If I had a soul… February 24, 2011, 11:50:54 PM

This is a heavily modified and edited version of a message that I sent to someone on Last.fm that inquired about Arabic music.

I’ll list you some classical Egyptian artists and some places for metal from the Middle East and North Africa.   The oud, nay, qanun and tabla are played differently depending on the country you’re looking at.  Also should be noted that a downtuned violin and accordion are used in most post 1950’s modern Arab musical ensembles.

Quote from: Source

The Oud is a fretless short neck lute played with a long plectrum called “risha”. The Oud has 5 pairs of strings tuned in unison, and one bass string. The tuning of the Oud is in 4th’s (low to high: CFADGC). The Oud is the instrument of choice for singers and composers.

The Nay is an end-blown cane flute with six finger holes and one thumb hole. The technique of playing the nay requires partially covering the top end with the lips and directing a very soft stream of air against the inside wall of the tube. The sound of the Nay has been likened to weeping, but it can also be very exciting. A Nay player uses a set of 7 or more Nays, each in a different key.

The Qanun is a lap-zither with 26 courses of triple strings that rest on a bridge of fish skin. The Qanun player wears a plectrum on the 1st finger of each hand which is heald in place by a wide metal ring. Along the left side of the Qanun a complex system of levers called “‘Uraab” allow the player to introduce accidentals during performance by adjusting the tuning in micro-intervals.

The Riq is a fish skin tamborine with 5 pairs of heavy brass cymbals. It is the main percussion instrument in Arabic Classical music, and uses a wide variety of sounds and techniques to create intricate rhythmic patterns. The riq has 2 styles of playing: the delicate classical technique and the louder folk / pop technique.

The Daf is a goat or calf skin frame drum which is used in folk, pop music and sacred music such as Zikr or Sufi ceremonies. The sound of the daf is very warm and resonant, and it’s light weight and small size allow it to be played while dancing or walking.

(a.k.a. Tabla, Derbaki, Doumbek) The Darbuka is a ceramic goblet shaped drum with a fish skin on one side. The darbuka is the essential instrument for dance music throughout the Middle East, loved for it’s powerful sound and energetic playing style. The darbuka is held sideways over one leg while playing.

For information on Arabic instruments in full here is a site that is very informative:

I have memories of Egypt so I’m partial to music from that region. This site drops some of the great names of the past:

Quote from: Site

Egypt’s importance in Arabic music is shown by the fact that many of the great masters of Arabic music were Egyptian: Sayed Darwish, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Umm Kulthum, Mohamed Al-Qasabji, Zakariyya Ahmad, and Riad Al-Sunbati just to name a few. Egypt has also opened its doors to artists of other countries, some of them persecuted in their own lands. For example, when Abu Khalil Al-Qabani was accused in Syria of being a negative influence on the youth, he went to Cairo and there founded the first true orchestra for Arabic music. Egypt loves its musicians, and it is said that the funeral of Egypt’s greatest singer, Umm Kulthum, in 1975 was larger than that of President Nasser.

There is Farid Al-Atrach who was a famous actor, singer and wonderful oud player.

Quote from: Source

Farid al Atrash was born 1915 in syria to a druze family of princes which moved to egypt in the 1920’s. Farid’s Mother was playing the oud and was a singer as well and his sister Asmahan was a popular singer as well. Farid studied in a music school under the hands of the legendary Riyad al Sunbati.

Farid was an virtuoso oud player, a talented composer, a singer and an actor. He consider as one of the most important names of the arabic music in the 20th century. Farid al Atrash has left a great legacy to the music of the arab world. Farid’s career of 4 decades was long full of colours and inspirations. As a composer he composed songs in various styles. Farid maintained that although some of his music had Western musical influence, he always stayed true to Arab music principles.

The majority of Farid compositions were about feelings, romantics and love but he also composed several songs of patriotism and religous content.

Farid resume was including 31 movies where he was the star and he recorded an amazing number of about 350 songs. The Great Egyptian icon, oud virtuoso and composer contributed his work to the great artist of that time as Warda, Sabah and Wadih Al Safi.

Farid died in December 1974 at a lebanese hospital in of beirut a short time after arriving. he was buried alongside his brother and sister.

Then there is the legendary Mohamed Abdel Wahab.  More videos here.

Quote from: Source

Legendary Egyptian composer, Oud player, singer and actor Mohamed Abdelwahab, was born in 1907 in Cairo, Egypt.

Mohamed Abdelwahab made his first recording while he was 13. In 1924, it was the Prince of Poets, Ahmed Shawky who adopted him. A little later, Abdel Wahab played oud before Ahmed Shawqi and then began to write melodies to his texts by the late 1920s.
Inspired by Western melodies and French musical presentations, Mohamed Abdelwahab created a novel kind of romantic films dominated by urban sophistication. His music also turned to simplicity and innovation. The film “The White Flower” was a big success and achieved huge attendance records.
Many actresses found way to success thanks to this tendency such as Leila Mourad. Abdelwahab also introduced new musical instruments and styles leading that way to the most important musical revolution of the 20th century in Egypt and from to Arab countries.
In the 1950s, Mohamed Abdel Wahab switched to a singing career till the 1960s while he just devoted himself to composing for other singers. Thus, he composed 10 songs for Omm Kalthum, Abdelhalim Hafez, Ismahane… He was responsible for more than a thousand songs including one hundred he sang himself.
Mohamed Abdelwahab died in 1991.

There is also Abdel Halim Hafez who was a very influential actor, singer and conductor that died early.  His melodies and songs are still famous to this day.  More videos here.


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Abdel Halim Ali Shabana commonly known as Abdel Halim Hafez (June 21, 1929 – March 30, 1977), is among the most popular and celebrated singers ever in Egypt and the Arab world. Halim was also an actor, conductor, music teacher and movie producer. He is widely considered one of the Great 4 of Arabic music along with Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Farid Al Attrach. His name is sometimes written as Abd el-Halim Hafez, and he is also widely known as el-Andaleeb el-Asmar (The Great Dark Skinned Nightingale). He is widely regarded as the greatest male musician ever in the Arab world.

Modern oud player that is amazing is Dr. Atef Abdel Hameed.

Hossam Ramzy and Said El Artist are the modern tabla geniuses of Egypt.

Hossam Ramzy an Egyptian professional percussionist, composer and music arranger.

Said Al Artist is also a professional Egyptian percussionist with an line of signature drums in by his name.  He prefers to make massive compositions, tabla concerts, versus tabla solos which Ramzy loves to do.

Quote from: Adam Greenberg, All Music Guide

Mohamed Naiem, a mainstay of the Egyptian nightclub virtuoso scene, is likely best-known internationally for his work behind Hossam Ramzy on a number of albums. Here, he’s accompanied by Ramzy on percussion, but he gets the chance to shine at the forefront on both the nay and the kawala. While the compositions are largely written by Naiem and Ramzy together, the tone is distinctly different from the majority of Ramzy’s work. There is no driving percussion, no synths or string arrangements here. The focus is very clearly on the nay, with only minimal accompaniment. The mood is somewhat pensive, as the flutes lend themselves well to such, and the content itself ranges from devotional hymns and prayers to Allah, to almost poetic love odes. This album is one of a very few on the market to show the nay in its own right, with some stunning lines here and there, but primarily in a state of contemplation, evoking a voice (which is the ultimate goal of the player). Naiem is truly the star of this album, and he makes the most of it with his formidable abilities.

Not much is known about Mr. Helmy.

Hossam Ramzy’s two disc set called “Rhythms of the Nile” explains the different Egyptian tablas and tabla beats . Here is a youtube series that is beats from many regions including the different Egyptian styles done by someone named Mansour:

Maged Serour (Turkish) does wonderful work on the Qanun.


Quote from: Source

Professor Maged Serour, Well known in the Middle East and internationally as one of the top players of Qanun. Professor Maged Serour is in constant demand, recording with the best artists from the region and leading the most acclaimed ensembles and orchestras in the Middle East. Up to eight years of practicing and following a conservatory program are needed to learn how to play this instrument… and Maged holds a doctorate! This is no simple instrument to play. Just try tuning the 72 strings. But when the Professor plucks this harp the sound is nothing short of heavenly. In our opinion, the Qanun is the most angelic of all the instruments… and Maged is the master. The Professor is one of the most amazing musicians we have ever encountered. [hybrid-records.com]

Little is know about the Egyptian qanun player, Amin Fahmi, but here is something from him so you can see the Egyptian style of qanun.

There is one specifically Egyptian instrument called the arghoul and it is mainly played in falahi (farmer) dance music and music from Upper Egypt (Saidi):

Quote from: Source

Arghoul (from Arabic “urgun” meaning organ), an ancient wind instrument dating from the 5th and 6th centuries played originally by peasants. Often called the Egyptian “oboe,” the Arghoul is made of 2 pipes held together by wax-coated strings from cloth or rope. The main pipe consists of 5 to 7 punctures, and segments of varying length can be added to the longer pipe to change the overall tonality and pitch of the instrument. There are 3 different sizes of Arghoul, the largest one posing the greatest challenge to the musician — the distance between the holes can be difficult to reach and the musician has to breath in constantly and blow in a circular fashion. It is one of the instruments that frequently accompanies traditional and folk performances. The oldest professional Arghoul musician, Mostafa Abdel Aziz, died in 2002.

