Tag Archives: Arab music

A Lifetime in Four Months

The following entry was submitted by Shante Fencl, a spring 2016 participant on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Morocco. A student of International Studies at American University, Shante reflects on her highlights of Morocco and what first surprised her.

On a cold January morning before dawn, my mother and I packed up our car. I had already said my goodbyes to friends and family, and it was time to start the six hour drive to JFK airport from my small town outside of Cleveland, OH. That night I had a plane to catch that would take me to Morocco where I would spend the next four months of my life learning about the culture and language of the land. I felt as though I was saying goodbye to the people I loved for a lifetime, but I never expected that I would have the same emotions about new friends and new family once my semester abroad came to an end.

As soon as I landed in the airport in Casablanca, the realization of being in a foreign land hit me. As I walked outside I could see the sun rising through the palm trees (a sight I could never see in Ohio!) The only thing I knew about Casablanca was from the black and white Humphrey Bogart film, and the vivid colors of the landscape took me by surprise. My driver took me to the city where I would be living and studying during my semester abroad with AMIDEAST: Rabat. Not knowing the language and being an ocean away from anyone I have ever known made me feel so alone. After our first week of orientation with AMIDEAST, all of the students were placed into our host families. I met my new roommate, my new family, and moved into my new home within a matter of hours. I can remember thinking that these new people and places would never become normal to me. I could not imagine getting used to life in Morocco, but I am happy I was proven wrong.

Within a few short weeks of being in the country, I learned basic phrases for survival in Arabic and could express myself in simple words to have conversations with locals. I made amazing friends both in the AMIDEAST program and in Rabat and I began to travel the country I called home for the semester. As each week passed, I began to feel more comfortable in this new place. The sights I saw everyday were now commonplace, the people I came to know and love were now an important part of my life. By the very end of the program, I had experienced a lifetime in only four months. I started to appreciate and understand the new culture I was living in. I began to see the similarities and differences between my country and Morocco and I was so thankful for being able to experience life in both places. Most importantly, I fell in love with a new place away from home.

Sand in Hair

Immediately after leaving Morocco, I was heartbroken. The only thing I wanted to do was go back to that first day when I got off the plane in Casablanca. I wanted to do it all over again. Now that I knew the country, the people, and could communicate in the language, I knew I could make the most of my time if I could just go back and start over again. But I couldn’t start over. My semester was done. As I sat there in my home thinking about my time in Morocco, I realized how fortunate I was to have had even four months in the country. I learned so much not only about the culture and language, but also about myself. I learned to be proud of where I came from, but to find the beauty in other places as well. I learned to challenge myself and do things I never dreamed of doing before. I guess you can say that I learned to live, and I will always be grateful to Morocco for teaching me that.

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Filed under 2016, Morocco

MENA 101: The Oud

MENA 101 is a series of featured articles about living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These posts include MENA history and culture, as well as advice for students preparing for travel to the MENA region. We welcome submissions from alumni of AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs. Please send your articles and photos to DocsEdAbroad@AMIDEAST.org!

Looking at the oud from another angle.

Looking at the oud from another angle.

If you do not know much about the Middle East or you are not a musician, you may not know about the oud. The oud is said to pre-date the lute and guitar. It is a stringed, gourd-shaped, instrument with four to six pairs of strings tuned to the same note. There are several regional styles in which the oud is played, among these are Syrian, Turkish, Egyptian, and Iranian. These styles are much like Arabian dialects; indiscernible to the foreigner, but to an expert, they tell stories about where the player is from. Since the oud has pairs of strings which are played together instead of individual strings like the guitar, the tone has a unique echoing sound which sets it apart from other stringed instruments.

The neck of the oud has no frets, so it is played completely by ear. It can be a quite a task for one learning how to play, especially when tuning the oud. The lack of frets also allows for more fluidity in the Middle Eastern scales than Western ears are used to. In Middle Eastern music, they have quarter tones. They sit between a note and its flat or sharp. To a Westerner, it may sound off-key. Played in context as a scale or song, the note has a unique sound that creates a step between the moods of major and minor keys.

