very well. This is especially true with the West’s inability to absorb, to try to understand, or come to terms with Arab and Muslim culture (and of course, the Arab World has its own ambivalence and difficulty with many aspects of Western culture; though many of these, if not all, stem historically from a long series of direct Western military interventions, especially from the US, England and France).
On a purely cultural plane, Arab Music, especially in the US, is something altogether almost alien, even to this day. There has been no major successful attempt to familiarize the public with Arab musical idioms in either popular music or in the concert hall. Contrast this with Ravi Shankar’s popularity in the West, and the Beatles’ use of Indian musical idioms, in a song like “Within You, Without You.”
Within You Without You- The Beatles
There is no equivalent of this song in Western popular culture that derives from Arab culture. Although Arabs make many films, with musical sound tracks, these don’t appear to have nearly the appeal or circulation that Indian “Bollywood” musical films have in the US. Western “Art Music” concert hall composers, (Messiaen, Partch, Cage, and Scelsi, to name just a few) have drawn a great deal on the Indian tradition, the Tibetan Buddhist musical tradition, and even Japanese and Chinese musical techniques; but no one speaks of a composer (that I know about, anyway) who draws at all from Arab musical models.
I contend that this does not stem from any lack of sophistication or quality residing in the long history of Arab musical culture. The Arab systems of tonality are rich and complicated. The octave itself is divided not merely into 12 semitones, but 24 quarter tones, which creates a large set of scales that differ from the traditional Western and Indian scales. But I won’t go into details about that here.
Suffice it to say, I think we suffer from a severe dearth of knowledge and understanding about Arab musical culture, and Arab culture in general (more Americans study the ancient Greek language still, than study the Arab tongue). Part of the aversion is political, part of it is socio-economic, and part of this is philosophical. Arabs are still looked down upon, culturally speaking: They are despised by some for their lack of political achievements, their apparent inability to develop diverse economies, and an alleged resistance to alternative philosophical outlooks, that come either from the West or their neighbors in South Asia. There is a strong anti-Muslim religious prejudice, of course, which has a bearing on this. But worse than that, there is a kind of racial prejudice, which sees the Arab Middle East still as a “free-invasion zone,” where the US and Europeans can bomb at will, as if most of the Arab nations were still colonies of the West. Putting the socio-economic, the political, and the religio-philosophical to one side, however, let us look at the musical mind of the Arab, which should interest people.
http://picosong.com/9XxF/ An Arab melody (same as above).
I simply place here, for people’s consideration, this short excerpt from an Arab musical work. I am interested in the features of the melody in particular, which is very unlike any Western melody I know.
Music is said to be a “universal language,” and this is true, since its effect does not come about through specific linguistic culture. Yet it must be said that musical languages do have “cultural flavors,” and many people here could identify a work’s country of origin—say whether it is German, Russian, French, American, English, Italian, Spanish or Mexican—simply because of the musical idiom. What about Middle Eastern music, and Arab music in particular? If you listen to this linked piece, I wonder how strongly you will hear what is quintessentially “Arabian.”
Is this an illustrative melody? Perhaps it is. I am curious to know if it seems to display some characteristics of Arab musical thinking that are unique, and worthy of our contemplation.
I have re-worked the original, a bit, simply to highlight and emphasize the subtlety of the melody (which might otherwise be overlooked), while softening the percussive accompaniment and bass rhythms slightly. The melodic and harmonic content have not been changed, and the tuning is authentically “Arabic.” I would like to invite people to listen to this melody carefully, and make any observations that might occur. A solo clarinet presents the melody. I won’t say anything more about it, but simply post it, to get people’s reactions.