Souad Massi

Souad Massi - Deb
Souad Massi – Deb
Souad Massi


Everything about this CD is aurally pleasing. She sings in a flawlessly charming voice, draws on her Algerian roots as well as Andalusian flamenco and Brasiian percussion. Flutes and lutes abound mellifluously, it is extremely well recorded and does the difficult job of achieving an exemplary second album. So what is the problem?

Well for me it too often strays into blandness. It rarely excites me for all its perfection. Am I being churlish? I hope not.

For example the opening track has a cello setting the mood before her voice swoops and glides effortlessly over some subtle percussion. It is a pleasing combination, there’s no doubt of that. It’s just that it tends to wash over you after a couple of listens. A friend, listening to her, described it as world muzak. I wouldn’t go that far but in places it is dangerously close to sounding like very superior background listening.

That said I do like Yemma with its splashes of violin and oud to colour the hypnotic melody. The dark tracings of cello, coupled with acoustic guitar make Le Bien et Le Mal memorable too.

But at times I felt that this was an attempt to produce a sort of all-purpose world music album. I’m all for variety but this seems to attempt too much and as a result there isn’t a strong sense of personal identity evident. I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied but I’m sure others will feel entirely differently and it will sell millions. 

Buy Deb, and her other albums, Mesk Elil, and Raoui.


Deepak Ram – Beauty in Diversity

San Francisco, USA – Golden Horn Records has released the new album by masterful musician Deepak
Ram. This is the follow-up to his previous release with Golden Horn, Prasad –

Those who enjoyed Prasad find the same brilliant musicianship and artistic
passion of the versatile Ram in an entirely new direction. He brings the
elegance of tradition into the new realm of acoustic fusion.Deepak Ram is a highly gifted musician with a firm foundation in the traditions
of North Indian classical music. He plays the bansuri, a bamboo flute whose
origins date several housand years back into India’s rich past.

Deepak Ram is joined on this recording by Ian Herman on drums and percussion. He 
is best known for his work with South African band Tananas. 

Ram and Herman are joined by bassist Dan Robbins. Though young, Robbins is
already renowned for his harmonically and melodically rich bass work.

Critically acclaimed vocalist Sujata Ghanekar adds her melodious voice and
elegant technique to the ensemble. Ghanekar has been studying Indian clasical
music since age six. She is also a composer and lyricist who has performed
throughout the world.

For more information, visit Golden Horn Records’ website at


The Rustavi Choir on Tour

The Rustavi Choir
The Rustavi Choir

Tbilisi, Georgia – The Rustavi Choir, one of the finest folk choirs in the world will be touring several European countries in the next months.

The Rustavi Company was founded in 1968. Art of Rustavi has roots in the past of Georgia’s folk music and folk performing arts. It is the product of Georgia’s musical Rustavi incorporates representatives from different parts of Georgia; the timbre of each singer’s voice bears a specific national coloring. The members of the company infuse its repertory the unique vocal traditions of their native parts as well as with their songs and the deep knowledge of their performing style.

Several concerts in Germany and The Netherlands have yet to be confirmed. The confirmed tour schedule is:April

April 29-30 Russia, Moscow (Choir)


May 5-12 Russia (Choir)


June 7-12 Russia – St. Petersburg (Choir)


July 4-14 Greece (Choir)


October 2-7h UK-Ireland (Choir)


The Best of Battlefield Band

Battlefield Band - The Best of Battlefield Band
Battlefield Band – The Best of Battlefield Band
Boston, USA – Temple Records has released The Best of Battlefield Band, which is now available.

Battlefield Band has been touring the world for 33 years, and in that time has released 20 albums on the Temple Records label. This compilation disc contains 19 tracks, taken from 18 of those albums.

During the band’s time together there have been many line-up changes, and this gives the listener the opportunity to catch up with many of the musicians who have been a part of and still are a part of Battlefield Band – Alan Reid, Brian McNeill, Jamie McMenemy; John Gahagan; Pat Kilbride; Duncan MacGillivray; Sylvia Barnes; Jim Barnes; Ged Foley; Dougie Pincock; Alistair Russell; John McCusker; Iain MacDonald; Davy Steele; Mike Katz & Karine Polwart

Battlefield Band recordings available:


An Introduction to Flamenco Cante

Camarón de la Isla - Photo by Mario Pacheco
Camarón de la Isla – Photo by Mario Pacheco


Flamenco has been graced by performers of great talent since its earliest days. The oldest account of a flamenco performance mentions two masters of flamenco song, El Planeta and his young follower, El Fillo. Already in 1842, the dawn of professional flamenco, performers were famous for their singing style and repertory, as is the case today. Because of its intense history, flamenco is replete with performers past and present, a bewildering maze of names and nicknames. There exist numerous accounts of the history of flamenco song that detail the basic events and figures in the history of cante. This is not such an accountrather, what you have here is an initial introduction to some of the most important artists currently available on CD. This is intended to be a guide to orient those new to flamenco cante. It represents a personal selection of some of the best in flamenco from the present and recent past, together with the historical figures that form the foundation of flamenco today. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to begin exploring flamenco cante. At the end, there is also a listing of several seminal anthologies and some of the best compilations and reissue series currently on the market.

