I have been asked to comment on the role of women in the musical culture of the Middle East and our decision to establish Arab Alliance of Women in Music.
One of the main reasons was to find the facts of the participation of women in the field of Culture generally, and Music in particular. There is a lack of material about female composers and performers living in our region.
The informative material was not enough and I was able to collect some material through some historical studies, personal contacts and information from some members of AAWM.
Where one should look for roots of Arab Culture that had a great influence on Culture of Medieval Europe?
Was it that music which was appreciated by Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (7th century B.C.) at the Palaces of Ninevia, performed by Arab prisoners enjoying their masters with singing (Alili) and performing music (Ninguli) that they asked them to perform more and more? How it sounded at that ancient time? We only can imagine how it sounded at that time, as well as there are no real recourses of notation except some cuneiform explanations.
But through cuneiform writings we were able to know some significant names of musicians, rituals, and the way it was performed. Women, as we know, played an important role in those rituals. There were discovered few Women-musicians who were buried in Imperial graves of ancient Ur, southern of Babylon, with musical instruments on their chest. This discovery is dating back to 4400 years. Some other discoveries are dating back to 4580 years. There were cuneiform writings in which names of Women –musicians and singers were found. It says that women occupied the same official musical positions on equal footing as men. Here I will mention some of them that date 4300 years ago:
3) NARAMSIN (She was the niece of the King of AKKAD and was performing music during her prayers to Acadian God of Moon in the name of SIN)
6) URNANSHA (one of the most famous women-musicians of the ancient city of MARI
7) There was the daughter of King Alekshi Mal Shibak 2nd. She was well known as performer on the KITHARA (previous format of the Harp instrument).
One of the most famous discoveries that happened during excavation in Imperial Graves of UR were 3 harps:
1)“The Golden Harp” that was in Iraqi Museum and was looted during the last war.
2) “The Silver Harp” that is now in the British Museum.
3)”The Boat shape” harp is at the Pennsylvania Museum in the USA.
I believe that Women played all those instruments.
I had a chance to hear a lecture about Babylonian tunes made by researchers of British Museum (unfortunately I don’t have their names) and it impressed me in fact, that some musical terms we used today had existed at that time already. Music sounds were naïve and specific but very interesting. Perhaps women-musicians performed some of those tunes.
All historical discoveries are telling us again and again that in our region we can find evidence of great musical culture since thousands of years.
One should accept the fact that musical culture of the ancient Middle East World had a certain level of similarity and influences by ASSIRIANS, PHOENECIANS, HEBREWS AND ARABS as well as the influence of Greeks and Romans. Evidence of such a fact is even seen today through archeological discoveries. There were no borders that exist today and the influence of one region on another was obvious especially in music, specifically in singing.
From this point, the study done by historian Julian Ribera about ”Music in Ancient Arabia and Spain”, is very interesting. Since its 1st publication in 1922, the book was extended in research of the influence of music of the Spanish Moors that occupied the south of Spain, on Spanish music of that period.
As time elapsed, those influences affected even the northern part of Spain. Music and especially song-writing had its own effect on that of French troubadours and German Minnesingers. As a result of the investigation was, the idea that many popular rhythms in the Christian districts of Spain were influenced by the lyric poetry of Spanish Moors, who invented new strophic form that was different from the classical Arabic form. The Muslims themselves consider the preislamic poetry as most classic, but it did not appear to have been accompanied by music at that time.
The study of “Candigas” (Spanish book of songs of 16th century) Mr. Ribera came to the conclusion that “Candigas” were copied and perhaps even composed in Seville, which was under the Moors for a long time. That Moslem Seville had been, for some time, one of the centers of musical culture in the world, if not the principal one. King Alfonso the Wise, kept many Moorish friends at his court and the King was an enthusiast for the Arabic Culture.
Arabic music reached its greatest height by 8th and 9th centuries.
One of the most important and valuable works of that time is “Kitab Al-Aghani” “The Book of Songs” by ABU AL FARAJ AL ISFAHANI (born in Hegira? in 897, died in Baghdad in 966 A.D.) that is a veritable library by itself as a resource of description in details, of the origins, chronology and wide diffusion of Arabic Music, its artistic qualities as well as names of singers and musicians popular at that time. He describes the scenes and songs vividly and objectively. He often gives not only the names of the poet and composer but also the type of song, its rhythm and the music to be used in the lute accompaniment according to the classic standards of Ishak Al Mousuli, famous musician, who established his musical school in Baghdad at the time of Caliph Harun Al Rashid. Many great musicians came from that school. One of them is Zuryiab, who moved to Spain, and established influential musical school of his own.
