Myths and Misconceptions

Andrea Deagon

New member
A'isha --

Judging from your last post, apparently I've misunderstood you, since apparently we agree on almost everything about the broader dance culture in the time leading up to the early 20th century.

To recap: That potentially and in some manifestations at least it involved: complexity in movement; subtle interpretation of complex music; expression of feminine essence (at least in cases where the performer was female or sufficiently transgendered); aesthetics like those described by al Faruqi; desire to create tarab in audiences; emphasis on soloists in some cases; to some extent and in some cases urban locale; probably rarely (though this needs more elaboration with archival research by someone, not likely to be me) adaptation or adoption of Western dress for elite audiences.

What it did not include was ballroom dance steps, Westernized techniques in other areas such as use of the arms, use of proscenium stages in a way that evolved primarily in Western theater, bra and belt costumes (except in the case of some Eastern performers in the 1900's thru 1920's who performed primarily in the West), and accoutrements like veils (again, except for some Eastern performers who mainly worked in the West).

This is certainly enough to qualify it as a new style, and I do regard raqs sharqi as a specific art that was created in the early 20th century.

My emphasis on the phenomenon, though, is the permeabiliy of its borders, and the presence of most of its key elements as realities or potentials in the underlying dance culture that existed before it and exists alongside it and is affected by it and provided the base for it. To revert to an earlier metaphor, it interests me that almost all of the elements that make crimson special are included in the definition of red, while you are most concerned to identify red as a specific phenomenon (which of course it is). I think we spend a lot of time arguing over quibbles, which would be pathetic except that it's also so educational. I always learn a lot in these discussions, and it's very helpful to hash through all of these ideas.
 

Andrea Deagon

New member
tarab music

A'isha,

I use the term "tarab music" precisely because Ali Jihad Racy does. In addition to a few workshops and discussions with various musicians, he's my best source and especially my best historical source for Arab music. (I envy your personal connections with musicians -- there ain't too many around here.) He speaks of "tarab culture" and "tarab music" as for example when he describes a wedding, commenting that as "a collective celebration marked by socializing and feasting, it generated an atmosphere of elation (bast, or kayf) perfectly suited for producing and listenting to tarab music." He calls it this because the experience of tarab was such a central value and aim in the takht ensemble. But I don't think he coined this use of tarab to describe music and culture, I think it's in use.
 

cathy

New member
For me and others who might be following along in this discussion, a couple of definitions might come in handy:

1) tarab music--Andrea, did you mean classical Arab music of the tahkt form, or something wider? This term is often used nowadays in a larger context, including afropop.

2) Ghawazee--is this an ethnic group, a class of performers, or something in between? Traveling tribe within Egypt?

Thanks, Cathy
 

cathy

New member
A'isha,

I use the term "tarab music" precisely because Ali Jihad Racy does. In addition to a few workshops and discussions with various musicians, he's my best source and especially my best historical source for Arab music. (I envy your personal connections with musicians -- there ain't too many around here.) He speaks of "tarab culture" and "tarab music" as for example when he describes a wedding, commenting that as "a collective celebration marked by socializing and feasting, it generated an atmosphere of elation (bast, or kayf) perfectly suited for producing and listenting to tarab music." He calls it this because the experience of tarab was such a central value and aim in the takht ensemble. But I don't think he coined this use of tarab to describe music and culture, I think it's in use.

Thanks, you have answered one question already! I have read Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab by A. J. Racy. It's excellent. I only wish he addressed dance more. From what I gather his wife is a dancer so I was surprised that dance as tarab did not come up in the book.

Cathy
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance etc.

Dear Andrea,
A'isha --

J
udging from your last post, apparently I've misunderstood you, since apparently we agree on almost everything about the broader dance culture in the time leading up to the early 20th century.

A'isha writes- I think it is all too easy to not really understand what another person is saying within the boundaries of the written word, and the space allowed. If you will look back over my posts, you will see that I never said that belly dance sprang whole from nothingness. I have suggested however, that too many students of the dance have relied solely on movement as their one claim that the dances are alike, when in fact, even that movement base has refinement from one dance form to another, that makes each dance what it is.... in part only.