The Three Pillars of Twentieth Century Cante

The twentieth century produced three pillars of flamenco cante: Antonio Mairena, Manolo Caracol and Camarón de la Isla. These three are without a doubt the most influential artists of this century and are constant points of reference for performers today.

Antonio Mairena possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of flamenco and dedicated his life to rescuing from oblivion and corruption what he deemed to be the truest expression of the Andalusian Gypsy soul—flamenco song. Antonio Mairena was one of the most knowledgeable flamenco performers who ever lived and he promoted his vision of flamenco through a vigorous recording career. He inspired many with his vision of flamenco’s roots and he helped to popularize a Gypsy-style cante at a time when it had little favor with the general public. Mairena’s recordings are always correct, tasteful and measured, and often revealed the fruit of his research into earlier cante: his is a Classic Flamenco.

Manolo Caracol was a contemporary of Antonio Mairena and a very different type of performer. Caracol was at the forefront of combining the flamenco of his day with popular musical forms. He was one of the stars of the opera flamenca era when large flamenco productions were presented in theaters all over Spain and Europe and in films. These were spectacles featuring singers, dancers and musicians, and typically included piano accompaniment and full orchestra. These productions were the antithesis of the type of intimate traditional Gypsy flamenco that Antonio Mairena was championing. Caracol’s singing style was also quite different from Mairena’s. In place of the correct and measured singing of Mairena, Caracol gave primacy to the emotional impact of a song and was willing to sacrifice a great deal to achieve a heightened emotional effect. But Caracol also had a deep and intimate knowledge of Gypsy cante, coming from an incomparable flamenco Gypsy clan in Seville. Some of Caracol’s finest recordings chronicle this traditional flamenco, sung only to guitar accompaniment, though sung in Caracol’s own heightened emotion-laden style. Until recently, flamenco artists chose their champion: they were either a Mairenista or a Caracolista. On many counts, the two styles were perceived to be the antithesis of one another.

The last of the three pillars of twentieth century flamenco song, and the only one born in the second half of the twentieth century, was a Gypsy by the name of Camarón de la Isla. In his short career of some twenty odd years, Camarón revolutionized cante. With his partner, guitarist Paco de Lucía, Camarón set flamenco on a new path, one it continues to follow today. Camarón began as a traditional flamenco singer influenced by the emotional style of Caracol, though also respectful of the encyclopedic approach of Mairena. (Camarón’s first nine recordings present an impressive array of flamenco song styles.) But it was the early and mid-1970s, both Camarón and Paco de Lucía were in their twenties and were part of the youth revolution that was sweeping even Franco’s Spain.

Camarón and Paco had a vision of flamenco that was broader and more expansive than that of traditionalists like Antonio Mairena. They wanted flamenco to appeal to young people and to people who had never cared about flamenco before. They were hip young men sporting the latest fashions and wanted to break the stereotype of flamenco as something of interest only to their parents’ generation. So Camarón began to sing lighter material—especially bulerías and tangos—but imbued with a deep emotional undercurrent communicated through his extraordinary voice. This is music that has profoundly effected every performer under the age of 40 (and more than a few over 40)but no one has ever equaled the audacious vision of flamenco, the ability to communicate with any and all audiences no matter how distant from traditional flamenco, nor the charisma and genius of Camarón. Even the way traditional flamenco palos are sung has been noticeably affected by Camarón’s legacy down to the very vocal technique employed by artists today. Truly Camarón revolutionized every aspect of flamenco cante, and his influence continues to dominate flamenco even today, six years after his untimely death in 1992 at the age of 41.

The Titans

There are other immortals of twentieth century cante, though they belong to an older generation and were the masters that Mairena and Caracol looked to. All of these artists were born in the nineteenth century and represent a direct link to the flamenco of that century. They were also the first generation of flamenco artists able to leave a recorded testimony of their art. These were the titans of flamenco cante, and they still influence artists today.

La Niña de los Peines was one of the most prodigious and inventive flamenco singer who ever lived. She popularized several flamenco song forms, most notably the petenera and bambera. She revolutionized the tangos of her day, transformed the soleá, was noted for her seguiriyas and saetas, and generally sang everything well. She also recorded prolifically, her discography extending from the 1910s to the 1950s. She is undoubtedly the greatest female flamenco artist who ever lived, and she has influenced every generation of flamenco singers from her contemporaries right down to the 20-something daughter of Enrique Morente, one of the brightest young lights on today’s flamenco scene.

A contemporary of La Niña de los Peines was Manuel Torre. He was a masterful singer from Jerez de la Frontera, a cradle of Gypsy cante, and was particularly known for his seguiriyas that have inspired all succeeding generations of flamenco singers, as well as for saetas, soleares, cantes de Levante and fandangos. He was especially famous for his powerful delivery and his ability, sadly not captured on his surviving recordings, to inspire intense emotional states in his listeners. His influence extends far beyond Gypsy singers and continues to influence the flamenco singers of today, and his recordings are a touchstone of cante jondo.