Music in the Middle East is said to have gone through a ‘dark age’, during the time of the Ottomans and the British/French mandates (spanning around 700 years). This has not been helped by the fact that history in the region tends to be passed down orally. As a result, much of the traditional music history has been lost, although the songs have not. The most famous oud players have made their names in the past 100 years, unlike the great Western musicians, such as Bach, Mozart, and others. A few famous oud players are Nasseer Shamma, Farid al-Atrash, Mohamed al-Qasabgi, Riyad al-Sunbati, and Munir Bashir. Despite these expert oud players, there are many songs that are very old, but are not attributed to a particular artist.

The cultural role the oud plays is similar to a piano, as the music played on the oud tends to be considered more traditional whether or not the musical piece is old. You can find the oud in ensembles, but often if you stumble across a cafe or restaurant with an oud player, it will be played solo. As a traveler to the Middle East, you will likely see ouds, whether they are being played by a musician in a cafe, or hanging from the ceiling in the tourist shop. If you get a chance to visit a Bedouin camp overnight, they will often play music and dance around a campfire in the evening. Especially for the musically inclined, it is a definite treat to see an oud in action.

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Filed under Cultural Feature, MENA 101

Reflecting on Morocco – Fall 2014

A student of Cross-Cultural Justice at American University in Washington, D.C., Lucette Moran recently returned from her Fall 2014 AMIDEAST program in Morocco. Participating on the Area & Arabic Language Studies Program, Lucette shares some of her favorite moments of Morocco.

Mo_1_Lucette Moran

Rabat, Morocco

This picture was taken at sunset during my first few weeks in Rabat. Living in Hay L’Ocean, I was able to stroll along the beach after classes with enough time before dark, and I tried to take advantage of it throughout the warmer weather. The power of the change of tides on the rocky coast of Rabat will be forever seared into my memory, even back on the east coast of the United States, staring back at the endless Atlantic Ocean.

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Unexpected Surprises – Summer Intensive Arabic Program in Oman

In our Summer 2014 Intensive Arabic Program, scholarship winner, Taylor Mosely, had an amazing experience.  Taylor, a student from Vassar University, found that she not only improved her Arabic language skills significantly, but also learned a great deal about the region and Omani culture in general.  She outlines the highlights of her experience on our program in her end of semester essay.  All photo credit goes to Taylor Mosely.

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Before I made my journey to Muscat, Oman in the summer of 2014, I sat down and contemplated the reasons why I wanted to study Arabic. I came to the conclusion that my home institution, Vassar College, has indeed opened my mind and given me the tools to constructively think about the society I live in. I believed, however, that there was so much more for me to learn that could not be taught on campus. I realized that as an International Studies major, it was imperative that I study abroad. I was highly interested in learning the Arabic language outside of the United States because it would expose me to a whole new world. I was also excited to get an intimate view of culture outside of my own. For me, the possibility of studying Arabic in a foreign country was energizing because I deeply wanted to become familiar with the Middle Eastern region on a personal level. All things considered, I thought that studying abroad would expand my personal horizons, strengthen my language skills and deepen my understanding of the Arab history and culture.

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Filed under Adventure, Arabic, Oman, Photography

Beit El Oud El Araby and my experience with AMIDEAST

A student of Anthropology and Linguistics at Montana State University, Gabe Lavin is a 2012-2013 academic year student on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Egypt. In this submission, Gabe discusses his involvement with the music community in Cairo and the development of his oud skills.

I came to Egypt to pursue my interest in Arabic music and studies on the guitar-like instrument called the ‘oud’ that I began playing two years before my arrival in Cairo in August of 2012. I immediately jumped into the music scene in Cairo by attending concerts and trying to become acquainted with a diversity of local musicians. AMIDEAST gave me many opportunities to pursue these interests as well through the Community-Based Learning course where I volunteered with the NGO called ‘Makan:’ Egyptian Center for Culture and Art.  The organization focuses on the preservation on traditional Egyptian music. However, after having been in Cairo for about month, and often expressing my interest in the oud and Arabic music, I heard a lot about a place called Beit El Oud and the world famous Iraqi oud virtuoso Naseer Shama who runs the place.

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