Arab-Andalusian Music

Arab-Andalusian music

Also called al moussiqa al andaloussia, gharnati, chaâbi or al-âla in the Maghreb, Arab-Andalusian music is the result of a crossbreeding between classical Arabic music from the Mashrek, the Middle East, Berber music and that practiced in the Iberian peninsula before the arrival of Tariq Ibn Ziyâd in Spain at the beginning of the eighth century.

It was in Andalusia, a land of mixing between different civilizations and cultures, that it began to develop, notably with Hassan Ali Ibn Nafi, known as Ziriab.

A musician and poet of genius from the Middle East, he is one of the main protagonists of his history by introducing the oud, Arabic lute, to Andalusia. He also developed vocal and poetic techniques such as muwashsha and zajal and instituted the cycle of noubas.

These poetic musical forms were one of the sources of the Cantigas de Santa Maria d’Alphonse X de Castille and the troubadours.

For some, after the massive exodus of Moriscos and Jews from the peninsula, Arab-Andalusian music having left its mark on Spanish folklore and imagination would also have given birth to flamenco.

She also influenced contemporary music with Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), pianist and post-romantic organist who discovered her during trips to Algeria and Egypt.

Although unwritten and based on strict rules, it has been transmitted orally from master to pupil and will experience, for more than eight centuries, a rapid development, both in medieval Spain and in the Maghreb. The three main cultural centres each forming a school were Granada, Córdoba and Seville.

In the Maghreb

Schools dating back to the time of Al Andalus, of which contemporary interpreters from Rabat, Fez, Meknes or Tetouan in Morocco, and Oujda, Oran, or even Tlemcen in Algeria claim to be in the Maghreb.

Indeed, it was in these cities, which had welcomed a large number of Andalusian refugees and Sephardic Jews since the 16th century, that Arab-Andalusian music took root, even long before the fall of Granada, and musicians who had already withdrawn to the Maghreb divulged it to Morocco and Algeria.

The tradition of Arab-Andalusian music, through musical styles from different schools: gharnati, chaâbi, maalouf or al-âla…, is still highly appreciated and actively practiced today, especially in the major cultural centers where it is taught.

Noubas , music system

Arab-Andalusian music is composed of noubas, an Arabic term meaning’to wait one’s turn, to follow one another’, because in front of the Caliph of Baghdad, the musicians each played their turn.

Music composition built on a defined mode, Arab-Andalusian music comprises 24 noubas, one for each hour of the day. For music lovers, those performed early in the early morning in front of an informed audience are the most beautiful.

It should be noted that there is a difference between eastern and western nouba. Oriental, it is impregnated with Turkish, Byzantine, Persian elements while western, it remained as it existed in the Middle Ages. Moreover, centuries of Ottoman occupation have not prevented the development of so-called Andalusian schools in the Maghreb.

Of the original 24 noubas, there are only twelve. Without a single repertoire common to the whole Maghreb, noubas of the same name can be interpreted differently from one school to another, even within a school.


If corpuses written by the Tetouanese Muhammed al-Hayik collecting this repertoire appear in the eighteenth, the twentieth will see the appearance of a collection of different musical transcriptions of Arab-Andalusian music. Congresses in Cairo (1932), Fez (1939 and 1969) were the occasion of fruitful meetings between specialists coming from various horizons and having this common passion.

In 1960, under the aegis of UNESCO, the Association of Andalusian music lovers founded in Casablanca by Driss Benjelloun in 1958, will record eight noubas performed by great Moroccan masters including: Ahmed Loukili, Mohamed Temsanami and Abdelkrim Rais.

In Morocco, an Andalusian Music Orchestra was created at the Moroccan Radio Television in 1952 and the Ministry of Culture produced an anthology of al’Âla from 1989 to 1992.

The great Moroccan interpreters

Moulay Ahmed Loukili (1907-1988), born in Fez in a family that introduced him to music. After studying at the prestigious Qariwyine University of Fez, he consolidated his musical training with the masters Brihi and Mtiri as well as in different zaouïas. In addition to in-depth work in the poetic field, he has notably revisited the repertoire of “al âla” to adopt some Western instruments.

Abdelkrim Raïs (1912-1996). He did most of his musical training with master Brihi from whom he inherited his famous rbab. He also succeeded him at the head of his band: the Brihi Orchestra.

An orchestra renowned for its traditional spirit and its rejection of the intrusion of modern Western instruments. He also directed the Conservatory of Music of Fez in 1960 and updated the collection al-Jamî in 1982. It represents the conservative tendency of the Fassie school.

Mohammed ben l-Arbi Temsamani (1920-2001). He discovered and became passionate about Arab-Andalusian music thanks to his mother and uncles who encouraged him to learn piano, lute and viola. He created an association “Ljwân al-Fann with Ahmed Loukili then came in 1956 director of the Tetouan Conservatory of Music. He likes to enrich traditional instrumentalization with instruments such as oboe, clarinet, saxophone and piano.

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