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Islamic Modal Music identifies a common lineage for traditional classical music stretching from Morocco to central Asia. With influences dating back to ancient Greek Music, these genres became gradually formalized and diffused following the development and expansion of Islam in the 7th century, and the corresponding widespread cultural influence of Persian Classical Music, Arabic Traditional Music, and Turkish Classical Music. These traditions share a common modal system whose local variants are referred to as maqām (Arabic), dastgāh (Persian), makam (Turkish), shashmaqam (Uzbek/Tajik), muqam (Uyghur), tab' (Andalusí), mugam (Azeri), and maqam (Sephardic), even sharing many similarities with the raga of Hindustani Classical Music and echos of Byzantine Music. Thus the name does not refer to music performed only by Muslims - this modal tradition has also had a profound influence on musical styles in the non-Muslim world.

These systems are not identical however, with many of these cultures using a different number and specific set of modes. The music of these cultural groups does share many common elements, due to a common evolution and frequent cultural interaction. The similar foundational modal systems prioritize melodic phrasing over harmony, utilize a non-equal-tempered division of the octave resulting in microtonal scales, and place improvisation at the center of performance. The compositions in these styles make frequent use of song cycles and suites, often moving between vocal and instrumental sections and modulating through different modes, each of which is thought to express specific emotional content. Historically, this music was based around an oral tradition, but the 19th and 20th centuries saw efforts at placing music of the maqamic tradition within a system of European staff notation (made difficult by the many quarter tones and commas used, and the absence of absolute pitch).

Arabic Traditional Music[]

Arabic Traditional Music covers all the styles of Traditional Folk Music and Classical Music in the Arabic Peninsula and Islamic North Africa. Although there is widespread variation, most forms use at least some variant of the Arabic maqām modal system (of which there are nine main families).

Essential Compilations[]

  • Open Strings - Early Virtuoso Recordings From The Middle East, And New Responses The archival finds are, without exception, phenomenal – and mesmerizing. The oud, the santour and spike fiddle dominate. There are other instruments, but without a little more familiarity with the region’s music traditions (of which three – Arabic,Turkish and Persian – are represented here), these are difficult to accurately identify. Honest Jon’s has intentionally foregone providing any notes, instead letting the listener engage directly with the pieces, all of them improvisational performances lasting about three minutes. Listen on: Deezer | Rdio | Spotify

Arabic Classical Music[]

This tradition of Arabic classical music dates back to guidelines for modulation, rhythm and tuning set down in treatises in the 8th and 9th centuries. Like much pan-Islamic music, Arabic classical is modal (based on the maqam system) and monophonic, utilizing un-equal temperament. Unlike Arabic Folk Music, Arabic classical relies heavily on complex improvisation and modulation. Instrumental improvisations, called taqsim, generally features a solo performer, usually on a string instrument like the oud. Vocal music is accompanied by a small ensemble (as in Al-Maqam Al-Iraqi) and often involves modal improvisation (layali) and/or the recitation of poetic texts (muwashshah, mawwal).

In the 20th century Egypt was the center of activity for classical music, due to a growing entertainment and recording industry in Cairo. This led to the development of Traditional Arabic Pop, which was strongly influenced by traditional classical music.

Major modern classical artists include Munir Bashir, Yûsuf Omar and Farid el- Atrache.

Al-Maqam Al-Iraqi[]

Al-Maqam Al-Iraqi (Arabic: الـمـقـام الـعـراقـي) is an old form of Iraqi-Arabic Classical Music, considered by some as the most perfect utilization of the Arabic maqam modal system. The genre is built around set structures which consist of specific vocal maqam modes, whereby certain singing forms are used to perform poems (in Classical Arabic or in the Iraqi colloquial dialect) to the backing of an ensemble. Traditionally, the ensemble backing the mughanni (solo vocalist) would consist of the santur, the jawza, the tabla and the riqq.

Andalusian Classical Music[]

Although the origins of Andalusian classical music are unsure, it is generally thought that it had its beginnings in the Emirate of Cordoba (in Al-Andalus, the region of the Iberian Peninsula under Moorish control) in the 9th century, and sometimes Abu l-Hasan (also known as Ziryâb) is credited in particular as its inventor. It spread across North Africa, and is now most associated with Morocco.

Arabic Folk Music[]

Arabic Folk Music makes reference to the different forms of Traditional Folk Music on the Arabic regions. The wide extension of the Arabic culture helped to the creation and expansion of numerous forms of Arabic Folk Music. It's based on the maqam system of the Islamic Modal Music, but with a more populist approach than Arabic Classical Music, being used on religious chants, weddings or dances. Arabic Folk Music is mainly vocal, but also it's accompanied by some instruments like nay, arghul, mijwiz, rabab, duff, bandir, tar, and darbukkah. There exist typical forms of songs like the qasida or the ataba, based on the maqam modal system. Some of the most common Arabic Folk Music subgenres are Arabic Bellydance Music and Bedouin Music.

Arabic Bellydance Music[]

Arabic bellydance music is music used as accompaniment to traditional belly dances. It was originated in Egypt, though there are also Turkish and Greek belly dances. The music itself is performed mostly on traditional Arabic instruments (mostly on tablas, tambourines, flutes, and ouds). There are two main styles of bellydance music named Raqs Baladi/Beledi and Raqs Sharqi. Sometimes bellydancers also use Sha'abi. A couple of notable musicians within this genre are Hossam Ramzy and Issam Houshan.

Azerbaijani Traditional Music[]

Azerbaijani traditional music refers to folk and classical music from Azerbaijan, having origins in Islamic Modal Music, drawing some influences from Persian, Arabic, and Turkish traditions.