Till now I mostly mentioned the names of male musicians. But we should realize that women were involved in Arabic Culture along with men as well as performers and composers.
Even in “The Book of Songs” by Isfahani, as one of the resources, was mentioned a study by Abdullah bin Motazz about the songs of Oreib and Sheria, women musicians.
In the same book, “The Book of Songs” (book 16, page 13 in the Bulak edition) are mentioned 10 names of women –musicians, five of whom were Byzantines and sang in Greek, accompanied by the BARBITO (an instrument of the lyre family). The other five sang songs from Alhira. Music was composed and executed by foreign musicians as it says. (All the pre-Islamic singers using the Arabic language were named as foreigners).
Some explanation of such phenomena can be that some of the musicians came from different parts of the Islamic world (such as Samarkand, Buhara, Persia Byzantium) the other explanation is that the title of poet was considered an honor at that time (pre-Islamic and earlier Islamic poetry was performed without music), while to be a musician was considered demeaning.
Moreover these two arts were completely divorced during the earlier period of Islamic history. But progress of music traditions were going on and many celebrated names appeared. As women-musicians there were the names of Jamila and Azza Al Maila along with the names of male-musicians as Tueis, Adalal and Hit at the city of Medina.
We must point out the significant part taken by women in the earliest time of Islam. On every page of Isfagani book is mentioned that women-slaves were frequently found singing cheerful songs in the taverns (cafes of today) or in the places where people were amusing themselves, at feasts and celebrations or singing lamentation at funerals.
As I mentioned Jamila and Azza Al Maila were the most significant ones of that period.
Azza Al Maila was a slave, very beautiful of amiable manners and graceful conversation, with great elegance of style in her expression. She started her education by learning songs of old school of women-singers as Zarnab, Khola, Rebab, Selma and Raika. The last one was her teacher. Lately she was affected by the Persian style of singing brought to Medina by male-singers Saib Khater and Nashet. She learned from them various themes on which she composed admirable songs. Her performance was divine, and her voice was rich and extensive. She accompanied herself on the lute or harp as well as on other instruments. It was her who interested the public of Medina in music.
In Jamila we find one of the main figures in the music of that period that sang in the Arabic language. Everyone acclaimed her as the “Queen of Song”. Ibn Sureij (famous musician) came to learn from her. Another one whose name was Mabed said that Jamila was the keystone of Arabic art. As Azza Al Maila she was affected by Persian style of performance.
She herself describes some facts of her artistic development. One day she heard Saib Khater playing on the lute and singing. She learned the tune but not the words and she composed a song that pleased the public more than the original one. She was a woman of great magnetism and extremely popular. She opened a singing school in Medina. During the time of pilgrimage to Medina it was a custom of many masters to send their slaves to her for instructions.
Another remarkable story about Jamila was that one day, after granting her, her freedom (she was a slave as many women –singers) she invited all passers-by to enter her house and listen to her. When the house was full, her slaves served drinks to all the guests and Jamila told them that because of her religious believes and nightmares she had had, she was going to give up singing. At this point the audience was divided in opinion until a Doctor of laws declared that singing was a legitimate pleasure. Then Jamila sang and when she finished, the people, with shouts and applause, were asking God that they would not be deprived of her music. (Aghani, book 7, page 118)
So it was a triumph of Music that Jamila made her own way.
Actually during the “Days of Idolatry”, music, as a profession, was in the hands of folk-women and slave–girls for the greater part of the Arab peninsula. Only by middle of the 7th century a figure of male –musicians started to appear.
It was the patronage of nobility that put mark of “respectability” upon music profession. It is mentioned in the Isfagani’s book that once at a reception given by Aisha bint Talha, the wife of Mus’ab ibn al Zubair (nobility from Qurash tribes), a prominent professional songstress Azza Al Maila’ was treated on an equality with the noble ladies of Quraish and it should be mentioned that she was one who performed ‘new” rhythmic songs to the public. She was extremely popular at her time and many times she was named as the “Queen of Singers”. Poet Hassan ibn Thabit said that her performance reminded him of the artistic music at the Ghassanid (Persian) court. It was a high compliment as well as Persian music was highly appreciated at that time. She was playing Mizhar and Mi’safa (instruments of old days) as well as ‘UD.
She died before 710 A.D. The date of her death was not properly recorded.
There was another songstress Nai’la bint al-Maila’. She was probably her daughter.Women of that time with all their timidity dedicated themselves to singing, not only laments, like those of professional mourners, but also newer type of songs that brought delight at weddings, festivals and other happy occasions.
It was a habit of the richest families to provide themselves with male and female slaves who learned to sing. Many of them were sent to Mecca and Medina for instructions and it became a sort of business: to buy slaves, teach them and re-sell them lately, even to the most distant provinces. This was one of the reasons that traditions of the Arab Culture were known in the whole Arab Empire of that time, which extended as far as Spain in the West and India in the East.
Although influenced by Persian and Byzantine styles of singing and performance, Arabic music has its own specifics: music performed by desert people, melodic material and instruments that stay from the ancient times and even melodies that came from Persia and Byzantium were adjusted to the meters of Arabic poetry by scrupulous and inspired artists.
Music stayed for a few centuries in the Arab Peninsula itself and then with the expansion of the empire, it reached other horizons.
The removal of the capital from Al –Medina to Damascus during the reign of the house of UMAYYA (661-750 A.D.) brought new cultural progress in the intellectual life of Arabic society. It was under this dynasty that the Arabic empire entered the time of glory. Huge by size Caliphate extended its borders from the East as far as India and West as far as Atlantic shore and Pyrenees. Although The Umayyads were strict Muslims and moved the capital from Mecca, that had withstood the Prophet, to Damascus, they could create an empire, which entered upon a path of glory as was told. Instrumental music was developed along with the vocal one. Small ensembles out of mizmar (wood-wind instrument that was sustaining the melody), ud’ (that was used for accompaniment) and tabla with duff (drum instruments that were used marking the rhythm) were performing music. There were many musical festivals that took place and again women played a big (if not the major) role in it. Their names are mentioned in the Isfahani’s book: Jamila (again), Al-Dalal, Nauma al-Duha, Sallama al-Zarqa, Azza al-Maila (again), Sallama al-Qaiss, Habbaba, Khalida and Kharira (sisters), Akila, Rabiha al-Farha, Bulbula, Laddat al-Aish and Saida.
It was during the UMAYYADS that the first musical literature of the Arabs started.
Yunus al-Khatib started to collect biographical and historical material about native music.
Ibn al-Kalbi (died 819) created “Kitab al nagham”(Book of Melodies) and “Kitab al-Qyian”(Book of the Singing-girls)
Those became a foundation of later music literature as well as Kitab al Agani or “The Book of Songs” by ABU AL FARAJ AL ISFAHANI.
If under Umayyads the Arabs formed a sort of military and administrative aristocracy but it was the next generation that brought the Culture of Arabs to what was called “The Golden Age” ruled by Abbasids from 750 to 847 A.D. This period falls in three periods: ”The Golden Age”(750-847),”The Decline”(847-945)(by middle of the 10th century the capital Baghdad was occupied by Iranians and Turkish Army) and “The Fall”(945-1258). (The last comes with raising The Fatimids Dynasty in Egypt.)
Ibn Khaldun wrote in his book “Al-Muqaddima”
“The Art of music continued to make progress with Arabs and under the “ABBASIDS” it was carried to perfection”.
Abu al Abbas, the 1st Abbasid Khalif, was a despot and a tyrant, but at the same time he was a patron of the Art. He made his capital in Al Kufa (south of Iraq) far from Damascus, Byzantium and Persia. He built his 1st palace Al Hashymia at Al Anbar where those brilliant courts began and became famous at the Medieval World.
Khalif Al-Mansur (754-75), his brother, probably was the greatest ruler among Abbasids. In the year 762 Al Mansur founded the city of Baghdad, which became not only the new capital of the Empire, but also the center of intellectual activities of all the Arab World as art, literature and science.
Probably the most famous of the Abbasid Caliphs was Harun Al Rashid (786- 809). His court was the center for learning art of rhetoric, poetry, history and law as well as medicine, music and arts. His own son was a good musician and he participated in musical festivities along with his brother Ahmad.
The famous musician, Ibrahim Al Mousuli and his son Ishak established one of the main musical schools for training singing-girls in Baghdad.
