Between the 8th and 15th centuries, the Arab world produced significant musicologists and musical performers and singers (in addition to engineers, architects, calligraphers, as well as philosophers, physicians, mathematicians and other scientists). For almost eight centuries (711-1492 AD), Arabic civilization flourished in the Iberian Peninsula, which the Arabs knew as Al-Andalus (covering most of present-day Spain and parts of Portugal). During that period, the cities of Cordova, Seville, Toledo, and Granada were among the most renowned cities of Europe as centres of arts, sciences and music; competing with other centres of Arab culture, such as Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Fez. Andalusia during the Arabic period has been described by Professor María Rosa Menocal of Yale University as the Ornament of the World. It was a source of envy for medieval Europe and in certain ways an inspiration for the European Renaissance.
A significant aspect of the Arab Andalusian legacy has been in lyrical poetry and music. Cordova in particular attracted Arabic scholars, poets, composers and musicians, including some from the Arab east. One of those who arrived there from Baghdad in the early 9th century was the most celebrated singer, composer and fashion innovator, ‘Ali Ibn Nafi‘, better known by his attractive nickname, Ziryab (which means Blackbird, in recognition of the quality of his singing voice). He arrived in Andalusia about 822 AD and enchanted the court of Cordova for years with his wit and cultural refinement and above all with his music and songs. He established the first conservatory of music in Cordova and his teaching methods are still influential across the Arab world today.
Andalusian Arabic music developed further after Ziryab’s time, and special forms of Arabic lyrical poems were composed to be set to popular music, particularly in the melodious meters of the muwashshah (موشح) and zajal (زجـل) styles, by such great poets as Ibn Zaydoun, Princess Wallada, Ibn Sahl, Ibn Quzman. The last famous such poet was the 14th century Lisan al-Din of Granada, whose celebrated muwashshah “Jadaka al-Ghaythu (جـادك الغيث)” is sung by Fayrouz (فـيروز), and also by the Andalus Arabic Choir. The Andalusian Arabic muwashshah (موشح) style has continued to influence the living musical traditions of Arab North Africa, Ottoman and later Turkish music as well as modern Arabic music and songs in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. The same Andalusian musical tradition has found echoes in the Troubadour poetry and Provencal music in Western Europe.
The AAC is unique in that it has amongst its choristers Australians who don’t speak any Arabic and many native Arabic speakers whose background is in several Arab countries in the Middle-East and North Africa. It is such a multicultural, open and welcoming artistic venture that reflects the Andalusian society under Arab rule more than a thousand years ago.The Andalus Arabic Choir is directed by Ghada Daher, and accompanied by gifted musicians and vocalists. Their songs magically transfer you to Cordova or Seville, or to Lebanon or Baghdad or Cairo or Damascus or Fez… or to your own childhood … or to all the above!…
By Prof. Ahmad Shboul (University of Sydney)