Saturday, May 24, 7670

Kairouan in Tunisia (670) - Music of Courtship

Kairouan (also known as Kairwan, Kayrawan, Al Qayrawan) is a Muslim holy city which ranks after Mecca and Medina as a place of pilgrimage.

Located in Tunisia (North Africa), about 160 kilometres south of Tunis, it is the capital of the Kairouan Governorate. It was founded by the Arabs in around 670 and the original name was derived from Arabic kairuwân, from Persian Kâravân, meaning "camp,""caravan," or "resting place" (Egypt's "Cairo" has a similar etymology).

Kairouan was established when the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi selected a site in the middle of a dense forest, then infested with wild beasts and reptiles, as the location of a military post. It was to keep in check the Berber hordes and was located far from the sea where it was safe from attack. A city soon developed, with luxuriant gardens and olive groves. Ibn Nafi was killed in battle by the Berbers about 15 years after the military post was established.

The city was soon recaptured and remained for four centuries a major holy city.

Tunisia is known for malouf, a kind of music imported from Andalusia after the Spanish re-conquest in the 15th century. Though in its modern form, malouf is likely very dissimilar to any music played more than four centuries ago, it does have its roots in Spain and Portugal, and is closely related to genres with a similar history throughout North Africa, including malouf's Libyan cousin, Algerian gharnati, and Moroccan ala or Andalusi.

Malouf is played by small orchestras, consisting of strings, drums, and flutes. Modern malouf has some elements of Berber music in the rhythms, but is seen as a successor to the cultural heights reached by Muslim Andalusia. Malouf has been called "an emblem of (Tunisian) national identity."

Nevertheless, malouf can not compete commercially with popular music, much of it Egyptian, and it has only survived because of the efforts of the Tunisian government and a number of private individuals. Malouf is still performed in public, especially at weddings and circumcision ceremonies, though recordings are relatively rare. The term malouf translates as familiar or customary.

Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger collected the rules and history of malouf, which fill six volumes, and set up the Rachidia, an important conservatory which is still in use.

Malouf is based on qasidah, a kind of classical Arabic poetry, and comes in many forms, including the post-classical muwashshah, which abandons many of qasidah's rules, shgul, a very traditional form, and zajal, a modern genre with a unique format.

The most important structural element of malouf, however, is the nuba, a two-part suite in a single maqam (an Arab mode organized by quarter-tones), which lasts about an hour. A nuba is a musical form introduced to North Africa with the migration of Muslim inhabitants of Spain in the 13 and 14th Century. It is divided to many parts. Each component of a Nuba has its specific rhythm which are the same in all the 13 Nuba known today.

According to legend, a distinct nuba once existed for every day, holiday and other event, though only 13remain. Partway through a nuba, an improvisational section was played in the maqam of the following day to ready the audience for the next performance.

The earliest roots of the malouf can be traced to a court musician from Baghdad named Ziryab. He was expelled from the city in 830, and travelled west, stopping finally at Kairouan, the first Muslim city of great power in Africa. The city was a center for North African (Maghebian) culture, and was the capital of the Aghlabite dynasty. Ziryab crossed the Maghreb and then entered Cordoba during a period of cultural innovation among the diverse inhabitants of the region. He became a court musician again, and used influences from the local area, the Maghreb and his native Middle East to form a distinctively Andalusian style.

Beginning in the 13th century, Muslims fleeing persection by Christians in what is now Spain and Portugal settled in cities across North Africa, including Tunis, bringing with them their music.

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Wedding Music

[7682 Morocco / 7670 - Tunisia / 7638 - Palestine]