The singing-girls and songstresses of this period were even more famous than those of UMAYYAD days. Many of them are mentioned in the pages of “The Thousand and One Nights”, although not all of them are mentioned in the Kitab al Agani or “The Book of Songs” by ABU AL FARAJ AL ISFAHANI.
Here are some of those names: Basbas, Oreib, Ubeida al Tunburriyya, Shariyya, Farida, Badhl, Dananir al-Barmakiyya, Atika bint Shunda, Mutayyim al-Hashimiyya, Qalam al-Salihiyya, Dhat al-Khal, Ina’n, Hasana, Raiq, Daman, Wahba, Dufaq, Samha, Mahbuba, Munisa and Qamariyya.
After the death of Al-Mansur in 1002 music center of Arab Culture started to move to the West of Empire.
Starting 945 till 1258 it was the time that we call “the Fall” of Arabic culture. It was the result of big political changes that took place at that period: coming of Buwahids (Chalifs of Iranian origin), then Saljuqids and moving of the hordes of Chingiz Khan to Baghdad.
In 1256,Holagu, grandson of Chingiz Khan completed the conquest by taking Baghdad. There were weeks of massacre and burning of libraries and the treasures of centuries. Palaces, mosques and colleges were destroyed. So it was the end of the Chalifate of Baghdad.
Other centers of Arabic poetry and culture became Al–Andalus and Egypt.
(Moors landed in Spain in 710 A.D. )
At the beginning of the 11 century, in less than thirty years, 9 caliphs occupied the throne in Cordoba, some of them twice.
The rulers of this period made their courts the home for poets and musicians. Daughter of caliph Al- Mustaki (1024-27,one of the last Andalusian Caliphs) Wallada was a famous poetess and musician. Her salon was an attraction for musicians and poets. Her love affair with the poet Ibn Zaidun became part of Andalusian history. As a musician she was compared with Ulayya, the musical stepsister of Harun Al Rashid.
In Andalusia there were other famous songstresses as Hind, Nisha Al-Wahabiyya, Umm Abi’l Jaish, Warda, Afza, Fadl, Qalam, Musabih, Muta, Qamar, Tarab, Uns al-Qulub and Bazya.
One should notice that in Andalusia, music and poetry belonged not so much to a special class, as it was in the East, but to the people at large.
In Egypt after dynasty of Ikshidids the ruling Chalifs became Fatimids who came from the West and claimed their origin from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammad. They moved the capital from Al-Mahdiyya to Al- Qahira (today Cairo), which soon became the center of Arabic Culture.
Even during this time, there were distinguished people (men and women) who were keeping the knowledge of Arabs and their Culture.
As you can see we have a large number of information to pass on to our new generation.
Unfortunately, not everybody in our region is aware of the importance of women who participated in the establishment of our Culture.
This was one of the reasons to create AAWM. The other reason was to be able to tell people the history of Arab women in the past, about her role in our new society and improve their position as creators in the field of music. A very important issue is to encourage and help the young generation to use their talents in the field of Arts and Music in particular.
Arab women are instrumental in the building of musical education in many Arab countries, but they are less presented in the composition and performing arts in the European understanding. However, many of them are involved in performing traditional and pop music.
I should mention that the establishment of music institutions during the past 30 years brought a number of local talents on the surface of Art, but as it normally happens, more attention is paid to performing arts. Only few of the musicians started to combine the knowledge of European traditions (as there are many musicians who have studied in Europe and the States already) with the local traditions as part of a future development of our Culture.
Since the 1980s I have tried to find the suitable way for a connection between Eastern and Western cultures. My life experiences as a westerly-educated musician told me that the Eastern Culture has its own specific side and the immediate modernization of musical language will not proper at the present time, and will not be understood by the general public, who is not yet ready for this modernization… It should be gradual…
I think that the information, which comes through broadcast and television, is insufficient to educate the young generation. Normally traditional and pop music take a lot of time on daily TV and radio programs. Some stations, from time to time, introduce the classical music to the public, but unfortunately, even in those programs new experiments in music are rarely introduced.
Many young musicians spend several years to study Western cultures and lately - even being professionals - they have difficulties balancing between well-studied specifics of Western music and less known to them, the specifics of Eastern cultures. If theoretical knowledge is normally well presented, the specifics and philosophical basis of Eastern Culture is less known to them. In my view this is the typical picture for most countries of the Middle East.
