When you think of Middle Eastern music, what comes to mind? The hypnotic beats of belly dancers? The soulful strains of a classical Arabic oud? The upbeat pop sounds of modern Arab artists? The truth is, Middle Eastern music is all of these things and more. It’s a diverse and ever-evolving genre that has been shaped by centuries of culture, politics, and global influences.
Let’s take a journey through time and explore the evolution of Middle Eastern music.
First stop: the ancient world. The earliest forms of Middle Eastern music can be traced back to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, where music was an important part of religious rituals and ceremonies. Musicians played on instruments like the lyre, harp, and lute, and sang hymns in praise of their gods.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the medieval Islamic Golden Age. During this time, music thrived in the courts of the Muslim world, with poets and musicians creating complex works that blended Arabic, Persian, and Turkish influences. The royal courts were also a breeding ground for new forms of music, like the muwashshah and zajal, which blended poetry and music to create a unique art form.
Next up: the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sultans were known to be patrons of the arts, and music was no exception. The court musicians, known as the Mevlevi, were famous for their intricate compositions and performances. They also developed a unique style of music called the “Ottoman classical music” which is still popular and performed today.
As we move into the 20th century, we see the influence of Western music starting to make its mark on Middle Eastern music. With the rise of radio and recording technology, Middle Eastern artists began to incorporate elements of jazz, rock, and pop into their music. This new sound, known as “Mediterranean pop,” was hugely popular in the region and continues to be so today.
But the evolution of Middle Eastern music doesn’t stop there. With the rise of the internet and social media, it’s now easier than ever for Middle Eastern artists to connect with fans and collaborators all over the world. This has led to a new wave of cross-cultural fusion music, blending Middle Eastern sounds with everything from hip-hop to EDM.