Another important figure whose career spanned the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century was Antonio Chacón. He was the major non-Gypsy singer of his age and a pupil of the greatest non-Gypsy singer of the nineteenth century, Silverio Franconetti. In many ways Franconetti was responsible for first shaping the flamenco tradition that has come down to us today. Chacón took the work of Silverio Franconetti and other singers of that era as his starting point and created a very personal flamenco that was intensely popular in his day. His singing style, a high falsetto, was the antithesis of the styles of Manuel Torre or La Niña de los Peines, with an emphasis on sweetness and flights of vocal virtuosity.


Enrique Morente
Enrique Morente


Chacón inspired a legion of followers who created the vogue for personal fandangos that characterized the opera flamenca era. Although some of his followers may have displayed less than good taste and a want of musical judgment, Chacón himself was an extraordinary performer and creator. The particular style of singing favored by Chacón fell out of favor with the revaluation of Gypsy-style cante championed by Mairena that triumphed in the 1960s and 70s, but there are still singers today who carry on the legacy of Chacón. One of the most notable is Enrique Morente, who received Chacón’s legacy directly from singers like Pepe el de la Matrona and Bernardo de los Lobitos, who in turn learned from and emulated Chacón in their early years.

Although Morente sings very differently from Chacón, favoring a Gypsy-style delivery even though Morente is not a Gypsy, yet the particular song forms created by Chacón and the lyrics associated with them survive in the repertory of this contemporary singer. Indeed, with the death of Camarón, Morente is the single most influential flamenco singer today. His work is widely hailed by critics and, though he is not the most popular artist on the scene today in terms of record sales, his work is a touchstone for younger performers. Morente is continually searching for new modes of expression for flamenco in the contemporary world. His recordings range from highly orthodox renditions of traditional cante to bold experiments that mix flamenco with rock music, the lyrics of major Spanish poets, popular musical styles from the New World, world music and even classical music. Yet despite the diversity of his musical output, it all bears the distinctive personality of Morente.

Other Noteworthy Artists

In addition to these universally acknowledged artists, there are dozens of important contemporary flamenco singers whose recordings are well worth seeking out.


Remedios Amaya


José de la Tomasa

El Lebrijano

Carmen Linares

Chano Lobato

Mayte Martín

Jose Menese

Jose Mercé

Ginesa Ortega


La Paquera de Jerez

El Pele

Miguel Poveda


María Soleá

Vicente Soto

Juanito Villar

There are also many older artists, now retired or deceased, who transmit the flamenco tradition ably and masterfully in their currently available recordings:

Bernarda de Utrera

Fernanda de Utrera


Pepe el de la Matrona

Pericón de Cádiz

La Perla de Cádiz

Rafael Romero

Manuel Soto, El Sordera

Juan Talega


Tío Gregorio el Borrico

Paco Toronjo

Miguel Vargas

Anthologies and Reissue Series

In the 1950s, interest in the flamenco of an earlier era, before the opera flamenca period, found expression. This is when the first of the flamenco anthologies of cante was recorded. The 1954 Hispavox Antología del Cante Flamenco was a watershed in flamenco history. An attempt was made on that anthology to record a wide range of flamenco song forms, including some that were in danger of being forgotten. Currently there are several other important anthologies on the market in addition to the Hispavox Anthology, which is now available on CD.

Antología de Cantaores Flamencos (15 CDs), EMI, 1991

Duende (3 CDs), Ellipsis Arts, 1994

El Cante Flamenco. Antología histórica (3 vols), Philips, 1987

Flamencología (7 CDs)

Magna Antología del Cante Flamenco (10 vols.), Hispavox, 1992

Medio Siglo de Cante Flamenco (4 CDs), Arioloa, 1988.

Historia del Flamenco (5 hardback books, 40 CDs), 1996

In addition to these anthologies, there are assorted compilation and reissue series currently available that are noteworthy for the wide variety of performers and styles and the quality of their performances.

Cultura Jonda (22 CDs)

Figuras del Flamenco (10 CDs)

Flamenco Viejo (14 CDs)

Grandes Cantaores del Flamenco

Grandes Figures du Flamenco (Chant du Monde) (20 CDs)

Universal, Grabaciones Históricas 2×1 (50 CDs)


The Musical Pulse of Tunisia

By Thorne Anderson

(From the Saudi Aramco World magazine July/August 2001 issue. Reproduced by courtesy of Aramco World Magazine)


Even without an appreciation of the region’s place in history, it’s a beautiful word, an evocative word.  In Tunisia, mere mention of the name stirs potent nostalgia for a time, now five centuries lost, when the artistic creativity of Al-Andalus – Muslim Spirit – nourished tastes so refined that the mere memories of them drive creative arts today and shape present-day Tunisia’s national identity.  And nothing conjures up this nostalgia more powerfully and mysteriously than the musical offspring of Al-Andalus, the Tunisian maluf.