Thirty years of re-establishing of new musical traditions is not enough to create a sort of Art, which will be equivalent to the developments in European Art over the last 400 years.
From my point of view it takes 2-3 generations to create musicians, who can present their culture at the proper professional level.
I don't want to sound pessimistic. The process of establishing traditions of a new approach to music and musical education continues and there are many positive moves in this direction.
The Middle East was the land of great civilizations and this knowledge should help young musicians to recognize the value of the past and find the proper path to the future.
One of the most important events of the last 30 years was the establishment of the Arab Music Academy in 1971. The President of the Arab Music Academy is Ritiba Hifni. Opera singer herself and daughter of famous Egyptian musicologist, she plays a significant role in preserving traditional Arabic music. Ritiba Hifni performed in many countries as an opera singer and she was one of the youngest Deans of the Conservatory in Cairo.
Speaking of Egypt, I would like to mention here the name of a composer and theorist Awatef Abdel Karim. She was one of the first women to study theory and composition academically in Europe. In 1956 a scholarship took her to Salzburg, where she spent 4 years at the Mozarteum studying theory and composition with Professors Neumann and Bresgen. After returning home she followed Mr.Gamal Abdel-Rahim as a chairman of composition and conducting department of the Cairo Conservatory from 1991 –1997. She composed music for choir, piano and violin as well as for orchestra.
A well-known composer of the new generation is Mona Ghoneim. She was born in Cairo in 1955 and studied music at the conservatory of Cairo - piano with Ettore Puglisi and composition and traditional Arab modes with - Prof. Gamal Abdel Rahim. Later, she continued her studies in the Vienna Academy from which she was graduated in 1987. She composed music mostly for the piano and was awarded the prize for creative artistic work in the field of composition from the Academy of Arts of Cairo in 1991. The Associated Syndicate of the Arts has given her an honorary certificate for her contributions to music in 1992.
Musical tradition in Lebanon has very deep roots. Also I should mention it is the only Christian country in the Middle East and through the church, most of the population of this country is familiar with the singing style which is close to a European one. Although sometimes it is a mixture of many different influences, still it has a typical Lebanese style that has influenced the musical traditions in many countries around us such as Syria, Jordan and Palestine. The music of the Rahbani brothers is very popular, performed by popular singers of Lebanon - Fairous and her sister, Huda. Their singing style is very close to the "traditional" one but has its own specific style. .The same I can say about Majda Rumi the other great singer of today in Lebanon.
To be a singer in the Middle East means to be popular. In some areas vocal music has a special value and participation singer in composing is sometimes obvious. In this regard, I would like to mention two great singers of the past as Om Kulthum and Asmahan.
In Muslim society the attitude to music was somewhat different. Historically, music was more an entertainment than a serious artistic commitment or profession. One can still see that in modern society, but not as much as in the past because society has changed with time and exposure to other cultures.
The relationship between Muslim and Christian religions is much different today from what it was in the past. While the question of the relationship between these two religions warrants a separate discussion, it is sufficient to say that people of both faiths live and work together, trying to resolve historical and religious differences. In the field of Culture this is obvious too.
Now I would like to speak about the Lebanese composer and singer of a new generation, Hiba al Kawas. She was born in 1972 in Saida and is one of the prominent young composers. She studied psychology at the Lebanese University. Her musical education started in the Lebanese National Conservatory in 1989. She received a Master’s Diploma in opera singing under Dr. Toufic Kerbaje and Prof. Garo Tchadarian. This was followed by intensive musical studies in Sienna, Italy at Chigiana Academy of Music, with Maestro Donatoni in composition and Maestro Carlo Bergonzi in operatic singing. She studied musicology under the supervision of Dr. Waleed Gholmieh in 1995. Her ambition is to create an Arabic opera.
Performing Arts in Syria are well presented and this is one of the achievements of musicians of this country. Unfortunately there are no women-composers yet, although I can mention names of three Syrian female musicians who are involved in composition and education.
Ilham Abu Seud is their oldest. She is involved in musical education and has published a book about it. She has composed many songs for children.
Mahasen Mutar studied violin and became a violin teacher in Arabic Musical Institute in Damascus. She is a member of the National Orchestra of Syria.
Rana Junaid was born in 1967 and studied in the Musical Institute of Damascus and became a professor in the Institute of High Education and Arabic Musical Institute.
