Beyond the Book: Background information when reading A Map of Home

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A Map of Home

by Randa Jarrar

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2009, 305 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Beyond the Book

Print Review

Arabic music is influenced by a history of conquest and contact with numerous countries including but not limited to Greece, Medieval Europe and Turkey. Elements of Arabic music can also be found in non-Arabic countries. A few common characteristics are the connection between music and poetry, and the use of maqamat. In Arabic music, a maqam (plural maqamat) is a set of notes. The nearest equivalent in Western classical music would be a mode.

Traditional instruments include:

  • Oud: A round-bodied stringed instrument without frets (watch & listen)
  • Violin: The European violin (also called Kaman/Kamanjah) was adopted into Arab music during the 19th century, replacing an indigenous two-string fiddle that was prevalent in Egypt.
  • Qanun: A descendent of the old Egyptian harp (watch & listen). Qanun means 'law' in Arabic, from which comes the English word canon (as in the canon laws that govern Christian churches).
  • Nay: An open-ended flute made of cane (watch & listen).
  • Riq: A small tambourine (watch & listen).
  • Buzuq: A long-necked fretted lute normally played as a solo instrument (watch & listen).

For extensive information on all these instruments, visit maqamworld.com.


Two of Nidali's favorite singers are Umm Kulthoum and Fairuz, women renowned throughout the Arabic world.

Umm Kulthoum (1904-1975), born of humble origins, was an actress, musician, singer and public figure whose career would be as entwined with her native Egypt as Edith Piaf's was with France. Her songs often encompassed Arabic poetry, working class themes and love and were widely broadcast on the radio.

Fairuz
(sometimes spelled Fayrouz or Fairouz) was born in 1935 as Nouhad Haddad. She is a Lebanese singer and actress who rose to prominence in the 1960's and '70s and has received international acclaim. Her collaborations with the Rahmani brothers, a composer and lyricist, represented some of the most popular songs of the time. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, she sang "of love and the simple life, of love of country, and of the longing for a lost Jerusalem; she sang old bedouin chants and obscure shepherd's songs; she brought back the muashahat, a musical form first heard in the gardens of Andalusia; she interpreted the quasida and the nashid, two highly structured lyrical verse forms and, with equal success, the improvisational vocal expressions known as the mawal and meyjana." View her singing at YouTube.

Article by Karen Rigby

This article was originally published in October 2008, and has been updated for the August 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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