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The Arab Avant-Garde

Music, Politics, Modernity

Thomas Burkhalter

Publication Year: 2013

From jazz trumpeters drawing on the noises of warfare in Beirut to female heavy metallers in Alexandria, the Arab culture offers a wealth of exciting, challenging, and diverse musics. The essays in this collection investigate the plethora of compositional and improvisational techniques, performance styles, political motivations, professional trainings, and inter-continental collaborations that claim the mantle of "innovation" within Arab and Arab diaspora music. While most books on Middle Eastern music-making focus on notions of tradition and regionally specific genres, The Arab Avant Garde presents a radically hybrid and globally dialectic set of practices. Engaging the "avant-garde"--a term with Eurocentric resonances--this anthology disturbs that presumed exclusivity, drawing on and challenging a growing body of literature about alternative modernities.

Chapters delve into genres and modes as diverse as jazz, musical theatre, improvisation, hip hop, and heavy metal as performed in countries like Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and the United States. Focusing on multiple ways in which the "Arab avant-garde" becomes manifest, this anthology brings together international writers with eclectic disciplinary trainings--practicing musicians, area studies specialists, ethnomusicologists, and scholars of popular culture and media. Contributors include Sami W. Asmar, Michael Khoury, Saed Muhssin, Marina Peterson, Kamran Rastegar, Caroline Rooney, and Shayna Silverstein, as well as the editors.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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pp. 1-1

The Arab Avant-Garde

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pp. 2-3


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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-5

Contents, A Note on Transliteration

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pp. v-viii

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Introduction: “Arab” “Avant-Garde”

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pp. 1-34

From Alexandrian female heavy metallers and Beiruti jazz trumpeters who sample the noises of warfare to migrants into the avant-garde enclaves of Europe and North America, Arab culture has long offered up a wealth of exciting, challenging, and varied musics. Theirs is not a singular scene, a coherent body of interconnected performers. ...

Part I: Alternative Modernities: Norms and Innovations

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1. Transforming Space: The Production of Contemporary Syrian Art Music

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pp. 37-73

Decades after this vanguard performance of “serious” music in the “the oldest continually inhabited city in the world,”1 the risks taken in pursuit of a space for contemporary Syrian art music continue to push the boundaries of musical creativity and expressive culture in Damascus. ...

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2. Balancing Integration and Disintegration: Amir Elsaffar and the Contingent Avant-Garde

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pp. 74-88

The avant-garde is so constitutive to our notions of modernity and culture that rarely is this term subjected to systematic definition within academic discourse. In this, the avant-garde is a key paradigm of the notion of cultural modernity; to define it would require stepping outside the epistemic boundaries of modernity and postmodernity. ...

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3. Multisited Avant-Gardes or World Music 2.0? Musicians from Beirut and Beyond between Local Production and Euro-American Reception

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pp. 89-118

The latest tracks, songs, sound montages, and noises from the Arab world, Asia, Africa, and Latin America seem to contain revolutionary meanings. On theoretical grounds, these musics suggest reconfigurations of “modernity.” They are small but passionate attempts to reshape the world into a place where “modernity” is not “Euro-modernity” ...

Part II: Roots and Routes

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4. The “People’s Artist” and the Beginnings of the Twentieth-Century Arab Avant-Garde

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pp. 121-144

This chapter concerns a musician who lived a few months short of thirty-one years (1892–1923). Sayyed Darwish grew up in poverty and held a day job as a laborer. At the age of sixteen, he was “discovered” and, from there, went on to change the face, and some of the internal organs, of Arab music forever. ...

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5. Challenging the Status Quo in War-Torn Lebanon: Ziad Rahbani, the Avant-Garde Heir to Musical Tradition

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pp. 145-164

Sometimes music history evolves predictably, sometimes it takes unexpected paths. When one of the Arab World’s most prominent composers, the late ‘Assi1 Rahbani of Lebanon, married the preeminent singer Fairuz,2 it came as no surprise that their son, Ziad3 Rahbani, would turn out to be a talented artist who would make a significant mark on the history of Arab arts. ...

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6. A Look at Lightning: The Life and Compositions of Halim El-Dabh

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pp. 165-182

As an agricultural engineer, Halim El-Dabh met with physicists and engineers to find a way to use sound and light to divert the flight path of bees away from crops—sound as repellant. There must be a way to apply these techniques to music and composition, he thought. ...

Part III: Political Deployments of the Avant-Garde

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7. Sonic Cosmopolitanisms: Experimental Improvised Music and a Lebanese-American Cultural Exchange

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pp. 185-208

In February 2007, five Lebanese musicians traveled to the United States to perform with American musicians and dancers as part of the Tabadol Project. With funding from the U.S. Department of State, the Tabadol Project was cultural diplomacy as cultural exchange, a project of international understanding through the arts. ...

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8. Activism and Authenticity: Palestinian and Related Hip-Hop in an International Frame

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pp. 209-228

First, a shimmering cymbal sound with two soft beats from the kick drum over a dark screen bearing the film’s title: Local Angel (2002).2 The film begins with this pause, and then all of a sudden there is a violent explosion of sound synced to flashing strobe lights. ...

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9. Noise and Its Formless Shadows: Egypt’s Extreme Metal as Avant-Garde Nafas Dawsha

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pp. 229-272

In January 1997, Egyptian authorities jailed nearly one hundred Egyptian university students, all part of the local metal scene.1 The event registered briefly in Western newspapers, which portrayed the curiosity of a conflict between young Egyptians a decade late to the heavy metal trend and a bumbling government overly suspicious of Westernisms ...

Selected Discography

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pp. 273-274


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pp. 275-282


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pp. 283-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573872
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819573858

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Music Culture
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 862608636
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Arab Avant-Garde

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Subject Headings

  • Popular music -- Middle East -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Middle East -- 21st century -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Middle East -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Avant-garde (Music) -- Middle East.
  • Music -- Political aspects -- Middle East.
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