Malouf, Traditional Tunisian Music

Traditional Tunisian Dance
Traditiona Tunisian Music


The roots of Malouf traditional Tunisian music date back to a Muslim musician composer and poet named Ziryab from Bagdad in Iraq. Ziryab lived in the Royal palace court of Bagdad until he left the iraq capital in 833 and moved first to Syria, than to Tunisia at the court of Ziyadat Allah in Kairouan. After cross the north Africa arrived finally to the court of Abd ar-Rahman II of the Umayyad Dynasty in Cordoba in Islamic Iberia Peninsula. Here Ziryab used his musician arts to creates a particular Andalusian style mixing together the local preexisting styles with the Maghreb and his native Middle East.

During the Christians persecutions in Spain and Portugal on 13th century, Muslim settled in the North Africa area including Tunis bringing with them their Andalusian music style. The Malouf Tunisian Music was born and today is an important part of the history and traditional culture of Tunisia.

The term Malouf means “familiar” or “customary”. In Libya also have Malouf music with lyrics dialect differences from the Tunisian one. In Morocco it’s known as Andalusi or Ala music, in Algeria is called Gharnata. Between these countries the Malouf music differs in the melody and rhythmic articulation.

Malouf is based on the Qasidah classical Arabic poetry form and also include muwashshah, a post classical more free form. The most important part of the Malouf composition is the Nuba.

A Nuba is like two-movement “musical suite” in a single mode or maqam, an Arab system of pitch organization by quarter-tones that allows for the construction of melodies and improvisation within a scale. Each nuba lasts about an hour, and contains varied instrumental and many vocal pieces in a traditional sequence. The rhythmic patterns are complex, but they are similar and they generally progress from slower to faster rhythms. The first movement of a nuba is dominated by binary rhythms while the second part is dominated by three base rhythms.

Tunisian Malouf was different from the music of north western Africa because of the Ottoman Empire who colonized Tunisia in 1574 and bring the influences from cities like Istanbul, Damasco and Aleppo. Muhammad al-Rashid was a Tunisia’s Ottoman governor who fixed the structure of Nuba mixing Turkish instrumental pieces in his music compositions. After the Ottoman Empire, Franch established in Tunisia.

To preserve the Malouf traditional music who was in decade, Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger commission to Ali al-Darwish of Aleppo a collection of ancient works which was presented at the international Congress of Arabic Music in 1932. The event was really important and revolutionized Arab music around the world. After this in Tunisia born the Rachidia Institute in 1934 with the aim to preserve Malouf. The most influential orchestra was called Rashidiyya Orchestra led by violinist Muhammad Triki. During this time the 13 surviving Nubat were created and separated from the strongly divergent folk forms. Today, with the radio and the recorded music Malouf get popularize but his use of improvisation declined.

Earlier, the Malouf had been performed in small folk ensembles with simple instrumentation: usually an ‘ud ‘arbi (four-stringed lute) and a rabab (two-stringed fiddle) accompanied by a bandir (frame drum), tar(tambourine), darbukka (goblet-shaped drum) and naqqarat (small kettle drums). Lyrics were sung by soloists or in small groups.

Today the most genuine traditional Malouf music is performed by Tunisian people during privates ceremonies or marriages.

Author & Photographer : Alessandro Del Ben

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