Bouncing in the back seat of a taxi driving fast from the airport into the heart of Tunis, historical memories of Al-Andalus seem far from the chaotic currents of the present.  It’s a warm late-December day, but the car’s faulty heater continues to blast from the dashboard, making open windows a necessity.  A medallion spins from the rear-view mirror in the swirling streams of competing gusts.  The car’s stereo speaker buzz under the stress of Europop dance music turned all the way up.

But the taxi driver’s face brightens when I mention maluf.  “Of course I listen to the maluf,” he chimes as he slides in a cassette tape of the Rashidiyya Orchestra, the premier performers and preservers of the art.  “We are Tunisians.  We must love the maluf.  There are the stories of our people, stories of love, everything is there.  Maluf is sweet music,” he says, and we roll up the windows and endure the heat in order to hear better.  “We Tunisian may be tough on the outside,” he says, “But you scratch our skin and the maluf is there.”

Maluf (pronounced mah-LOOF) survives today in public and private performances and at weddings and circumcision ceremonies because of a determined effort of preservation on the part of the Tunisian government, private patrons and dedicated musicians young and old.  Although but a small part of a much larger, evolving contemporary musical-arts scene – indeed, it can be difficult to find maluf recordings except in specialized music shops – the history of the maluf is so enmeshed with that of Tunisia that maluf has become a sort of emblem of national identity, and its influence is ever-present and fiercely guarded.

Amjed Kilifi, a carpet dealer in Tunis, is all business and he doesn’t appear to be the kink of guy to take “high culture” too seriously, He says he rarely listens to maluf, but it’s clear he holds the music in the highest esteem nonetheless.  “Those who like the maluf tend to be more intellectual,” he says.  “Most people don’t prefer maluf these days, but it was born with us and we’ll never let it go.”

Young people really do love maluf,” says Latifa Fkiri, a journalist and actor, “but they don’t listen to it often.  Maluf really takes patience, but those with patience will discover that the maluf is in our blood, our pulse, our breath.”

We must sing the maluf,” insists Rim Fehri, a voice student at the Institut Superieur, Tunis’s leading music school.  “We must love the maluf; we are the maluf.”

Maluf, which means “familiar” or “customary,” bears the auditory traces of music brought to North Africa by Muslims fleeing the Christian reconquista of Spain and Portugal between the 12th and 15th centuries.  In Morocco, this genre is known as Andalusi or ala music; in Algeria it is gharnata.

In Libya, as in Tunisia, it is maluf, with the Libyan maluf distinguished mostly by dialect differences in the lyrics.  More subtly, these Maghrebian, or North African, genres also differ in the tuning of melodic modes and the articulation of rhythmic patterns.  Those differences, at times scarcely perceptible to an outsider, are the musical equivalents of dialects.

The maluf idiom comprises all forms of Tunisian classical singing, which themselves are based on the classical Arabic poetry form known as the qasidah, or ode.  The maluf forms include muwashshah, a “post-classical” form not rigidly governed by the qasidah; zajal, a newer poetic genre using special dialectical forms; and shgul, a traditional singing which is “elaborate,” as the Arabic name implies. But the most important form, the structural heart of maluf, is the nuba.

A nuba might be described as a two-movement “musical suite” in a single mode or maqam, an Arab system of pitch organization by quarter-tones that allows for the construction of melodies and improvisation within a scale.  Each nuba lasts about an hour, and contains varied instrumental and a dozen or so vocal pieces in a traditional sequence.  The rhythmic patterns (iqaat) of each nuba are
complex, but they are similar from one nuba to the next, and they generally progress from slower to faster rhythms within each movement.  The first movement of a nuba is dominated by binary, or bac-2, rhythms while the second is dominated by bace-3 rhythms.

Legend holds that there was once a different nuba for every day, every major event and every holiday of the year, hundreds of nubat in all.  About two-thirds of the way through a nuba, one improvisational section would be played in the maqam of the nuba of the following evening.  “Its beautiful to think about,” says Jamel Abid, and instructor at the Institut Superieur.  “So fine were the listeners’ ears that they needed tuning for the upcoming evening.”

Only 13 nubat remain in the traditional repertory, each in a different maqam.  But if they are few in number, they are epic in scope, addressing the natural and the divine, love and loss, joy and regret, simultaneously at home and in exile.  The breadth of experience covered by the music is immense.

Maluf touches the center of the identity of all Tunisians; it is the vessel of the maqamat, the modes that define us as a people,” says Becher Soussi, director of the annual International Festival of Arab Music in Testour, Tunisia.  “If a Tunisian really listens to a fine performance of the maluf then he or she will feel something like ecstasy – the experience of tarab,” he says.  “Tarab is the relationship between the performers and the audience.  To understand it you must experience it.  It’s not concrete.  It’s connected with the emotions.  It’s the binding force that connects people with music.”

