Arab Music, Tarab, and Politics



The first reading below discusses something called tarab, an Arabic concept often translated as musically-induced ecstasy. For this assignment you are to create an annotated playlist based around your own personal experience with “musical ecstasy.” The playlist should include 10-15 tracks that elicit (or have elicited in the past) something roughly equivalent to tarab. For the individual annotations, you could discuss if there’s a particular moment that produces the ecstatic sensation, or is it the entire thing? Or maybe the music’s ecstatic aura derives from an experience you had with the music in a particular setting or together with another person or persons. If this isn’t the case, what is it about the sound of the music itself that you find intensely pleasurable—instrumental timbres, vocal quality, rhythmic interplay, melodic hooks, harmonies and textures, the form and flow of the music, some combination of these factors, or something else entirely?

Other questions to potentially consider: In the assigned reading tarab is described as a social experience. Is this true in your case? If relevant, what role do contextual factors play in the musical ecstasy you describe? What besides “the music itself” accounts for the ecstatic experience you have or have had with this music? Also, how do your own perceptions of musical ecstasy compare with the Arabic concept of tarab as described by Shannon? Ifecstasy’ feels like the wrong word to describe your own musical experiences, what other ways do you have to describe and understand the music that gives you the most pleasure (or that provokes an intense reaction of whatever kind)? How does this musically-induced pleasure/ecstasy manifest itself in various cases? Do you ever get shivers or goosebumps listening to the music (see reading below) or does its impact register more in the emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or some other realm?

Finally,  write a concluding paragraph or two summarizing your feelings about tarab/ecstasy/musical pleasure and addressing some of the questions above in a broader context.


READING: The concept of tarab

Discussion of tarab in video clip below


READING: Arab classical music and the concept of maqam

READING:  “Why does music give us chills?
Additional optional readings on musical frission aka ‘skin orgasms’:
Slate article / Academic journal article (abstract only)


Above: The Michigan Arab Orchestra Takht Ensemble (MAOTE) is a classical Arab music chamber ensemble comprised of the following instruments oud (Arab lute), qanun (Arab zither), nay (Arab reed flute), violin, double bass, and percussion.


ARTIST PROFILE: Fairuz (early years) / Fairuz (later years)

Translation for “Give me the flute/ney and sing”
translation of lyrics for last song above


READING: Music in the Arab Spring
AUDIO & VIDEO (mostly videos): Soundtrack to the Arab Revolutions

(If you can’t get to all of this material before next Monday you can explore the rest of it next week)