Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Tarab?

In my past three posts I have mentioned the word tarab, and I would give a definition of musical ecstasy in Arabic music.  I decided to take a deeper look into this very important aspect of Arabic music.  For many reasons the word tarab would take more than one post on a blog to define, but I will do my absolute best to give you all a quick overview.  What exactly does the word tarab mean?  According to Dr. A. J. Racy's book, Making Music in the Arab World" the Culture and Artistry of Tarab", "In Arab culture, the merger between music and emotional transformation is epitomized by he concept of tarab, which may not have an exact equivalent in Western languages".   So we go from defining a word, to describing a concept.  Now we ask what is the concept?  In order to better relate the concept to you, lets look at what scholars had to say about the difference between Western European music and Arabic music.  Guillaume Andre Villoteau lead a musicological team as part of Napoleons scientific mission  to Egypt in 1798-99.  Villoteau had observed that Arabic music evoked powerful emotions form its listeners.  About thirty-five years later an Arab writer by the name of Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq on his travels to Europe attempted to explain the difference between Western and Eastern music.  In his writings he took special notice of how the audience reacted to Western music Also comparing Western music to his own experience with Arabic music he noted that Western music was suited to representing images and concepts whereas Arabic music tended draw more raw emotion from its audience.  There are consistent findings in both of these men that Arabic music does have a more outward and profound effect on its audience compared to Western music.  In my own experiences with Western and Arabic music, I found Western Music to have its own form of tarab that is much more subtle and cerebral than Arabic music.  The best example I can give to describe that feeling with Western music is to listen to Copeland's clarinet concert  which was originally written for Benny Goodman, a jazz clarinetist.  One should pay special attention to the stark contrast between the slow and fast sections of the piece such as the difference in texture, harmony, mood, tempo and intensity.  All of those aspects are perfect examples of what makes Copeland's clarinet concert sound they way it does and in turn stimulating the kind of tarab it does out of me. Nonetheless  it is a completely different form of tarab then what I experience with Arabic music.  Going back to our original point that tarab is more accurately described as a concept rather than a definition and answering the question, "What is the concept of tarab?''.  We also find that the concept of tarab in Arabic music is to move one emotionally through the music, whether the listener (samee' in Arabic) is led to feel overwhelmed by joy, sadness, or just plain elation for the music that is being performed.  Not only is tarab one of the main components that makes Arabic what it is, but you can also find different forms of tarab on other types of music in the Arab world as well.  One of the obvious places and well known places to find it would be within the Sufi religion.  Two noticeable differences exist between Sufi music and Arabic Music.  Sufi music is religious andmore reserved whereas secular Arabic music is generally not religious and can be more emotional and technically flamboyant at times.  It is sort of the same difference between music of the Catholic church in the late middle ages and Ars Nova, a genre of music that is sometimes described as polyphonic music of the fourteenth century.  The Dhikr, which in Arabic literally means remembrance or invocation, is a name used to describe a Mevleviye Sufi Liturgy, and in that context the word dhikr takes on the meaning Remembrance of God.  This ceremony is where you will find a great example of religious tarab where the ones who are partaking in the service, the listeners, end up twirling in a circle hence the name whirling dervishes.  The instrumentation with this music is generally frame drum and nay (Arabic reed flute), and the tarab that is experienced in this worship service is strongly tied to being closer to God.  The Orthodox Church of the Byzantine empire which at one point included most of the Arab world shares a similar type of tarab completely achieved by chanting various hymns and psalms in eight different modes.  My own experiences with the Orthodox church have shown me that indeed there is a type of tarab felt during any of the Church's services, and even more so during High Holy Days such as the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) or Pascha (Easter).  There is a general theology that goes with chanting, and that is the chanter is to remove himself as to become transparent and be seen as if he is singing with the choirs of angels in heaven praising God.  If done right (and it rarely is), the chanting is supposed to uplift the person (Listener) in worship from his or her current position to a state of pure prayer.  While religious tarab has different feelings or objectives behind it, its the principal (going back to that idea of concept) that is the same.  All of these forms of music I mentioned have the ability of uplifting the listener from his or her current state and take them somewhere else on an emotional journey.  You can easily find all forms and degrees of tarab in all genres and forms of Arabic music.  Each one would have a unique characteristic style, sound, and feel to them, and for purposes of time I am not able to explain all of them.  However out of all the styles in my opinion Classical Arabic music, or what is also called Tarab music, both old and new is where you can experience tarab at its finest.  Finally, the reason for talking about this subject is that  for those who want to understand Arabic music on a deeper level, they must first understand the concept of tarab.  The way tarab is expressed in Arabic music is what makes it unique to many different cultures  that have the same or similar concept in their music.  It is also what makes it such an intriguing art form that is starting to attract many ears in the West.  
            Isn't moving the listener why we make music, after all?