Azeri folk music includes Ashik (or Ashiq) art, which is a combination of poetry, storytelling, dance and music, usually accompanied by the saz (a type of long-necked lute). There also are many types of traditional dances of Azerbaijan, often accompanied by quick-tempo music.

The classical tradition of Azeri music is the mugam (or mugham). It contains seven modes, each with a certain emotional meaning behind it. Instruments often consist of the tar (lute), the kamancha (spike fiddle), the oud, the saz, the balaban (double-reed wind instrument), and a variety of drums. It is a modal system that uses classical poetry and, to some degree, improvisation. Although improvisation plays a key role in the music, mugam has an established set of rules in terms of structure. Composers like Fikret Amirov have written music combining mugam and Western Classical Music.

Balochi Traditional Music[]

Balochi traditional music encompasses classical, semi-classical, and folk music originating in Balochistan, a region that includes southwest Pakistan, southeast Iran, and southwest Afghanistan. Instrumentation often includes the tembûr (type of tanbur/lute), the surna (Iranian woodwind), the ney (single or double flute), the dohol (large cylindrical drum), and the suroz (vertically-played, bowed string instrument).

Moorish Music[]

Moorish Music refers to the music of the Moors, the largest ethnic group in Mauritania.

One of the most distinct Moorish musical traditions is that of the iggawin, a caste of wandering musicians similar to West African bards such as the jeli of Mande Folk Music. Their music usually consists of poetry accompanied by tidinit, an elongated four-stringed lute played by men, and ardin, a harp-lute similar to a kora, played by women. Occasionally a tbal, a kettle-drum played by women, is also included.

The music of the iggawin is more formally restrictive than that of West African traditions, reflecting the influence of Arabic Classical Music. Five modes known as bhor are used, each divided into 'black' and 'white' sections which emphasize different approaches to playing.

Notable performers of Moorish Music include Dimi Mint Abba, Ooleya Mint Amartichitt, and Moudou Ould Mattalla.

Persian Classical Music[]

Persian Classical Music is the traditional art music of the Persian civilization. While it is mostly practiced in Persia (Iran), there are also closely related forms of Classical Music in territories historically being Persian domain - modern Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Though Persian Classical Music influenced and was influenced by Arabic, Turkish, Byzantine and Indian Classical musics, it is nevertheless an independent development. It has a uniquely deep mutual relation with poetry - the rhythms and melodic patterns of poems and tunes are often interconnected. Tunes are often based on poems, but it is also not uncommon to model a new poem upon the melody and rhythm of an existing tune. Sufism is another profound influence on Persian Classical Music.

Tajik Traditional Music[]

Tajik traditional music refers to classical and folk music originating in Tajikistan. Like Uzbek Traditional Music, Tajik traditional music is rooted more in Islamic Modal Music than Turkic-Mongolic Traditional Music. Both Tajik and Uzbek music share Shashmaqam, a more classical style. One type of folk music unique to Tajikistan is falak, which is played at celebrations. Instrumentation includes the dutar, surnay, and dayereh, among others.


Shashmaqam, or Six Maqams, is a tradition shared by Tajik Traditional Music and Uzbek Traditional Music. It was named a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. The Shashmaqam is a modal suite that brings together lyrical and instrumental songs, poetry and dance. Its origins trace back to the Uzbek city of Bukhara with profound contributions from that city's historic Jewish population, as well as Sufi Islam and Persian Classical Music.

Turkish Classical Music[]

Originally developed during the time of the Ottoman Empire, classical music in Turkey was at first generally performed only in palaces, mosques and Mevlevi lodges. However, since then it has become more widespread. Turkish Classsical music uses the makam modal system, with the primary emphasis being on the singers, who are accompanied by small ensembles of musicians. Famous composers include Dede Efendi and Tanburi Cemil Bey.

Note: This should not be taken to be referring to Turkish Music written by European Classical Period composers (such as Beethoven's "Turkish March") which, although modelled to some degree after Turkish military Classical Marches, is very distant from actual Turkish classical music.

Turkmen Traditional Music[]

Turkmen traditional music refers to classical and folk music originating in Turkmenistan. Turkmen music, like Uzbek Traditional Music, is rooted in Islamic Modal Music. The music of Uzbek and Turkmen origin shares many instruments, including the dutar (two-stringed lute), the ghaychak (fretless spike fiddle), and the tuiduk (similar to the Persian wind instrument, the zurna). One style of classical Turkmen music is Mukamlar, which is played on dutar or tuiduk. Music is played by bakshy, or shamans who travel and play at celebrations.

Uyghur Traditional Music[]

The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority group who primarily live in the western Xinjiang province of China, eastern Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Uyghur music is diverse and has commonalities with Islamic Modal Music, Turkic-Mongolic Traditional Music and South Asian music. Unlike much Central Asian music, Uyghur music is occasionally pentatonic and polyphonic.

Uzbek Traditional Music[]

While ethnically Turkic, the music of the Uzbeks takes a much greater influence from Persian Classical Music and the Middle East, rather than from Turkic-Mongolic Traditional Music. The centerpiece of Uzbek music is the Shashmaqam, or Six Maqams, which was named a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. The Shashmaqam is a modal suite that brings together lyrical and instrumental songs, poetry and dance. Traditional Uzbek music is primarily melodic, highly embellished, micro-tonal, and mono- or homophonic. Common instruments include lutes, spike fiddles and flutes.


Shashmaqam, or Six Maqams, is a tradition shared by Tajik Traditional Music and Uzbek Traditional Music. It was named a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. The Shashmaqam is a modal suite that brings together lyrical and instrumental songs, poetry and dance. Its origins trace back to the Uzbek city of Bukhara with profound contributions from that city's historic Jewish population, as well as Sufi Islam and Persian Classical Music.


Central Middle-East[]

Northern AfricaEdit[]