top of page

World Music and Arab-Jewish Musical Encounters 

      by Dr Yitzhak Yedid

World Music and Arab-Jewish Musical Encounters  

Richard Nidel (2005) defines world music as “a musical category that includes forms of music of various cultures that remain closely informed or guided by indigenous music of the regions of their origin” (p.2). Music that combines Western styles (e.g., popular, jazz and classical) with non-Western music (e.g., Arabic music, Turkish music and Indian music) is also classified as world music. In Israel, mostly during the 1990s, Arab and Jewish performers of different backgrounds (such as Arabic music, Turkish music, jazz, flamenco and Western classical music) merged Arab-Jewish bands to produce world music. These bands, in association with the Israeli-Palestine peace process, aside from bringing together Arab and Jewish musicians, aimed to create an integration of Arabic styles and Western music. Bustan Abraham, who formed an eight member ensemble, is one of these groups. They performed between 1991 and 2003. Bustan Abraham’s ensemble was born out of jam sessions organized during several months by qanun player and music promoter Avshalom Farjoun and oud and violin player Taiseer Elias. Other Arab-Jewish groups of world music include Alei Hazayit, Yusof V’echad, Shesh Besh (the Arab-Jewish Ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic) and Shlomo Gronich’s Israeli-Palestinian ensemble. 


Musical encounters between Arab and Jewish musicians also occur at The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, especially since an advanced degree program in Arabic music emerged in 1996. The establishment of this program has had a particular impact on my work. It helped to ignite within me a passion to look at Arabic-influenced Jewish music - the music I heard at home - and to compose music that integrates it and Arabic music with Western forms. Two of my compositions (Oud Bass Piano Trio and Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio) were composed for and premiered by lecturers of this program who happened to be Israeli-Arabs. Oud player Dr Michael Maroun (with whom I performed Oud Bass Piano Trio) and Arabic violin player Mr Sami Kheshaiboun (with whom I performed Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio) are both interpreters of Arabic music who also practise Western music, and this combination attracted me to compose and perform with them. 


Benjamin Brinner (2009) writes that Bustan Abraham built up a repertoire centred on original compositions utilizing a broad and variegated stylistic palette and that the members of the group brought a wealth of experience from a variety of musical practices (p.113). He also writes that they learned from one another and built on this broad foundation of multiple competences (p.113). Similar to Bustan Abraham, in sections of improvisation of my works, the performers bring an abundance of experience from a variety of musical practices.


A major approach by performers of Israeli groups is experimenting with various aspects of the integration in an improvisational manner. Also, the application of musical variations and musical ornamentations to melodies is a common characteristic of their performances. I perceive the role of performers in world music to be, generally speaking, different from the role of performers of Western classical music. In world music, the arrangements are primarily created by the players. There, the performers are monitoring the arrangements by the actual playing of them and are capable of modifying them. Whilst in Western classical music the performers normally perform composed parts and in accordance to specific instructions by the composer. Essentially, the performers in world music take on what is technically considered to be the role of the composer in Western classical music, and this is what I aimed to incorporate to some extent into my works. I wanted my performers to perform innovatively and, occasionally, in a similar way to how groups of world music perform. I have done so by (1) incorporating various sections of improvisation, (2) incorporating sections of Piyyutim-like melodies and (3) by verbally encouraging the performers to contribute their distinctive and valuable musical experience and background and to add musical application.


Arabic musical elements (e.g., microtonality of Maqamat, ornamentation and heterophonic textures) can be found in works by Israeli groups performed and led by Arabic music specialists (for example, oud and violin player Taiseer Elias and qanun player Avshalom Farjoun of Bustan Abraham). I believe that this is the reason these elements sound close to their sources in Arabic music. The integration of Arabic genres and Western music by Israeli groups has been created by preserving elements such as articulation of phrases, intonation and accentuation. 

bottom of page