To recap: That potentially and in some manifestations at least it involved: complexity in movement; subtle interpretation of complex music; expression of feminine essence (at least in cases where the performer was female or sufficiently transgendered);
A'isha writes- Certainly. though some insist that there is no such thing as "feminine essence", and that it depends completely on the gender of the person dancing whether this phenomenon exists.

aesthetics like those described by al Faruqi; desire to create tarab in audiences; emphasis on soloists in some cases; to some extent and in some cases urban locale; probably rarely (though this needs more elaboration with archival research by someone, not likely to be me) adaptation or adoption of Western dress for elite audiences.
A'isha In my opinion, one can put on western clothing all day and still not reflect anything western!! I am reminded of the buttons and medals of soldier seen on the clothing of Indian women in a local museum. they were used neither as button or medals, but instead in an entirely different way, since the cultural nuance of military buttons and medals was lost on the Indians in this area for many years. I think tarab is not a side effect that one can consciously create, but rather a thing that happens when all the elements come together perfectly, if that makes sense. it is a thing that musicians strive after and occasionally achieve.

What it did not include was ballroom dance steps, Westernized techniques in other areas such as use of the arms, use of proscenium stages in a way that evolved primarily in Western theater, bra and belt costumes (except in the case of some Eastern performers in the 1900's thru 1920's who performed primarily in the West), and accoutrements like veils (again, except for some Eastern performers who mainly worked in the West).

This is certainly enough to qualify it as a new style, and I do regard raqs sharqi as a specific art that was created in the early 20th century.
A'isha writes- Thank you for taking the time to say so.


My emphasis on the phenomenon, though, is the permeabiliy of its borders, and the presence of most of its key elements as realities or potentials in the underlying dance culture that existed before it and exists alongside it and is affected by it and provided the base for it. To revert to an earlier metaphor, it interests me that almost all of the elements that make crimson special are included in the definition of red, while you are most concerned to identify red as a specific phenomenon (which of course it is). I think we spend a lot of time arguing over quibbles, which would be pathetic except that it's also so educational. I always learn a lot in these discussions, and it's very helpful to hash through all of these ideas.
A'isha writes- I have pretty much continuously stated that the fundamental movement base for dances from the Middle East and North Africa seems to consist pretty much movements that are found ubiquitously there. But...... that movement base is very malleable and does not remain just at a fundamental level in many of the dances. It is often pretty easy to distinguish one dance from another, even when they have these base moves in common, because of all of the other elements in the different dances and music, and because of the distinct ways in which movement is used in the specific dances. This is what I have been trying to say, and that belly dance came along and added other nuances, very fresh in the urban setting, influenced internationally but still developed through a distinct cultural filter.

I think what happens is that we tend to get off track, not stick to the subject at hand and we get side tracked so that pretty soon we lose track of the conversation. I am very used to being misunderstood because I do see things from a different persepective in that I am constantly striving for specificity so that we will all develop a clearer view. Hence, raqs sharghi, Beledi, Saidi, Kochek, Nubian, etc, are all their own dances in both feeling and spirit, though they may share a movement base. I think we really have to be this clear if we are to begin to understand and pass on specific knowledge about the specific dances and get out of the habit of lumping them together as we have for so long.

Regards,
A'isha
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Tarab

A'isha,

I use the term "tarab music" precisely because Ali Jihad Racy does. In addition to a few workshops and discussions with various musicians, he's my best source and especially my best historical source for Arab music. (I envy your personal connections with musicians -- there ain't too many around here.) He speaks of "tarab culture" and "tarab music" as for example when he describes a wedding, commenting that as "a collective celebration marked by socializing and feasting, it generated an atmosphere of elation (bast, or kayf) perfectly suited for producing and listenting to tarab music." He calls it this because the experience of tarab was such a central value and aim in the takht ensemble. But I don't think he coined this use of tarab to describe music and culture, I think it's in use.
Dear Andrea,
I don't mean to speak from Dr, Racy but perhaps his English may not have allowed him to express what he meant in a more specific way. The idea of an atmosphere of bast being generated, would lead me to believe that tarab was a result of this spirit and feeling in the entire situation, and not a specific form of music. This is what I have from one of Jihad Racys works with Jack Logan. "In Arabic the word means enchantment. It refers generally to the connection between the audience and musicians in performance, sort of like everyone being in "the zone" together. It is also the name of a feeling in the music and of a maqam."
I am currently looking at my notes for my music class and I have a paragraph in here that also discusses Lown and mentions Lown Tarab, or " The color of enchantment" and discusses the Tarab maqam as being improvisational.

Regards,
A'isha
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Dance etc

For me and others who might be following along in this discussion, a couple of definitions might come in handy:

1) tarab music--Andrea, did you mean classical Arab music of the tahkt form, or something wider? This term is often used nowadays in a larger context, including afropop.

2) Ghawazee--is this an ethnic group, a class of performers, or something in between? Traveling tribe within Egypt?

Thanks, Cathy

Dear Cathy,
 

Andrea Deagon

New member
tarab music

We're busy tonight!

I think it will help to quote some more from Racy's Making Music in the Arab World.

Pages 5-6. Quote begins:

[Tarab] denotes a number of closely related phenomena. First, the word is used generically sa a reference to the indigenous, essentially secular music of Near-Eastern Arab cities. In other words, it denotes the theoretically based, modally structured, and professionally oriented tradition of music making ... The term tarab is similar in meaning to the word fann, which literally means "art," or "craft," and has been used in reference to the local urban music. Quite prevalent is the expression fann al-tarab, which means "the art of tarab," and similarly denotes the music as an artistic domain. In a more specific sense, however, "tarab" refers to an older repertoire, which is rooted in the pre-World-War II musical practice in Egypt and the east-Mediterranean Arab world and is directly associated with emotional evocation.

The term "tarab" also describes the musical effect per se, or more specifically, the extraordinary emotional state evoked by the music... In familiar terms, tarab can be described as a musically induced state of ecstasy, or as "enchantment" (Danielson 1997: 11-12), "aesthetic emotion" (Lagrange 1996:17) and "the feeling roused by music" (Shiloah 1995:16). In this book the familiar term "ecstasy" is used ... (End quote)

Cathy, I didn't realize that tarab music was used to describe afropop. Oh dear. But no reason afropop can't produce ecstasy, I guess. I was using it mainly to refer to the music of the takht ensemble, since this form of music & ensemble existed before raqs sharqi and exhibited the kind of complexity raqs sharqi shows.

As dancers we obviously gravitate to the "familiar terms" Racy describes, since the other uses seem to refer specifically to music rather than dance. But I do think the term is overused a bit now -- used to mean ecstasy but cut off from its roots in traditional musical forms. But hey, if afropop is tarab music, then we're not the only ones using tarab in this way.
 

Andrea Deagon

New member
ghawazee

Cathy says: Ghawazee--is this an ethnic group, a class of performers, or something in between? Traveling tribe within Egypt?

Andrea says: Western observers in the 19th century sources describe them in many different ways, some alluding to change in the meaning. So after reading any number of 19th century sources, I have no idea what Ghawazee means. Or maybe, too many ideas. Can I answer your question, "Yes"?? :lol:

Seriously, the problem is that even when you have a linguist like Burkhardt giving the answer, with Arabic terms carefully distinguished, it's not wholly clear how the Egyptians themselves used the term, or whether it might have had different uses either in different geographical areas or based on rural vs. urban lines, or whether it might have been loosely used of different categories of dancers who might have had different ethnic origins and performance venues but still were called by the same name.

I wonder if the popular usage of the term "gypsy" is parallel in some ways. We take it as refering to the Roma, distinct ethnic group, but it can be used (and has traditionally been used) to describe travelers and entertainers of other ethnicities as well, though in both cases there is stereotyped expectation about what they are like, their professions, and so on, and a fair amount of actual overlap in the sorts of professions they follow (if only because they are the kind of things itinerates do best).
 

cathy

New member
Cathy says: Ghawazee--is this an ethnic group, a class of performers, or something in between? Traveling tribe within Egypt?

Andrea says: Western observers in the 19th century sources describe them in many different ways, some alluding to change in the meaning. So after reading any number of 19th century sources, I have no idea what Ghawazee means. Or maybe, too many ideas. Can I answer your question, "Yes"?? :lol:

Seriously, the problem is that even when you have a linguist like Burkhardt giving the answer, with Arabic terms carefully distinguished, it's not wholly clear how the Egyptians themselves used the term, or whether it might have had different uses either in different geographical areas or based on rural vs. urban lines, or whether it might have been loosely used of different categories of dancers who might have had different ethnic origins and performance venues but still were called by the same name.

I wonder if the popular usage of the term "gypsy" is parallel in some ways. We take it as refering to the Roma, distinct ethnic group, but it can be used (and has traditionally been used) to describe travelers and entertainers of other ethnicities as well, though in both cases there is stereotyped expectation about what they are like, their professions, and so on, and a fair amount of actual overlap in the sorts of professions they follow (if only because they are the kind of things itinerates do best).
Dear Andrea,

This is what I suspected. Interesting that you bring up "gypsy" because it seems I have also heard it said that the Ghawazee were Roma or Sinti. Whether or not the Ghawazee were ethnically separate from others they seemed to be set apart. I hesistate to use the word "class" because I am not sure it has to do so much with class as we understand it. But it did seem to have to do with traveling, culture, and traditional occupation. They could perform in public, or in another way of putting it, they had to perform in public. As opposed (I believe) to the awalim who seemed to be another "class" or more educated, protected, from established families in the area, performing only for other women in the home. Until the breakdown of that form....

Here is another question. Are there still people who believe they are Ghawazee in ethnic origin?

This whole "ethnic origin" issue is much on my mind, between the stories of erupting ethnic violence all over the world today, and the fact that I am reading a book Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson about the origins of nationalism. The idea of one group of people having different rights and customs in a community that differ from the rights of another group of people living in the same area. The idea of how people identify THEMSELVES as belonging to particular groups. Not only a group such as "Ghawazee" but also a group such as ours, Oriental dancers. Today, being an Oriental dancer for those who participate on this forum anyway is purely a personal choice. Our community is based very much in our minds and through our keyboards only.

P.S. A. J. Racy's written English is superb. He writes in English much better than the average native speaker.

Cathy
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
Tarab, etc

We're busy tonight!

I think it will help to quote some more from Racy's Making Music in the Arab World.

Pages 5-6. Quote begins:

[Tarab] denotes a number of closely related phenomena. First, the word is used generically sa a reference to the indigenous, essentially secular music of Near-Eastern Arab cities. In other words, it denotes the theoretically based, modally structured, and professionally oriented tradition of music making ... The term tarab is similar in meaning to the word fann, which literally means "art," or "craft," and has been used in reference to the local urban music. Quite prevalent is the expression fann al-tarab, which means "the art of tarab," and similarly denotes the music as an artistic domain. In a more specific sense, however, "tarab" refers to an older repertoire, which is rooted in the pre-World-War II musical practice in Egypt and the east-Mediterranean Arab world and is directly associated with emotional evocation.

The term "tarab" also describes the musical effect per se, or more specifically, the extraordinary emotional state evoked by the music... In familiar terms, tarab can be described as a musically induced state of ecstasy, or as "enchantment" (Danielson 1997: 11-12), "aesthetic emotion" (Lagrange 1996:17) and "the feeling roused by music" (Shiloah 1995:16). In this book the familiar term "ecstasy" is used ... (End quote)

Cathy, I didn't realize that tarab music was used to describe afropop. Oh dear. But no reason afropop can't produce ecstasy, I guess. I was using it mainly to refer to the music of the takht ensemble, since this form of music & ensemble existed before raqs sharqi and exhibited the kind of complexity raqs sharqi shows.

As dancers we obviously gravitate to the "familiar terms" Racy describes, since the other uses seem to refer specifically to music rather than dance. But I do think the term is overused a bit now -- used to mean ecstasy but cut off from its roots in traditional musical forms. But hey, if afropop is tarab music, then we're not the only ones using tarab in this way.




Dear Andrea,
I have his and Dr Jack Logan's notes from "Arab Music Part 1" and his work discussing Arab improvisation "The many faces of improvisation; the Arab taqsim as a musical symbol". From what you quote from his work, and from reading my own information, it does seem he sees it as a musical situation in which this feeling of tarab might be created rather than it being a specific musical form. As dancers, I think we see music differently than Dr, Racy and when I attended a lecture by him, I noted that he is really, really in love with music and I think this state of tarab happens for him as easily as a Tibetan rinpoche falls into a stare of meditation. I do not think this is true for every musician. I respect him immensely.
He also can go off into his own flights of fancy, such as his "Ancient Egypt"
offering, which I hope to hear some day. Ann K. Rassmussen of William and Mary discussed it the Middle Eastern Studies Association Bulletin in 1997. The article , called "Made in America: Historical and Contemproray Recordings of Middle Eastern Music in the United States", discusses Racy and others and their music in some detail. I really REALLY am finding that I need to go back and look at my researches more often because I have a lot of info that I have forgotten about!
In reading his work on taqsim, I can see that his writing style is very academic and precise in quality, but I still do not think that there is a specific kind of music called "tarab music", but that tarab can happen under the p[erfect conditions. He writes in his taqsim lecture that "the free composing and improvising along certain melodic models seemed to resist any rational typology of their grouping". Though he does not use the word "tarab" when discussing the altered state of consciousness of the improvisational work of jazz musician and the "duende" offerings of the Flamenco musician, he does hint that this is all a sort of magical process and I believe he relates it to the Arab tarab at some point in this lecture.... I just can not find where. He does discuss "saltanah" or ecstatic content in that is tied to feeling the cultural emotional language of the music, etc.
Regards,
A'isha
 
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Andrea Deagon

New member
more tarab

One of the parts of Racy's work that particularly interested me was his discussion of the relationship between musicians and "good listeners," ones who were able to appreciate the music and reach the state of tarab easily. He also spoke of the jalsah, or small musical gathering, where socializing would lead to music making but everyone there knew they were really there to experience tarab, and that was what happened. He did present it as something that could be counted on to happen.

I wish we dancers would do something like that. I am on hiatus from professional performing right now, and not sure if I'll go back to it. But I'm dancing beautifully, if I do say so myself. I would love to go to a gathering of dancers where the expectation was that we would all dance as the mood took us, and reach this state of tarab both as watchers and as performers. I think a dance version of the jalsah would be a wonderful change from the seminar show (where we see each other) and restaurant show (where we have to be careful about distracting people too much from their dinners), which are where most performing opportunities lie. I also find that the experience of tarab is elusive and ephemeral, but if we cultivated all of our dancing to feel and share it, and to reach it through the dancing of others as well, maybe we would find it more reliable. But we don't tend to use our energies in this way, more's the pity.
 

Andrea Deagon

New member
One little note about tarab again -- I suspect it has a wide and varied semantic field (as linguists say) -- meaning that it can take on different meanings and holds meanings that do not align with any one word or statable concept in English. It may be like "classics," which describes my academic field, Classics/Classical Studies, which I have to subtitle "which is anything to do with ancient Greece and Rome" because to some people "classics" means great works of literature in English, while for others (or in other circumstances) it means anything that has withstood the test of time in any field. So it has a traditional meaning that has faded a little (the Greek and Roman stuff) but is usually understood more generally. And "Classic" has other implications as well. I had the impression that Dr. Racy was describing usages that would be part of the definition if you looked it up in a dictionary, and expanding on that. The concept of tarab as ecstasy/enchantment would then be a uniting element across the different usges.
 

cathy

New member
One of the parts of Racy's work that particularly interested me was his discussion of the relationship between musicians and "good listeners," ones who were able to appreciate the music and reach the state of tarab easily. He also spoke of the jalsah, or small musical gathering, where socializing would lead to music making but everyone there knew they were really there to experience tarab, and that was what happened. He did present it as something that could be counted on to happen.

I wish we dancers would do something like that. I am on hiatus from professional performing right now, and not sure if I'll go back to it. But I'm dancing beautifully, if I do say so myself. I would love to go to a gathering of dancers where the expectation was that we would all dance as the mood took us, and reach this state of tarab both as watchers and as performers. I think a dance version of the jalsah would be a wonderful change from the seminar show (where we see each other) and restaurant show (where we have to be careful about distracting people too much from their dinners), which are where most performing opportunities lie. I also find that the experience of tarab is elusive and ephemeral, but if we cultivated all of our dancing to feel and share it, and to reach it through the dancing of others as well, maybe we would find it more reliable. But we don't tend to use our energies in this way, more's the pity.
Andrea,

I absolutely agree with you, and had this exact thought when reading that book. If I recall correctly Racy uses "tarab" for the feeling generated in the audience or other musicians and "saltanah" is the corresponding state in the musician or singer....I can't say I have ever been lucky enough to feel the latter. But I have felt the former from watching a very few dancers. I can't remember the word for "good listener" but that is what a really good dancer is. Perfectly at one with, moved by, the music. What you describe would be the ideal way to appreciate dance.

For myself I can't imagine devoting the time and energy to it if what we were aiming to achieve was merely light background entertainment, carefully planned not meant to distract restaurant goers from their meals.

Cathy
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Jelseh, etc

DEar Andrea

One of the parts of Racy's work that particularly interested me was his discussion of the relationship between musicians and "good listeners," ones who were able to appreciate the music and reach the state of tarab easily. He also spoke of the jalsah, or small musical gathering, where socializing would lead to music making but everyonethere knew they were really there to experience tarab, and that was what happened. He did present it as something that could be counted on to happen.
A'isha writes- I am not sure what Dr, Racy was discussing, but Jelseh is a type of folkloric music from the Arabian Gulf, in which oud is played and there is singing, usually presented at a party. I have a private tape of Abdulmajid Abdullah playing Jelseh style at a private party that one of my Gulf freinds attended and he explained the music and the meaning, etc. Yes, one of the purposes of Jelseh is to create a feeling of community and enchantment with the music, the time, the night, the feeling, etc. I have been fortunate enough to see tarab in action in a a very Arab way a couple of times when Gulf guys have gotten together for a party, singing and playing. The music is very soft and sort of plaintive, though I am not sure what the themes are.

I wish we dancers would do something like that. I am on hiatus from professional performing right now, and not sure if I'll go back to it. But I'm dancing beautifully, if I do say so myself. I would love to go to a gathering of dancers where the expectation was that we would all dance as the mood took us, and reach this state of tarab both as watchers and as performers.

A'isha writes- Mouna,Suheir and Aida Nour can do this for me even on video. Mouna can certainly create tarab in me in person as well!! I never got the pleasure of seeing Suhair perform in person, alas!!


I think a dance version of the jalsah would be a wonderful change from the seminar show (where we see each other) and restaurant show (where we have to be careful about distracting people too much from their dinners), which are where most performing opportunities lie. I also find that the experience of tarab is elusive and ephemeral, but if we cultivated all of our dancing to feel and share it, and to reach it through the dancing of others as well, maybe we would find it more reliable. But we don't tend to use our energies in this way, more's the pity.

A'isha writes- I agree.


Regards,
A'isha
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
Tarab, etc.

Dear Andrea,

One little note about tarab again -- I suspect it has a wide and varied semantic field (as linguists say) -- meaning that it can take on different meanings and holds meanings that do not align with any one word or statable concept in English.
A'isha writes- I think this is very possible, but I do believe it is not based on any technical process, but instead on feeling and emotional content, though improvisation is its techincial core, nearly as I can tell.

It may be like "classics," which describes my academic field, Classics/Classical Studies, which I have to subtitle "which is anything to do with ancient Greece and Rome" because to some people "classics" means great works of literature in English, while for others (or in other circumstances) it means anything that has withstood the test of time in any field. So it has a traditional meaning that has faded a little (the Greek and Roman stuff) but is usually understood more generally. And "Classic" has other implications as well. I had the impression that Dr. Racy was describing usages that would be part of the definition if you looked it up in a dictionary, and expanding on that. The concept of tarab as ecstasy/enchantment would then be a uniting element across the different usges.
A'isha writes- I agree with this, as it makes perfect sense within his and others' attempts at definition.
Regards,
A'isha
 
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