The birth of the maluf may be traced back to Ziryab, a court musician whose expulsion from Baghdad in 830 sent him westward on a journey that became notable for discovery and artistic innovation.  Across the Maghreb he stopped in Kairouan, in the heart of the region then called Ifriqiyya, now Tunisia.  Kairouan, the first major Islamic city in Africa, had been founded 150 years earlier by the Arab leader ‘Uqba bin Nafi’ al-Fihi, some 50 years before the Arab conquest of Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula.  At the time of Ziryab’s visit, Kairouan was the capital of the powerful Aghlabite dynasty and the heart of Maghrebian culture.

Ziryab collected the melodies and rhythms of the Maghreb as he traveled on to Cordoba.  He arrived at the beginning of a brilliant cultural flowering in Al-Andalus that drew nourishment from all its distant roots and the diversity of its polyglot inhabitants.  In this climate, Ziryab, newly re-established as a court musician, combined his Middle Eastern musical education with the influences of the Maghreb to create a distinctively Andalusian type of music.  Ziryab’s rhythms, modes and melodies marked out the boundaries of new genre which, like most Arab music, was highly improvisational in structure and spiritual in temperament.  “Improvisation is the offspring of your felling and a reflection of your soul,” says Rashidiyya Orchestra ‘ud player Mohammed Nabid Saied.  “If your soul is good and clean, so will be your music.”

In the 13th century, Tunis saw its first wave of 8,000 refugees from the Christian reconquista.  This influx peaked at the end of the 15th century, when Granada fell to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.  Andalusian music took root in the urban centers of the Maghreb, the, through centuries of transmission, repetition, memorization and adaptation, acquired its unique melodic, rhythmic, and dialectic character wherever it grew.  “Maluf became a distinctly Tunisian pocket of culture,” says Lassad Gria, directory of the Tunisian National Center of Music and Popular Arts.  “Tunisians are, of course, open to the world’s influences, but an Egyptian person, for example, can’t really sing maluf.”

Tunisian (and Libyan) maluf was further distinguished from the music of the western Maghreb by the sway of the Ottoman Empire, which took Tunisia as a colony in 1574, ushering in new influences from its vibrant musical centers: Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo, and, of course, Istanbul.

In the mid-18th century Tunisia’s Ottoman governor, Muhammad al-Rashid, a virtuoso musician, fixed the structure of the nuba, adding Turkish-inspired instrumental pieces of his own compositions.  In the absence of a written notation system, his melodies passed from instrument to ear to instrument, through generations, so that the
composition of most instrumental parts of the nubat as they exist today may be attributed to him.  Al-Rashid ultimately abdicated his political post to devote himself entirely to music, and today the Rashidiyya Institute the center of maluf preservation, bears his name.

When the Ottoman Empire crumbled, France established a “protectorate” in Tunisia based on her claim at the 1878 Congress of Berlin, and the maluf, then in decline, underwent a dramatic transformation.  In an effort to save it from extinction, the French-naturalized Baron Rudolfe d’Erlanger, an amateur musician
of Bavarian birth who had settled near Tunis, commissioned Ali al-Darwish of Aleppo to produce the first collection of this ancient repertory in written musical notation, a 20-year project.  Together, d’Erlanger and Darwish undertook one of the first academic studies of Arab music theory and assembled Tunisia’s presentation at the ground-breaking 1932 International Congress of Arabic Music,
hosted in Cairo by King Faud I.  Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, one of the many renowned participants, supervised the Gramophone company in recording 360 performances by the musician delegations; most of the recordings have survived in the National Sound Archives of Paris, and some are available to the public on compact disk.

D’Erlanger died a few months after the Cairo congress, but the momentum of the event helped inspire the founding of the Rashidiyya Institute in 1934 for the reservation of the maluf through radio performance, musical training programs and public concerts.

The institute immediately introduced radical alterations with the goal of promoting popularity and raising prestige: Lyrics considered “profane” were revised, and two spectacular rehearsal and performance spaces were constructed in the heart of the walled madina, or old city, of Tunis.

The music itself was also changed.  Earlier, the maluf had been performed in small folk ensembles with simple instrumentation: usually an ‘ud ‘arbi (four-stringed lute) and a rabab (two-stringed fiddle) accompanied by a bandir (frame drum), tar (tambourine), darbukka (goblet-shaped drum) and naqqarat (small kettle drums.
Lyrics were sung by soloists or in small groups.  Through the efforts of the Rashidiyya, however, hybrids of Western symphony orchestras and Egyptian ensembles arose that performed maluf in a hybrid of traditional and modern musical styles using mixed traditional and modern musical styles using mixed traditional and modern instrumentation.