15 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful and well-written article that provides insight into the mesmerizing musicala and experiential concept that is "Tarab." Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!

    d

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  2. Thanks for excellent definition of Tarab, but there is another African music from Zanzibar that is called Taarab the lyrics mostly contains poems, have this music Arabic origin?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUwnCjg9ZEM&feature=channel_video_title

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  3. this web site is undoubtedly posted http://casinogamesonlinee@blogspot.com

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  4. Thank u 4 ur detailed information.i came across dis word while i stumbled upon Nancy Ajram's 'Betegy Sertak'...so my questn is - is dat song a version of d original Tarab or is it a commercialised version of d original classical Tarab?

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  5. @Prateeti - Nancy Ajram is commercialized nonsense that is pretty much western pop music with lyrics in Arabic. It has nothing to do with traditional Arab music.

    @OUDMAN586 - Dhikr is actually a generalized term that doesn't apply specifically to Mevlevis but any Muslim that actively seeks to remember God. In fact, the principle Mevlevi ceremony is called the Ayin, and their whirling is called sema, which comes from the Arabic world sama', which means listening. The connection with tarab is interesting because the musical ensemble in the Ayin is called the "mutrib", literally the one that bestows tarab.

    I wouldn't say the Mevlevis played the "Arabic reed flute" because the nay is not specifically Arab, it exists in Turkey and Iran as well, and they actually played the Turkish Ney which is generally longer and has a mouthpiece. In fact, the deeper you research, it's difficult to even define "traditional Arab music" because it all originally comes from an interconnected Ottoman world, in which Istanbul was centre and from which it diffused the whole maqam system, and Mevlevis played a big role in this since most of the great Ottoman composers were Mevlevi and there were Mevlevi Sufi lodges throughout the Arab world. This is not to say music in the Arab-world wasn't different, It was, but not very much and it was also different in Aleppo from Damascus from Cairo. That is to say this "Turkish vs Arab vs Iranian" idea was much looser and harder to define before the nationalism/imperialism of the 20th century. Unfortunately what people now call "Classical Arab Music" (Umm Kalthoum, Abdel Wahab, Farid Al Atrash etc.), has it's beauty, but is highly westernized and quite (intentionally) cut off from the Ottoman roots.

    That's my rant for now :)

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  6. Thank you so much for writing this.
    I love Arabic music, I love tarab, it moves me in a very powerful way. I love lots of kinds of music from many different cultures and for many different reasons. Arabic music has a very special place in my heart.

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  7. Good piece. I am looking for music in CLASSICAL ARABIC. Can anybody help.

    My email oumardia@yahoo.com

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  8. Some of us refer to this as " Soul candy"

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  9. Thanks for sharing and deepening my understanding of Arabic music.

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  10. From Daniel O'Donnell in Portland: I would like to offer another perspective that may be useful. Tarab is transcendence of personality. Musical performance is too often a means to merely express ego, trivial personal emotions, that amplifies the egos of its listeners. The author has it correctly, despite lacunae of appropriate terms that are interchangeable between languages, that tarab is associated with the higher domain of spirit, for want of a better word, and no musician would disagree that to convey tarab demands mastery and self-control as well as musical skill. As Syed Hossein Nasr wrote in an excellent essay, to convey a spiritual state or station (maqam) to a listener, the performer must have it himself or herself. I have experienced this many times, at the feet of musicians like Hamza El Din, Ravi Shankar, and G. S. Sachdev, and others. The curious thing is that Western music approaches tarab in a different manner, collectively and compositionally, and this may be the greatest difference between the two cultural hemispheres. One can listen to compositions by Arvo Part, or the B-minor Mass of J. S. Bach, performed (emphasise>) in ensemble, without the composer present, and tarab is real. The above-mentioned case of the Maulawiya / Mevlevi use of orchestrated sacred music is hybrid, the late Ottoman empire tried to imitate Western symphonic orchestras, and this involved the composers. Agreed that the influence of this was far-reaching, everywhere Ottoman culture prevailed ... but the fascinating thing is that such paraliturgical exercises as the ayin always made a place for individual instrumental interludes, when the sacred influence of a single performer could establish a sublime atmosphere! The melodic form could be simple, the performance uncomplicated - what mattered was that the performer was in a state or station, and conveyed it to teh hearers thru' the music, as a Zen calligrapher might, at a moment of enlightenment, create a simple brushstroke design, that would intensively move and inspire a later beholder. 'Just some thoughts ...

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  11. Your music is amazing. You have some very talented artists. I wish you the best of success. sham idrees dirty

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  12. Bacana, Obrigado por compartilhar amigo

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  13. I have lived in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, North Africa, East Africa and Dubia. I love the market and the music I find it speaks a new language to my ears, and actually is dangerously sensuous and I find it thrilling, more so than any other music on Earth! Thank you for sharing.

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  14. I have lived in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, North Africa, East Africa and Dubia. I love the market and the music I find it speaks a new language to my ears, and actually is dangerously sensuous and I find it thrilling, more so than any other music on Earth! Thank you for sharing.

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  15. what does tarab mean

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