One of the most prominent opera singers of Syria is Lubana Al-Quntar, winner of The Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium. She performed with few opera houses in Europe. Recently she has been teaching at the National Music Conservatory in Damascus at the high levels. We were lucky to host her in Amman and present her to the Arabic public, through a concert organized by the AAWM.
In Palestine, Tania Tamari Nasir is a writer and soprano opera singer who has spent many years working on experimental compositions of Arabic poetry combined with the Western classical style of music. She is the translator of many books from Arabic to English and promotes Palestinian musical traditions. I was lucky to work with her on the vocal cycle “Miracle of Life” on the poetry of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra that we had the chance to perform this cycle in Amman, Paris, Thessalonici and Cairo recently.
Rima Nasir Tarazi was born in 1932 and had started to study music in Birzet then continued her studies at the American Junior College in Beirut. She completed her studies in France and at present, she is the Head of the Board of the Palestinian National Conservatory in the name of Edward Said (pianist and philosopher, friend of Maestro Daniel Barenboim, who tried through Art and working together in the field of Music to solve those differences between Palestinians and Israelis creating the Festival “West East Divan”.)
Rim Banna is one of the most famous Palestinian female singers, lyricists and composers. Rim Banna’s songs are inspired by the Palestinian people’s culture, sentiments, history and folklore. They demonstrate her own musical and singing style. Lyrics are usually written by Rim herself, or are chosen from the poems by famous Palestinian poets. She performs the Palestinian folk songs in a new musical arrangement
Rim has participated in many well-acclaimed festivals and concerts, locally and internationally. Moreover, some of Rim’s songs had prominent role in numerous Arabic and international films.
I would like to bring the name of one composer from Kuwait: Rashida Ibrahim.
She was born in 1954 in Indonesia where she received her early education till 1970 and grew up with the influence of the west Java gamelan music.
She moved to Kuwait with her family and received her first musical training in the Institute of Musical Arts. Later she completed her composition studies in the Kuwait Higher Institute of Music with Maestro Yousef El-Sissy. After graduation in 1980 she followed her studies at the Temple University in Philadelphia (USA) where she received her Master and Doctoral degrees.
I would like to share with you my own experience in the musical culture of Iraq and Jordan as well as I spent most of my life in those countries.
I came to Iraq in 1968 just after my graduation from The Moscow Russian State Academy of Music in the name of Gnesins, where I received my Master Degree on the “Analyses of Tone Poems by Richard Strauss”. Although I am Caucasian origin, I grow up with the Russian and European Culture. The same time I have a strong sense of our traditional music and, studying music, I performed many times music written by composers of different national schools.
But my new home was very different.
I think I was lucky from very beginning to meet the most distinguished people of Iraq and to become part of the society. I surrounded myself with Historical books, studies and attend every event (concerts, lectures, exhibitions) that had something to do with Culture of this region to be informed as much as possible.
This was the way that I let me feel myself as a part of cultural life of Iraq.
It was the time of reestablishing of Iraqi National Symphonic Orchestra (I performed Beethoven ‘s Concerto # 1 at the second performance of the Orchestra under the baton of Mr. Mommer, a German Conductor) and started to participate in the establishing of Music School with Mr.Aziz Ali and lately in Ballet department with Mrs. Laman Al Bekri.
After one year both departments were joined in one cultural institution according the curriculum of Ministry of Education from one side and Ministry of Culture from other.
My experience at the school was absolutely unique. There were many unpredictable situations.
The Music and Ballet School was established on the example of a Central Music School in Moscow. We try to create a professional music institution in Baghdad. By 80es there were 45 Russian experts from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. There were many problems and misunderstandings (I believe that any experience of this kind has them), but we were able to reach our main goals and create a generation of professional musicians and ballet-dancers, who are working today in many countries with success.
Many of my compositions were done specially for the school and they reflect every step we were passing to come to understanding and creating new forms of expression. Don’t forget that we are talking about 70ties and 80ties and this institution was newly established. If music was already known to public, ballet was something new for this country.
The Iraqi National Symphonic Orchestra was one of the most important music organizations. Conductors from different countries were working with Iraqi musicians.
Many musicians were encouraged to present new compositions for Symphonic Orchestra or any other combination of instruments, including traditional ones, to be perform.
