Some Countries Are Proud of Their Heritage.

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Some Countries Are Proud of Their Heritage.

Post by Hafiz »

Some Countries Are Proud of Their Heritage.

Well sort of.

Spain has treasured its Muslim architectural heritage, and remarkable garden design, in Cordoba, Toledo and Seville. There were also great scientific, medical and farming achievements and innovation in water supply, particularly agricultural irrigation. The period is often called el Andalus.

The idea that there was harmony, tolerance, openness and high civilization under Muslim leadership in Spain has been around for a while and goes back to at least Gibbon. Its contested and the truth is probably that it went up and down in waves and the crude later values of North African Muslim leaders were not a high point of anything – as you would expect.

This culture included Arabs, North Africans, Jews and Christians with Jews even getting as far as Grand Vizier. Its only in the last 40 years that detailed work has started on its music, art, philosophy, history, form of government and economics.

Their Catholic Majesty’s Isabella and Ferdinand did a Nasser (or an Edward II) and expelled hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims after 1492, probably more, but this mixed culture had come to an end long before these 2 creatures and their Brexit orthodoxy returned Spain to its purity and conformity using brute force that continued to Franco.

The Spanish and some of the finest singers in the world have been preserving and promoting the music of this diverse period since the early 60’s – long before the middle class got addicted to ‘Early Music’ and ‘Authentic Instruments’. The culture was so blended that its not easy to distinguish between Arabic, Jewish and Christian songs and, in the case of flamenco dance and music one view is that it’s a blend of all three.

Victoria de los Angeles singing a superb Jewish song composed in Spain before 1492 – she recoded many similar ones in the 1960’s supported by the great Teresa Berganza.

Modern musicians of distinction have collected and recorded the music of the Sephardic Diaspora – including in Izmir Turkey where Jews escaped to as well as to other parts of the Islamic world. Here is the great Savall and his late wife Figures performing a piece of simplicity and beauty from the 15th century.

A traditional Jewish melody from Cairo from date unknown but probably early.

Savall has done much regarding the ancient music of Spain, its Jewish heritage and dispersal and its Arab music. An odd recording of his commemorates the travels and achievements of the Andalusian traveller, precise writer and philosopher Ibn Battuta, 14th century, who visited many Islamic lands and China. The CD attempts to reconstruct the music of the period found in these lands. Two things struck Battuta about Mamluk Egypt. One the superb hospitals, that’s changed, and the generosity and public duty of the rulers, that’s also changed. Second he noticed a deal of ‘criminal indecency’ in public baths, that hasn’t changed. ... cairo-1326.

His and Figures elegant recreation (it’s a bit unclear how derived) of a song Dome of the Rock and a superb song, although sung in French, from a festival in Fez, the Moroccans have some culture and this festival is each year with world class performers, They even have a web site which works.

Savall is neither Jewish nor Muslim and receives no support from the Gulfies in documenting their music history which they are not interested in anyway.

Savall has never performed in Egypt probably because the audience goes to sleep unless you play a Strauss waltz or the worthless Yanni and he is not much interested in Egyptian culture of music which he regards as primitive. He performs everywhere including Turkey and Israel. People forget that the great General, Ataturk, loved western music and made sure that spare change was found to send promising Turkish, including women, singers, composers and instrumentalists to the greatest teacher in the world – Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She repaid the respect and toured Turkey in old age conducting local orchestras in 1962 without any criticism, No Egyptian was ever sent to her and she never visited Egypt.

A beautiful, simple and short Jewish Sephardic wedding song from Morocco which sounds like me a mixture of Spanish and African themes. The large collection of historic photos of brides is remarkable for both the elegant design of the clothing, the (presumably) traditional dress of the Jewish women and the absence of any face covering.

A band of women – never in Egypt – possibly Moroccan, definitely in Morocco and possibly mixed Moroccan and Spanish women singing traditional music which captures well the Arab influences (and Jewish) in Flamenco. Clearly some people are interested in their past and don’t draw too many lines through it. a related video of a modern Moroccan classical singer performing, wait for it, ancient Jew songs.

The modern Moroccans are interested in their musical history – led by women.

There is also western interest in Andalaus instrumental music with voice but it doesn’t grab me. and choral symphonic music played by one of the great Christian orchestras and sung by a Christian choir.

Poetry and song are connected and the great Spanish poet Lorca, an Andalusian, started a great interest in the Arabic and ancient poetry of Spain in the 1920’s. He wrote beautiful songs based on ancient musical themes and has been a major influence on subsequent poets in the Arabic world. Unfortunately he fell foul of ‘the world’s greatest army’ (Franco) and like thousands of others with a brain was killed but not before the heroic idiots cut off .....

Modern composers have created songs based on the ancient Arabic influence in Andalusia and Falla, the Spanish composer produced these two before WW2, Nana with melismas common in Spanish and some Arabic music but likely come from the Islamic period and El paño moruno (The Moorish cloth) sung by Berganza and a contralto, Borodina, in rough fashion, she’s Russian. and So unlike the Hawass/Egypt school of history there is more to the past than preserving it and worshiping it - it can influence the present.

The oddest people are interested in all aspects of classical Arabic culture, including music, – but few in the region. Here is one well funded organization, with no contributions from Egyptians or Egyptian billionaires, the Bustan Centre in Philadelphia (no Egyptian connections). which runs many programs for the general public and aims to educate people. Donors include the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Pew and the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (entirely western donors).

We all know that the world is a supermarket of different experiences from different places. Great civilizations – Greece, Roman, Mid-Islam, particularly Spain, and the best of the British Empire (a small period) had curiosity and an open door. The things they saw and incorporated made them greater and more powerful. On the other hand later Islam, and Egypt in particular, have always had a closed door on all things – including music derived from their past.

Other than a now dead expat Egyptian classical composer who collected traditional and folk music I’m not aware of anyone doing this in Egypt, if indeed art songs existed 500 years ago in Egypt, and am certain there is no interest by the Supreme Antiques who are only interested in one thing – what Hawass is ‘good’ at – if indeed he is good at anything other than cheap bluster.

An Aside. Around 1920 one of the greatest museums in the world, the Smithsonian and the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress, decided it was important to preserve the musical heritage of the US and recorded hundreds of songs of all types all sung by those who remembered them - rich or poor. One startling example is the legendary and aged Judge Learned Hand of the US Supreme Court singing a song taught to him by his nurse who was a slave. At 80 he remembered it all. The collection includes folk, horrible hillbilly, gospel, black, early blues and jazz, soul and songs typical of racial minorities and specific regions. Its a mixed bad to my tastes. Released in the last decade as CD's its a remarkable and fascinating record as well as evidence that ordinary people sing extraordinarily well - even on old recording technology. Why other countries have not done the same I do not know. Here is a small portion of their rich treasure. The filing of this larger store of music from these sources on Youtube is confusing and messy.

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