Wednesday , December 19 2018

notes … & nationalism – music in the matrix of political, historical challenges – Congress of arabic music in cairo, 1932

Dr Jean Lambert presented a lecture centred around the Congress of Arabic Music in Cairo, 1932, looking into the local and global impact of the sound recordings at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Monday evening, as part of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah’s 23rd cultural season.

Dr Lambert is an anthropologist and an ethnomusicologist specialising in the music of Yemen and Arabian Peninsula, as well as the history of Arab music. He has served as the director of the French Center of Sanaa (CEFAS, Yemen) and the head of the Research Center in Ethnomusicology (Nanterre University). He has published several books, articles and sound recordings, including Qanbûs, tarab, Le luth monoxyle et la musique du Yémen (2013) and The Cairo Congress of Arab Music, 1932, The Original Recordings (18 CDs) (2015).

He began his lecture by pointing out that almost 100 years after the Cairo conference, which brought together many music experts and artists from Eastern Europe in 1932, this conference did not reveal all its secrets. In particular the audio recordings made on this occasion.

In 2015, after a restoration of the sound, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in association with the Tourism and Culture Authority of Abu Dhabi, published the recordings made in 1932 on 18 CDs, accompanied with a descriptive booklet based on the documentation of the French-Lebanese historian Bernard Moussali (1950-1996).

Dr Lambert shared that after years of its occurrence,  the Cairo Conference became a semi-legendary event. In 1932, a group of Egyptian and Arab experts assembled at the same time as a large group of European orientalists from France, Germany and England, for three weeks of scientific and artistic debate.

He reminded the audience that the project of organizing this event brought together several tracks. Initially, there was a will from the Egyptian musicians to correct what was then called oriental music, adapting to the challenges of technical progress and the new media, as well as resisting European influence in the context of the emergence of Arab nationalism since the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

He informed that there were two topics that concerned most of the Egyptian authors and theorists in the 1920s. These were dividing the musical scale by 24 tones with a quarter of a tone, to allow the composers to write harmoniously and secondly, they were also interested in the development of musical instruments, especially the invention of the piano of four-tone.

There were other interests of European and oriental music scholars, such as Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger who published the first volume of his book “Arab Music” (1930), and also the German Curt Sachs and Robert Lachman published their own books. Henry George Farmer published his book “History of Arabic Music” in 1929. In addition to these old musical texts, these scholars were also interested in preserving contemporary Arabic and oriental music.

All these concerns were met by King Fuad I when he invited to Egypt Dr Curt Sachs and Baron d’Erlanger to organize the conference. The Baron was based on a weighty figure, Syrian flautist Sheikh Ali Darwish, who taught at the Oriental Music Institute in Cairo. Between October 1931 and March 1932, d’Erlanger and Darwish collaborated to prepare reports on Arab denominations and rhythms, as well as oration, especially Al-Halabiya. These reports were presented at the conference, then published in the conference book in 1933 in Arabic and in 1934 in French.

Dr Lambert revealed that during the conference, the Egyptians, especially Dr Mahmoud Al-Hefni, a music specialist and the first representative of the Ministry of General Education, had a very lofty goal to present and build Egyptian, Arab, and Eastern music, as it was known before. This oriental music was historically associated with Ottoman empires in previous centuries. But the Egyptians also wanted to adopt the original works of the Ottoman and “Arabization” of the origin, as they were concerned with the revival of the art of oration, these square poems that gave the glory of the Arab civilization in the Middle Ages in Spain. So music was at the heart of enormous political and historical challenges, he stressed.

At the end of the conference, Dr Lambert stated, participants were unable to agree on the division of the musical scale based on local practices, including in Egypt, some Arab scholars, especially the Syrians, disagreed with dividing the music scale by 24 quarters, known as  “Sikah” and “Iraqa”. Although the conference ended with a kind of failure, Arabic music flourished by leading authors,  and singers in Egypt in accordance with modern trends and traditional local practices, as well as in other Arab countries. However, the theory of 24-quarters of the tones gradually entered most of the conservatories of the Arab world.

He considered the Cairo Conference of 1932 as issuing the birth certificate of the concept of modern Arabic music. At the request of King Fouad I, Baron d’Erlanger organized the registration process for the Iraqi, Moroccan and Egyptian artistic teams who attended the conference. In the end, 180 CDs were recorded thanks to the engineers of the British company Gramophone and then sent to England for compression. “We can listen to these recordings today and it brings us an overview of the popular and popular music as it was performed at the time in Egypt but also in Iraq, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. This precious certificate is not indispensable, because many of these musical forms have disappeared, as have those musicians. This is the work I would like to offer you today”, he stated, playing samples of many during his presentation.

“I must say at the outset that these sound recordings are also valuable references to the quality of the recording, as they benefited from the invention of electrical recording invented a few years ago”, he continued.

He  distinguished the music in three parts — Egyptian classical music, Popular music especially from Cairo as well as religious music in Egypt with the Sufi and Coptic rituals; and music in other Arab countries, especially Iraq and Morocco.

The lecture highlighted many examples of classic music such as the Al-Musahat performed by Darwish Al-Hariri and by  the prolific composer Da’ud Hosny who Dr Lambert pointed was a jew and affirmed that Jews had a big impact on Arabic music in Egypt. The second category of music he delved into were Egyptian folk songs such as  Mohammed Al-Arabi, a popular musician from Cairo as well as song a for fishermen in the Oasis of the Fayoum, among others. Examples of Coptic hymns, Iraqi Maqam, Tunisian Malouf were also featured among others.

Concluding his lecture, he shared that the great diversity of cultural and ethnic traditions allows us to reflect on the concept of “Arab music” in its most diverse forms and cultural traditions. For example, a very active participation of Jews in Iraq and in Egypt is observable as well as the participation of Christian Arabs in Egypt, as well as in the theoretical discussions at the conference, especially the Syrians and Lebanese residing in Egypt, but also the importance of the Coptic Gnostic tradition. He shared that all these considerations lead us to new questions about the designation of “Arabic music” and its limits, and stated that the fertile diversity urges the consideration of the combination of “Arabic music”.

By Arab Times Staff

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