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Middle Eastlocked

  • Philip V. Bohlman


The Middle East as a musical area is recognizable in patterns of historical, geographical, religious and musical continuities, yet is also subject to discontinuities that result in part from extensive cultural and political conflict, and geographical and geo-cultural divisions (e.g. mountains/desert, urban/rural). Scholarly traditions espousing the musical unity of the Middle East are based primarily on the theoretical similarities in the art musics of the region; on the extensive presence of Islam throughout the region, with its historical, linguistic and aesthetic influences on musical practices in virtually all Middle Eastern societies, even non-Islamic; and on the geographical location of the Middle East, historically imagined as lying ‘between’ Europe and both Asia and Africa. If the musics of the Middle East display unity when viewed from the top down, discontinuity predominates when local practices or hybrid traditions are viewed from the bottom up. As a regional musical culture the Middle East is the historical template for tension between canonic traditions and extensive variation, religious ideologies and aesthetic resistance to them, and the pull between centralized repertories and fragmentation at geographical peripheries....

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