Arghul – A double-reed pipe, also called an “Egyptian oboe”. It looks like an oboe but the Arghul, like the Kawala, can produce a soulful, wailing sound similar to that of a clarinet.

This album by Fathy Salama should give you a nice supplementary list of more modern players too:


Quote from: Source

Album Camel Road 1996

Fathy Salama (ep, tara), Hossam Shaker (kanun), Ayman Sedky (perc), Gaafar Hargal (bongos), Ramadan Mansour (tabla, dof)

Special Guests:
Kamil Erdem (eb) – Asia minor, Ankara, Turkey, Fekry Sabry (hi-hat), Mohamed Mostafa (rababa). Mohamed Fouda (nai, kawala), Mostafa Abd El Nabi (viol), Mamdouh El Gebaly (oud), Moustafa Abd El Azyz (argoul), Husenien Hendy (mezmar), Ali Klay (sagat, toura), Nashat Yehya (rik), Gamalat Shiha (voc), Mamdouh Byrm (voc), Tarek El Zyn (tanboura), Somya Hassan, Khalda El Gnyd, Zynb El Horys, Abd El Hady Mohamed, Hamed Mousa (Sudanese – voc)

With “Camel Road”, the second “Sharkiat” recording produced by Face Music, it is even more clear how deeply Fathy Salama and his fellow musicians are committed to the back-to-the-roots concept. Fathy himself is continually proving this with other groups, such as the percussion ensemble “Gouzour”. The implementation of this particular concept cannot be equated with purely nostalgic and often also transfigured entertainment music emulating some other trend. Rather more, it is the case once again of asserting a claim to present current, contemporary music – although of course, with a much more accoustic effect in comparison to the first production “Camel Dance”.

Out of this arises a form of music which – in contrast to much of what appears as recordings under labels such as “world music” – does not form some unfounded conglomeration created in the minds of producers, ultimately shaped by a Euro centric body of thought, but on the contrary, adapts current trends of musical creation in an inspired way as well as traditions in actual existence in the sphere of the performers.

Encounters with outstanding instrumentalists, such as Kamil Erdem (“Asia minor”) are ultimately really ideal per-requisites for more than just a surprising and exciting sound.

Fathy Salama is one of the fathers of “jeel,” Arabic pop.

Quote from: Source

Fathy Salama was born by the Nile, when he was a child he swam there with his friends.

He grew up listening to the family radio, which played the music of Oum Kalthoum, Abdelwahab and Farid el Attrash.
Later, when he could tune the radio, he reached beyond the banks of the Nile to Jazz and to a huge variety of world traditional music.

Learning the piano from the age of six was a good beginning and was followed by gigging in Cairo clubs from the age of thirteen. Soon the kid of Shobra, Harlem of Cairo, made it to Europe and to NewYork to learn Jazz with such great artists as Sun Râ or Ossman Kareem.

Progressing to creating many hits in Cairo during 80’s, touring the world, and winning two prizes for his film sound tracks, it is with Sharkiat (is own group) that Fathy is making his dreams come true of merging modern and traditional music together, thus expressing both a message from his home country and his love of music. His music reflects his experience from the Orient and from Europe. His “success” on the music market plays a secondary role ; first and foremost he wants to be understood, and so he works tirelessly on this bridge linking traditional and modern music from the Orient.

Here is a list of Egyptian artists from Wiki to supplement all that:

Finally I leave you with a song that highlights how the violin is used in Arabic music.  The lead violinist is the talented Abboud Abdel Aal (from Lebanon born 1925).  It also shows how well integrated Western instruments became in Egyptian music which spread all over the region.

In this video, he plays the violin like a qanun in some parts. Absolutely impressive and beautiful.


I think that’s enough of a start for you for traditional styles and history. ON TO METAL (and punk?)! Surprisingly, metal is alive and struggling in the Middle East and North Africa. Hardcore punk too it seems. Here are some links for you to read regarding the history and status of metal in the region:

This right here is an article list by Chuck Foster who highlights black metal bands from that region. You have to scroll down past his recent articles for the one on this topic.

Webzine that keeps track of metal from that region of the world and hosts downloads, etc:

My personal favorites are:
Odious (Egypt)

Al-Namrood (Saudi Arabia)

Narjahanam (Bahrain)

Thamud (United Arab Emirates)

Dhul-Qarnayn (Bahrain) – Get herehere, and here.

Qafas (Bahrain)

Damaar (Lebanon)