North African Andalusi Music Performance

Anthropology students and faculty helped fill Ewell Hall to claustrophobic heights on March 25 to listen to The William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble’s evening of North African Andalusi Music. This music, derived from medieval Muslim traditions in Southern Spain, came to Virginia by way of central/western Algeria and eastern Morocco. From there, our department’s own Jonathan Glasser brought Nasr-Eddine Chaabane, Amina Bensaad (both also of the Association Riyad el Andalus), Hakim Chitioui and Oussama BouAbdellah from Association Ahbab Cheikh Salah in Oujda, Morocco. Performances from these guests and the local W&M Ensemble with viola, ‘ud, mandolin, mandole, qanun oboe, darbouah, daff, riqq, and other instruments, coupled with great singing and an energetic crowd, made for an amazing event!

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Improvisation sprinkled throughout the well-rehearsed selections offered an organic feel but I kept thinking about the poetic logic behind the music. A few lyrical excerpts below caught my eye (all translations by Jonathan Glasser and Nasr-Eddine Chabaane):

“Your form is like the bending branch and the moon in its constellations,
your eyes darkened without makeup, your eyebrows well-formed.
My body has wasted away with my heart’s longing.
Being close to you is the only medicine that can heal”

“Rise up and see the almonds like coins, sprouting forth from every direction!  …
The walnut leaves began to bloom—the messenger of good tidings has come!”

The performance concluded with colloquial Moroccan poems, with lines including “I am his powerless slave, and my Lord is capable of all…The blood courses through my fingers, his drink sustains. Earth is my bed, the heavens my roof” and another a blessing for Muhammad, deemed a “fount of honor.”

Jonathan Glasser’s Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa published just this month, as well as publications by W&M Ensemble founder and co-director Anne Rasmussen,  offer anthropological interpretations about different roles and aspects of Middle Eastern Music as rich as their performances.

Hope to see you all at the next concert in May!

About Patrick Johnson

I'm an anthropology PhD candidate studying archaeology and history of Southeastern Native Americans and writing a dissertation about the diplomatic and daily life of Yamasee Indians in eighteenth-century Florida. Find me at or if you're so inclined!
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