It was new experience for IRAQI public and it was accepted with some difficulties at the beginning, but by 80ties we were able to have along with Fine Arts Institute, that was established earlier: Babylonian Festival and Competition for composers, Musical and Ballet School, Institute of Traditional Arts.
In 1982 we were able to produce full two act ballet with participation of students of Musical and Ballet School and National Symphonic Orchestra
We started a Baghdad Chamber Ensemble that regularly performed at the Gallery of Modern Art. Our students started to participate in the International Competitions. There were many other events but I mention only some of them.
Unfortunately it is our past. Today situation in Iraq is different but musicians who graduate from the school are keeping the School and Orchestra alive in spite of the devastating situation that country is at the present. I hope that with time pass everything will be reestablished again and the process of cultural improvement will continue.
Speaking of Jordan, where I started to live since 1992, I can say that there were a big improvement on the Musical scenery.
There has been a music department at the Yarmouk University since many years.
With the establishing of The National Music Conservatory (Queen Noor Foundation) a generation of new musicians appeared on the stages of Amman. Many interesting concerts were performed by The Orchestra of Conservatory.
There have been lately established a Musical Department at the University of Jordan and The Jordan Academy of Music.
“Young Women’s Christian Association of Jordan is a non-profit organization that improves not only the social standards but the cultural as well.
From the private institutions I would like to mention “Freddy for Music” that provides the Jordanian public with interesting music cultural events in cooperation with German (Goethe), Spanish (Cervantes), French Cultural Centers and other embassies or their own…
The Arab Alliance of Women in Music was established in year 2000 as an Alliance for musicians, music lovers and supporters of Music. Also for the people, who would like to help to solve the problems of the young generation and promote talents on the field of Music.
As far as classical composing is concerned the picture is not easy to describe. There are two young lady-composers who are studying the subject: Suad Bushnaq and Zeina Azouqah (member’s of AAWM). They are young Jordanians who started their musical studies and dedicated themselves to composition and Piano performance.
Since our establishment in 2000, we could organized some music Cultural events, participate in the local and international Conferences, establish cultural relations with some countries (we are members of the Board of “Donna in Musica” in Italy). In cooperation with the Spanish “Cervantes” Institute we organized a small Competition for those who are studying opera singing (winner of this competition had the chance to visit Spain and be introduced to opera singing classes). We organized many other lectures and performing events in Amman.
We cooperate with different organizations, which are connected to the Cultural life of Jordan as UNESCO, Municipality of Amman, different embassies and Cultural centers of EU and Arab countries. One of our goals is to establish a connection between Arab musicians and introduce Jordanian talents that grew within Jordanian Institutions and abroad.
We are still waiting for sponsors for our main project about Women –Musicians in the Arab World and hope for better understanding of the importance of such research for musicians as well as for the public in general.
In this report I was trying to describe the history and the developments in the field of musical arts in the Arab Middle East and the position of women in it.
In my view, the modern society has still a lot of difficulties and problems in the field of Music, especially with people who work on the level of intellectual art, such as: publishing of music, rights of intellectual property, performing of new music etc… If musicians in the field of commercial music are content with the current developments, I cannot say the same about the intellectuals. To add to the problem, there is a little communication between composers living in different districts of the Arab world.
In the meetings of the Arab Music Academy, members normally discuss the problems of traditional music. Preservation of traditional music is very important for us as a preservation of the Arab identity, but we need to move on and encourage the new generation of musicians to create new forms of musical thinking, living up to the world standards but based on the originality and specifics of the local culture.
I hope that there will be more attention to the problems and needs of musicians who dedicate themselves to serious problems in music and to the proper musical education in the Middle East. The solutions to these problems are discussed among musicians but not everything is implemented yet. I hope it will be solved in the near future.
I would like to finish my speech on an optimistic note. I have big hopes invested in the future generation of Arab musicians who have the opportunity to build an interesting new musical culture, based on the heritage and traditions of the Orient, and have the capability of merging and exchanging the cultures of East and West, bringing to the west also some new ideas and exposing the valuable Arabic musical culture and Arabic instruments to the western listeners.
We only need time, political and financial stability in our region to achieve all our hopes.
This is one of the reasons that I would like to thank the organizers of this Conference and particularly Dr. Oliver Martin Schneller for the opportunity to perform our music and discuss our problems at such a distinguished place as the “Pergamon Museum” in the heart of Germany Berlin.
Thank you for your attention.