Led by the cosmopolitan Tunisian violinist Muhammad Triki, the Rashidiyya Orchestra arranged the nuba for a large, seated chorus and orchestra including the ‘ud sharqi (six-string lute), nay (bamboo flute), and qanun (zither).  Most of the rest of the orchestra comprised Western string sections: violin, cello and contrabass.  (Western stringed instruments are adaptable to the Arab maqamat
because they are fretless and can thus easily render the characteristic fractional tones, though the Rashidiyya sometimes included even fixed-pitch instruments like the piano or mandolin.)

Equally – perhaps even more – radical was the orchestra’s adherence to written musical notation and the comprehensive Arab music theory introduced by the Rashidiyya Institute under the leadership of Salah el-Mahdi, Triki’s successor. All 13 of the surviving nubat were painstakingly collected and distilled from the various, often quite divergent, interpretations of the Tunisian masters of
the time.  The orchestra chose to use western musical notation, modified to record the Arab maqamat.  The difficulty of printing right-to-left Arabic lyrics on left-to-right musical staffs was overcome by printing lyrics left-to-right, word by word or syllable by syllable.

The use of notation brought fundamental changes in the formerly improvisational character of maluf.  Whereas the unnotated maluf of the past had involved improvisation throughout a performance in reaction to audience responses, the Rashidiyya’s notated maluf left only one instrumental section of each nuba open to extensive improvisation.  But times were changing in other ways, too: The
popularization of the phonograph record miliated against the spontaneity of improvisation and favored an agree-upon performance standard – a demand addressed in part by adherence to musical notation.

The Rashidiyya’s transformation of the maluf, though frowned at by some, did succeed in elevating the maluf to the prestigious level of “art music” and repopularizing the genre by broadcasting it beyond the urban centers.  Moreover, the Rashidiyya simultaneously became the most important musical training center in the country, due in large part to el-Mahdi’s Arab music theory and curriculum.

The Rashidiyya is the mother of all musical arts in Tunisia,” says Youssef
Malouche, administrative director and professor of the qanun at the still-lively Rashidiyya Institute.  “Even if a musician hasn’t studied here, his teacher has studied here.”

It’s easy to get lost looking for the Rashidiyya Institute, tucked away deep in the Tunis medina.  Narrow alleyways not much wider than a donkey-cart wind in the organic, millennium-old patterns.  There are black-and-white checkered arches, passageways covered by vaulted ceilings and a jumble of densely crowded suqs, interrupted from time to time by the calm of mosque entrances.

The metal-studded blue door of the Rashidiyya is set inconspicuously in the cracked plaster wall of a quiet street just around the corner from nothing in particular.  Inside, the building opens to a large sky-lit performance, hall covered floor to ceiling in Andalusian tile.  Five days a week, the walls ring with the sounds of the Rashidiyya chorus rehearsing.  In a nod to tradition, the vocal chorus, unlike the instrumentalists, rehearses without written music, following the lead of a maluf master, Tahar Gharsa, on ‘ud.  Apprentice musicians sit on a rehearsals for as long as two years before they are allowed to join the chorus.

Vocalist Chakri Hannachi, known throughout the Arab world for his recordings Ba Younek (1993) and La La Wallah (1994), studied for 10 years at the Rashidiyya and sang in the chorus.  Though he is more likely to be heard singing international Arab classical music, he locates the source of his art close to home.  “The maluf is the source for all Tunisian artists,” he says.  “And the Rashidiyya provided the basis of my art.”

The impact of the Rashidiyya has gone far beyond simple preservation of the maluf. In the period surrounding Tunisian independence in 1957, the nation was eagerly searching for symbols of common identity.  Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s recently deceased first president, recognized the unifying potential of the maluf and was quick to support and expand the work of the Rashidiyya.

Salah el-Mahdi, by then director of the Rashidiyya Orchestra, was selected to compose the Tunisian national anthem.  El-Mahdi’s music theory likewise became the cornerstone of the curriculum of the newly formed national conservatory as well as its successor, the Institut Superieur, which is now part of the national university.  For 18 years el-Mahdi also lead a department of music and popular
arts in the fledgling Ministry of Cultural Affairs, which featured programs to spread the teaching of the maluf through an extensive network of youth centers, cultural centers, and popular-arts schools.  And professional musicians were – and still are – required to obtain an “qualifying card,” which in turn requires a test of the musicians’ knowledge of maluf.

The card does not, however, require that musicians feature or incorporate maluf into their own work.  On the contrary, most musicians these days are drawn to popular forms from elsewhere in the Arab world – especially Egypt.  And when the maluf surfaces, it may differ greatly from the “official” maluf of the Rashidiyya.

On a cool evening during Ramadan, most of the Tunis madina is transformed as the festival-like daytime crush of people slows to an erratic trickle of residents making solitary darts from one door to the next.  But from the Hatters’ Market, come the sounds of a party, and there are waiters in round, flat red hats and stripped, collarless shirts pick their way through a dense crowd of people at round tables who are smoking fruit tobacco from water pipes and drinking tea laced with almonds or pine nuts.  At the far end, hemmed in by a crowd of dancing men, the group Al Jazira floats the sound of an urgent violin on a turbulent current of tar, darbukka and bandir pulsing in double-time.  The dancers close their eyes, open their arms, and enter the current.  “I believe this is still the real maluf,” says Habib Bouallegue, the violin player of the group, all of whom have studied at the Rashidiyya.  “We play right out of the 13 nubat,” he says.  “We bring people the classical Tunisian songs in a way that brings them to their feet.”

