When Hakim, Amr Diab, and other popular stars of Egyptian music permeate the region with loud electric guitars and saxophones, it is good to rest the ears on classical styles. Egypt has various categories of musical styles and associated ensembles: the madh musicians of Sufism and the folk mizmar ensembles for weddings and festivals, for instance. In the late 19th century arose music regarded as art, now classical music, played by takht ensembles with a small set of instruments, a nay flute, a qanun zither, an oud lute, and a riqq drum. Sometimes, as in this recording, other percussion are included, duff frame and tabalah goblet drums. By the early twentieth century, Western violins, cellos, and other instruments entered the ensembles, which became full orchestras, and popular, long songs were developed. (Think of Oum Kouthoum.) Classical music employs suites and improvisations usually based on single maqam modes, a tradition that goes far back to Islamic Spain.
This recording, the first of 15 volumes of the outstanding Music of Islam series, send us back a century to purely instrumental art or chamber ensembles, but one with modern sensitivies and approaches. This is readily apparent with the percussion solos. It is not belly-dancing music, even though some of the rhythms lend itself to dancing. Over all, it provides a core introduction to Arabic music, as Egypt has long been the center of the Arab musical world with its recording studios and radio broadcasts. And the particular selections and the musicians are first-rate. This album is very fine indeed.