Why Arabic music is the best in the world (part 4): History and specificity of Andalusian Music

The aim of this article is to provide a modest overview of Arabic music by means of introductory articles on the history and peculiarities of Arabic music and a list of important musicians/singers and their most significant works, in order to help people discover this important musical heritage.

– Part 1: Short overview on Arabic music

– Part 2: a list of important Arabic musicians and their recording

– Part 3: List of Andulasian artists with important recordings

– Part 4: History and specificity of Andalusian Music

No, the fascinating Andalusian culture did not disappear in 1492

'The Story of Bayâd and Riyâd' (Hadîth Bayâd wa Riyâd) is a manuscript of Maghrebi or Andalusian origin. It depicts a lute song in a garden for a noble lady during the medieval period and is housed in the Vatican Apostolic Library

‘The Story of Bayâd and Riyâd’ (Hadîth Bayâd wa Riyâd) is a manuscript of Maghrebi or Andalusian origin. It depicts a lute song in a garden for a noble lady during the medieval period and is housed in the Vatican Apostolic Library

History: A music born in Spain and played today all over the Arab world:

Arabo-Andalusian music (or Andalusi classical music, طرب أندلسي in Arabic), also known as “Ala” or “Moussiqua al Ala,” has a rich history dating back to the 9th century in Al-Andalus, the region of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule. This musical form flourished in a culturally and intellectually diverse context, where Moorish, Jewish, and Christian influences merged to create a unique artistic expression.

The golden age of Arabo-Andalusian music unfolded during the Islamic period in Spain, closely intertwined with daily life and religious ceremonies. However, with the Reconquista in the 11th and 12th centuries, Spain was gradually reclaimed by Christian kingdoms, leading to the mass exile of Andalusian musicians to the Maghreb.

The migration of these artists played a crucial role in the transmission and evolution of Andalusian music, integrating with pre-existing musical cultures in the Maghreb and the Middle East, taking on distinct forms in each region. In Algeria, for example, Arab-Andalusian music evolved into “gharnati,” a variant that incorporated elements of local music.

Over the centuries, Arabo-Andalusian music adapted to political and social changes, thriving in contexts such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the Middle East, while retaining its original characteristics. The transmission of this musical tradition primarily occurred orally, with masters passing on their knowledge to new generations of musicians.

Instruments and musical specificity:

Algerian oud: source: https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/661818107732081841/

Arabo-Andalusian music is characterized by several musical specificities that contribute to its richness and distinctive character. These elements include the choice of instruments, musical notation, melodies, and methods of composition.

Traditional instruments play a central role in Arabo-Andalusian music. Among the most commonly used are the oud (lute), qanun (zither), violin, ney (flute), and various percussion instruments such as the darbouka. These instruments are carefully selected to create a rich and diverse sound palette, with each contributing uniquely to the ensemble.

Arabo-Andalusian music has a tradition of sophisticated musical notation. It often relies on specific musical scores, although oral transmission has also played a crucial role in preserving this tradition. The scores use adapted notations to capture the nuances and subtleties inherent in this complex musical form.

The melodies of Arabo-Andalusian music are renowned for their complexity and expressiveness. They are often constructed around specific musical modes, such as maqam, which add distinct emotional nuances to each composition. Andalusian melodies can evoke a range of emotions, from melancholy to joy, creating a captivating auditory experience.

Musical composition in Arabo-Andalusian music is often based on poems. Poetic lyrics, often imbued with spiritual, social, or romantic meaning, guide the structure and emotion of the composition. Andalusian composers have developed specific techniques to create cohesive and evocative musical pieces, while allowing performers to showcase their individual virtuosity.

* * *

Famous artists with a list of important works:

  1. Jordi Savall:

    • Musical Style: Jordi Savall is a Spanish-Catalan conductor and viol player known for his interpretations of various historical musical styles, including Andalusian music.
    • Notable Works:
      • Album: “Altre Follie” (2009)
      • Concert: “Les Routes de l’Esclavage” (The Routes of Slavery)
      • Album: “Orient-Occident 1200-1700” (1999)
      • Concert: “Jerusalem: City of the Two Peaces” (2008)
  2. Nass El Ghiwane:

    • Musical Style: A Moroccan band often associated with Gnawa music, Nass El Ghiwane incorporates Andalusian influences into their folk and traditional repertoire.
    • Notable Works:
      • Song: “Ya Sah” (1973)
      • Album: “Essiniya” (1972)
      • Song: “Allah Ya Moulana” (1974)
      • Album: “Taghounja” (1978)
  3. Abdelkader Chaou:

    • Musical Style: Algerian singer specializing in Andalusian music with a distinctive vocal style and deep knowledge of classical Arabic poetry.
    • Notable Works:
      • Song: “Lalla Fatima”
      • Album: “Aalach Tloumouni” (1977)
      • Song: “Lamouni Li Gharou Meni”
      • Concert: Various performances at the International Festival of Andalusian Music in Algiers.
  4. Houria Aïchi:

    • Musical Style: Algerian singer known for her mastery of classical Andalusian music and her efforts in preserving traditional Berber music.
    • Notable Works:
      • Album: “Chants mystiques des confréries algériennes” (1995)
      • Song: “Lamen”
      • Album: “Mémoire d’Andalousie” (1999)
      • Concert: Performances at the Festival de Musique Andalouse in Algiers.
  5. Rabih Abou-Khalil:

    • Musical Style: Lebanese oud player and composer blending Andalusian and Arabic musical traditions with jazz and European classical influences.
    • Notable Works:
      • Album: “Blue Camel” (1992)
      • Song: “Cucumber Fields”
      • Album: “Tarab” (1995)
      • Concert: Performances at various jazz festivals worldwide.

* * *

Arabo-Andalusian music has spanned epochs and borders, evolving through various cultural influences that marked its historical journey. From its cradle in Al-Andalus to its diffusion across Arab countries, this musical form has preserved its artistic richness and cultural heritage, demonstrating the ability of music to transcend geographical and temporal barriers.

 * * *

The aim of this article is to provide a modest overview of Arabic music by means of introductory articles on the history and peculiarities of Arabic music and a list of important musicians/singers and their most significant works, in order to help people discover this important musical heritage.

– Part 1: Short overview on Arabic music

– Part 2: a list of important Arabic musicians and their recording

– Part 3: List of Andulasian artists with important recordings

– Part 4: History and specificity of Andalusian Music



Cite this blog post
Baudry Pierre (2023, December 25). Why Arabic music is the best in the world (part 4): History and specificity of Andalusian Music. Deciphering international politics - religion, economics and international affairs. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/ve0b

Baudry Pierre

Ph.D. CNRS/EPHE (Paris), Assistant professor.

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