Salah el-Mahdi might frown on identifying such performances with the maluf.  Still, though he’s now retired from all official positions, he remains focused on his lifelong mission to expand and popularize the maluf.  In addition to maintaining a busy private teaching schedule with more than 20 students in his own conservatory, el-Mahdi stays in close contact with governmental as well as art and intellectual circles, and his message is undiluted.  “We’re at a low point in maluf preservation now,” el-Mahdi insists as he shuffles through stacks of paper, music, and appointment books on the desk in his studio office,
searching for a lost note.  The walls are crammed with awards, honors, and an international collection of photographs showing him with presidents, prime ministers and kings.  “If we care for the survival of the maluf, then we must create musical troupes in our high schools.”  To this end, el-Mahdi has proposed to the Ministry of Education that four hours a week be set aside each Friday for compulsory maluf education in the schools.  “We must not underestimate the importance of this,” he says, pausing in his paper shuffle to make eye contact.  “If maluf survives, then we Tunisians will remain Tunisians.”

As a legacy, el-Mahdi has composed four modern nubat, each a monumental undertaking, to add to the traditional repertory of 13.  Each year in July he attends the International Festival of Arab Music in Testour, where he urges composers to continue to add to the repertory – but to date, only two others have tackled the tasks of composing a complete nuba.  “Many have tried and failed,” he
says, “but it is essential to the life of the tradition that we keep trying.”

These days most of Tunisia’s classical musicians use the maluf as a stepping stone to the exploration of the wider world of Arab or western music, but it remains a solid, universal first step.  The cultural centers and schools of popular arts all also teach other forms of Arab classical music now, but the curricula still begin with a foundation in the maluf, beginning with singing the maqamat, progressing to playing the iqaat on the tar, and finally learning excerpts from the maluf on stringed instruments.  Amateur classical-music clubs, like the Farabi Club and the all-woman Taqasim Orchestra, abound, and they tour to festivals around the world, playing maluf as a small part of a much wider Arab

I like maluf.  I teach maluf.  I understand maluf.  When I play with the
Rashidiyya I have a feeling of national pride – but my interest are much broader
,” says Khadija El Afrit, a star qanun student at the Institut Superieur and a member of the Taqasim Ensemble and the Rashidiyya Orchestra.  “There are not so many new things for me to discover there.  The maluf must grow.  It needs new compositions and interpretations.  Part of the problem is the small audience for maluf.”

El Afrit is a serious musician.  When not distracted by teaching or rehearsing she devotes up to eight hours of the day to her instrument.  Like many of her peers at the Institut, El Afrit looks to the Sorbonne as her next educational step. She says she is intrigued by what’s new in maluf, such as the experimental compositions of Nassar Samoud, who composes in the Tunisian maqamat but include
pop iqaat along with the traditional, orthodox ones.

On the street, young people echo the desire for innovation.  “The problems with the maluf is that it hasn’t kept up with modern life,” says Muhammad Laribi, a student from Tozeur in southern Tunisia.  “Modern life is complicated.  All life’s rhythms are changing – our environments, our clothes, our hairstyles.  I like the rhythms of the maluf.  It’s calm.  But young people are looking for musical rhythms that keep up with the beat of modern times.”

Rabiaa Zammouri, a graduate of the Institut Superieur, in a young composer for television, radio, and stage who works to bring traditional music into modern times.  Seated at a large wooden desk in his home studio, Zammouri, surrounded by a museum-like collection of string and percussion instruments, moves back and forth between the key-boards of his Intel 75 PC and his Korg X5 synthesizer. The two are connected in a haphazard-looking crisscross of wires through an Ensoniq ASR 10 Sampler, some microphone, and a large Roland amplifier at his feet.  “And this still isn’t enough to make the music in my mind,” he says.

Zammouri has the slow-burning fire of the rebel in his eyes as he dims the lights and plays one of his compositions.  It’s the soundtrack for a promotional television piece for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one of Zammouri’s clients.  He turns up the volume,  Out of the silence rises the beat of a darbukka in the btaihi iqa.  It’s joined a few seconds later by a solo violin in the sika maqam.  A few moments later the pair is confronted with a percussive piano in counterpoint to both the rhythm and the mode.  The effect is
seamless, innovative, and decidedly modern – distinctly Tunisian, traditional, and, at the same time, cosmopolitan.

Those who understand the maluf know that it is very rich,” Zammouri says.  “But the classical maluf is related to a special period in history when people could only play the maluf; now we must open up to other forms of music.  We cannot confine our inspiration to the past.”  The benefits, he says, go both ways. “I extract from the maluf that which blends with western music.  In this way I think I can bring innovation to the West through my music.”

