[P6378] Musical Biographies and Early 20th Century Middle East Socio-Cultural History

Created by Hazem Jamjoum
Friday, 12/03/21 2:00 pm


Researchers studying the cultural history of music throughout the Middle East have long sought creative methodologies to overcome the absence of archival sources, notated manuscripts and audio recordings. What is often left for us are biographical writings on individual musicians, occasioned by these musicians’ celebrity. These are often replete with unsubstantiated and unreferenced material at varying levels of reliability. Scholarly studies of individual musicians often attempt to situate them within the history of a particular musical genre, while the broader historical and social significance of their lives is eclipsed by these efforts to historicize the development of musical arts throughout the region.

Given the global geographies of movement and exchange that shaped the development of music in the Middle East during the twentieth century, a further challenge for scholars is reckoning with the fluidity of analytical categories that have often come to be synonymous with the musicians we discuss, and others like them. The nation-state, cultural ‘area,’ ethnic group, and normative binaries of gender and sexuality are all frameworks that have been applied anachronistically to these musicians and their music in efforts to recruit the memory and meaning of these celebrities as part of social and political legitimation strategies. By examining discourses that produce meaning about these artists, we aim to examine and problematize this work of appropriation.

Each of the papers on this panel takes the life, work and commentary upon a particular musician as its focus, drawing on concepts and frameworks across disciplinary boundaries. Moving beyond historical narratives of ‘the music’ itself, we will show how music-centered and socio-historiographical methodologies dealing with ‘the individual’ can provide nuanced perspectives on constructions of class, gender, nation, and race, and how they were intertwined with politics, cultural production, and global mass media during the early twentieth century. By studying individual artists with an ear to the cultural flows that shaped their careers, travels, social networks, class and gender positionalities, musical productions, and audiences, our aim is to expand our collective understanding of social and cultural life, and the production thereof, throughout the early-twentieth century Middle East. We will also explore how the interpretation of the musical past has been constitutive of the region’s political present, noting how current contestations and social constructs of class, race, nationality, and gender throughout the region are informed by both acknowledgements and erasures of the individual in cultural history.


Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist



Virginia Danielson

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Hazem Jamjoum

(New York University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Mohsen Mohammadi

(University of California, Los Angeles)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Gabriel Lavin

(University of California, Los Angeles)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Yara Salahiddeen

(University of Oxford)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;