Arab Avantgarde Music. (Part 1)

3:59 pm Arabic Music, Free Improv, Fusion, Music Theory

Having received a call for submissions for essays on Arab avantgarde, I thought this one was just down my alley..

Thinking about the subject, the questions that seem the most urgent to answer are not about the Arab avantgarde music movement itself just yet, but rather questions about how to have a discussion about Arab avantgarde music. In fact, the questions touch on some of the vague aspects of the term not necessarily in relation to Arab avantgarde.

To begin with, how do we distinguish between avantgarde and innovation that is a natural product of evolution over time of any cultural activity?

When does the avantgarde status of something expire?

And then what happens to it?

Why do we still use the term avantgarde to describe music that was so in the fifties, but can now be learned in universities? Doesn’t the possibility of getting a degree in an art form from a respectable accredited university mean that that art form can no longer be considered avantgarde?

In retrospect, can impressionism in painting considered to have been avantgarde? How about photography, when first introduced into the world of visual arts, was it considered avantgarde then? Should it have been? If not, when is a new art form considered avantgarde and not just simply, a new art form? When should a new way to practice an existing art be considered avantgarde?

Now more specifically to the subject at hand. Arab avantgarde is not the same as Arabic avantgarde music. Which discussion should we have? Arab avantgarde music discusses avantgarde music made by people of Arab ethnicity. Arabic avantgarde music, means, I suppose, avantgarde music made by practitioners of Arabic music, as departure from more traditional Arabic music. So in that respect, Arab avantgarde musicians have to be of Arab ethnicity but they don’t have to know anything about Arabic music nor be able to play any Arabic musical instruments. On the other hand, Arabic avantgarde music practitioners don’t have to be Arab but have to be trained in Arabic music.

We haven’t even begun to discuss geography.

In this new post series I will try to answer some of the questions above and, with some luck, find a way to discuss Arab and Arabic avantgarde music.

One Response
  1. Mike Sell :

    Date: August 29, 2008 @ 11:02 am

    Dear Saed Muhssin,

    I’ve read your musings on the possibility of an Arab avant-garde with great interest. You mention a call for papers on the subject that you received. Would you kindly share that with me? I’ve been working diligently on the subject for some time now and would like to get in touch with others who are doing likewise.


    Mike Sell
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania

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