Another of Zammouri’s maluf-inspired compositions was commissioned by Sihem Belkhoja, Tunis’s premier modern-dance choreographer.  Belkhoja used the composition piece called “Iqa,” which she says was intended to “touch the underlying rhythms of our Arab culture, and maluf is a faithful language of translation for our Arab culture.”

Dance is not traditionally associated with maluf, so any choreography represents a startling innovation in the genre.  “Our Muslim arts are rooted in music, architecture and poetry,” Belkhoja says.  “The concept of dance doesn’t fit into old Arab traditions.  For a strong foundation for dance, as a modern art, we must turn to music.”

Belkhoja’s dancers are carefully costumed and lit.  They jump, turn, roll, crawl and stomp their way around the stage in the international freeform style of modern dance.  It’s a long way from the Rashidiyya.  “I use maluf because a contemporary art must reach into tradition for a faithful approach to modern society,” Belkhoja says.  Artistic growth begins at the roots, but the ultimate survival of the art depends on the growth.  “Music and dance,” she says, “these
are living arts.  Innovation is preservation.”

That is the lifelong story of the maluf, evolving through centuries of migration and cultural influences into a nation’s binding musical vocabulary.  In the early years of independence, when the freshly notated nubat were at last gathered for publication, Salah el-Mahdi wrote that, in the maluf, “we see to what extent Tunisia has been a crossroads of cultures and of schools, retaining and incorporating into her venerable heritage that which suits the disposition of her people, and enriching that heritage by what her sons produce.  Thus here is
a beneficial give and take, and this is the way of God with creation


Musical Connections Between Black and Native American/Indigenous Cultures

Understanding The Connections Between Black And Aboriginal Peoples by
Raging BlakkIndian Dub is a text rich with information about the links between
black and indigenous cultures. It explains what happened when descendants of
African slaves mixed with Aymara Indians in Bolivia to create saya music. There
is also a riveting account of how the Havasupai Indians of Arizona have adopted
reggae and see Bob Marley as a reincarnation of Chief Crazy Horse. The book also
details the political and spiritual allegiance of hip hop artists to the
struggle of Native Americans. There is even information about Detroit techno.
For more information go to
and proceed to the page marked book.


Carriacou Third Maroon Music Festival

Carriacou, Grenada, West Indies – Carriacou’s Third Maroon Music Festival kicks off Friday 25th April until Sunday 27th. Carriacou’s number one festival, which is growing ever larger every year, is an annual exhibition of unique Maroon heritage, culture and foods, scintillating displays of Big Drum Nation Dance, String Band Music and Quadrille Dancing. The Maroon Festival will showcase cultural presentations and groups from Carriacou, Petite Martinique and Grenada dominating Friday night’s program. The events will begin with an official opening by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and include speeches from noted Caribbean folklorists.

The weekend will include the very finest of local, regional and international talent. These will fall into the following: Maroon Day, Carriacou Cultural Heritage, Regional, Roots, Culture and Art. Already confirmed are: Grenada National Folk Group, Tobago Cultural Group, Union Island Dancers and Ballet Kouyamba from Senegal, Africa. Square One and Allison Hinds will close Saturday night performing until daybreak.

Maroons are age-old ceremonies in Carriacou and Petite Martinique. It brings villagers together to express various aspects of their culture, which is based in the agricultural activities of the islanders. The day ends with the traditional Big Drum Nation Dance.

The ‘Drum’ is the lifeblood of the Maroon celebration as is true of many African rites. The dancers are colorfully dressed and sing songs in patois. The lyrics recall their history, trials, suffering, preoccupations, glorious moments as well as aspirations.


Magic of the Persian Mystics

Zohreh Jooya and Madjid Derakhshani - Music of the Persian Mystics
Zohreh Jooya and Madjid Derakhshani – Music of the Persian Mystics
London, England – Music of the Persian Mystics (ARC Music) is the title of the new album by Zohreh Jooya and Madjid Derakhshani.

This album, composed by Madjid Derakhshani and sung by Zohreh Jooya, is based on poems of the Persian mystics Mevlana Rumi, Hafiz and Saadi. It is a blend of classical Persian music with the sounds of today; an unconventional combination of Oriental and European instruments.

Zohreh Jooya, raised in the holy city of Mashad in Iran, received a classical music education at the Academy of Music, Vienna and then earned a masters degree in opera at the “Conservatoire of the City of Vienna”. She currently pursues a singing career in both Oriental and European cultures with opera performances throughout Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

Madjid Derakhshani is considered one of the best tar players in Iran with the respectful title “Ostad”, meaning a master who can give the best performance on a classical instrument. His teacher on setar and tar was the legendary Mohamad Reza Lotfi. He has also recorded with the most famous Iranian singer Mohammadreza Shajarian.

In addition to the poems by Hafiz, Saadi and Mowlana Rumi there is also one from Shafii Katkany – added as an example of modern Iranian poetry to set a counterpoint of modern reality to the old mystics.


Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion