Music and Musicians from the Banned Countries
For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet has embodied a spirit of fearless exploration. Its newest program, Music for Change, is a direct response to the 2017 executive orders limiting travel to the United States and highlights the rich diversity of artistic voices from the original seven “banned countries.” Here’s a snapshot of some of the notable musicians and music from the region.
Along with Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, Libya inherited the musical traditions of Andalusian Spain, developing its own unique manifestation of this heritage in recent centuries, known locally as ma’luf. Following independence, the new nation-state created large state ensembles in the middle of the 20th century in an effort to promote traditional Libyan music, led by prominent figures like singer and composer Mohamed Hassan.
The center of the music world in Syria is the city of Aleppo. In addition to being famous for classical art music, Aleppo is also known for a genre of beloved sing-along songs called qudud halabiya. The dabkeh is a folk dance popular throughout Greater Syria, an obligatory component of weddings and other celebratory events.
Iraq has developed a music culture incorporating unique instruments such as the coconut fiddle called the joza and the hammered dulcimer as well as unique rhythms including the 10-beat jurjuna rhythm and the rousing chobi rhythm, which accompanies line dances.
Persian music has a deep history dating from well before the birth of Islam. In recent centuries, Iran has developed creative new manifestations of Persian music culture and refined elegant instruments like the kamancheh, setar, and tar, creating a high classical art form that is the pride of the present-day nation-state of Iran.
Sudan’s music is different from the music of the rest of the Arab world in that the musical scales are composed of only five rather than seven notes per octave. In other words, Sudanese music is pentatonic rather than heptatonic. This difference gives Sudanese music a unique character and was central to the style of musicians like Abdel Karim el Kabli.
Yemen was home to a dynamic Jewish population that was geographically isolated from other Jewish peoples and developed its own unique music and dance traditions. Starting in 1949, the majority of the Yemenite Jewish population migrated to Israel. They brought with them devotional songs (diwans) with rich poetry and rhythmic dances propelled by instruments called sahn nuhasī, which are large copper plates also used as regular kitchenware.
Somalia shares musical attributes with other countries of the Horn of Africa. One of the common instruments in the region is the shareero, a type of lyre. Similar to Sudanese music, the music of Somalia is also pentatonic.
—Compiled by Ari Marcus, ‘18
Related Event: Oct 20
Bing Concert Hall
Music For Change: The Banned Countries