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Paper 9: Music in Middle Eastern Societies

Aims and objectives

This course will explore issues in ethnomusicology through a study of musical practices in different Middle Eastern societies. We will examine different types of Middle Eastern music and the aesthetic principles underlying them, critique traditional and contemporary attitudes towards music and explore the multiple roles of music and musicians in different Middle Eastern societies, historically and in the present day.

Description of the course

As a music cultural area the Middle East spans the lands bordering the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, continuing through West and Central Asia; it includes the regions known as the Maghreb, the Levant, the Arabian peninsula, the Caucasus and former Soviet Republics; its influence extends into Greece, the Balkans and elsewhere in Southern and Eastern Europe. Birthplace of the Abrahamic religions — principally Judaism, Christianity and Islam — the Middle East remains home to diverse faith communities. Since its rise in the seventh century, Islam has dominated, exerting a profound influence on culture and society, including music.

Taking a case study approach we will explore selected musical practices of different Middle Eastern societies, focusing primarily on urban art, sacred and popular traditions. We will focus on a range of issues including musical aesthetics; the interplay between music and religion, politics, and the sonic environment; gender and ethnicity; the effects of mass media, and encounters with the West. Examples will be drawn primarily from North Africa and the core Middle East (e.g. Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran), including diasporic communities, but may also include other areas. You will be encouraged to focus on two or three areas of your choice. You are not expected to have any prior knowledge of the Middle East or its music.

Lecturer: Ruth Davis

Person Dr Ruth Davis

Study Music at Cambridge