West Asia

Eliot Bates

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
West Asia

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Music
  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Music Education and Pedagogy



There is no single accepted way to define the boundaries of a region referred to alternatively as West Asia, the Middle East, the Near East, the Arab world, or the Eastern Mediterranean, in part because boundaries have been in constant flux, and in part because many locales within the region are profoundly connected to other places in the world. This article surveys the research on the music of the Turkish-, Armenian-, Azeri-, Hebrew-, and Kurdish-speaking world, as well as the Arab world east of the Maghreb—roughly synonymous with the territory within present-day Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. Also included are works on diasporas originating from this region. The West Asian region, paradoxically, can be characterized by both the extreme heterogeneity of local musical forms and instruments and the strong connections between the practices, instruments, and theoretical systems of the urban areas. Just within Turkey, the British zoologist/musicologist Laurence Picken discovered over one thousand unique folk instruments and repertoires that seemingly were performed solely in one locale (see Picken 1975, cited under Rural, Folk, and Traditional Musics). In contrast, Ottoman art music from Istanbul is central to Arab conservatory curricula, popular songs from Beirut and Cairo are regularly translated into Hebrew or Turkish, and instruments such as the oud, ney, zurna/mizmar, kanun, and bendir/daf are performed throughout the region. Several phenomena support the idea that there are significant cultural and musical interrelations within the region that distinguish West Asian musics from those of Central Asia and North Africa. Numerous manuscripts dating to the 10th century survived and were translated into local languages, contributing to an early widespread standardization of the conceptualization of modal theory. Centuries of Ottoman rule contributed to a circulation of musicians, instruments, and musics throughout West Asia. More recently, the region has continued to be actively connected via radio, TV, circulating sound recordings, and cross-cultural collaborations at festivals. Yet this has not resulted in a homogenization of musical practice. The formalized melodic modal systems in Turkey (makam), Egypt-Syria-Lebanon (maqām), and Azerbaijan (muqâm) share similar names but feature numerous differences regarding intonation, modulation, and the ontology of melodic modes; the rhythmic/metrical systems (iqaʾ in Arabic, usul in Turkish) feature even more divergences. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of nationalist movements were accompanied by strong upheavals in musical aesthetics, resulting in new genres (e.g., arranged folk music in Turkey, ughniyah in Egypt, Shirei Eretz Yisrael in Israel). Both local and foreign scholars have conducted considerable research in West Asia, with an overwhelming focus on music in Turkey (primarily on rural Anatolian folk musics and Ottoman urban art music), Egypt (focused on the development of the Cairo record industry and modern music institutions, and on the first generation of star performers), and Israel (focused on the oral transmission of religious music, and the post-1950s development of popular and ethnic music styles). Other scholars have created critical editions of important historical texts originally written in the Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish languages. However, much of the musical life in the region remains unstudied or understudied. With the exception of works about Yemen, few scholarly studies investigate the Arabian Peninsula, and only a handful of scholars have done work in Jordan, Iraq, and Azerbaijan, nor have many considered rural folk music in Egypt or Syria and non-Turkish-language musics in Turkey.

Article.  12227 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »