Tarab and the Art of Music

2018 Gregorian and 1439-1440 Hijri Calendar Illustrations

Download full calendar printable PDF


January Rabi` ii 1439  –  Jumada i

Hand clapping is an important percussion instrument in folk music styles across the Arab and Islamic world. In Morocco and the Arabian Peninsula, clappers create a loud resonant popping sound called tasfiq or safaqa. Tasfiq accompanies the performances of the Gulf art music style called sawt. During music interludes in sawt songs, a lead clapper starts and stops a chorus of clappers that create lively syncopation.

Ink and watercolor by JOSÉ MANUEL DARRO (josemanueldarro.com)


February Jumada i  –  Jumada ii

On the front top register of the British Museum’s 4,500-year-old Standard of Ur, a box ornamented with lapis, shell and red limestone mosaic found at the Mesopotamian city of Ur, south of Baghdad, Iraq, a man plays a finely crafted lyre decorated with a bull’s head. He performs at what appears to be a court occasion, and behind him stands a woman, perhaps a singer. The box was discovered in 1927 and 1928, and the site also yielded four actual lyres—including one much like this one— that are considered to be the oldest existing string instruments. Today, numerous local and regional variants of lyres are played in East Africa, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.



March Jumada ii  –  Rajab

Plucked and hammered zithers—lap harps built on a wooden box—like the qanun in the Arab world and Turkey, and the santur in Iraq and Iran, have deep roots in the region and are key instruments in art music ensembles today. The qanun has 75–78 strings, with three strings tuned to each tone. The player plucks the strings with his or her index fingers using tortoiseshell picks, or plectra, held in place on the fingers by metal rings. Microtones are achieved using small, moveable metal bridges called ‘urab in Arabic and mandal in Turkish. Moving these bridges allows the qanun player to transition a new maqam in an instant.

Watercolor, ink and digital media by LEELA CORMAN (leelacorman.com)


April Rajab  –  Sha`aban

One of the most versatile percussion instruments, a riqq (or its larger variant, a daff) can hold its own as the sole drum in an Arab art music ensemble. With its delicate skin, traditionally made from fish or goat, and its lightweight cymbals of brass, in the hands of a skilled player a riqq can produce both complex classical rhythms and rousing folk beats. This image of a wooden-inlaid riqq is depicted amid the traditional architecture of Chinguetti, Mauritania, once a vibrant trading hub of West Africa and a center of culture and scholarship.

Digital media by JESÚS CONDE AYALA (jesuscondeayala.galeon.com)


May Sha`aban  –  Ramadan

The single-string rababa of the Arabian Peninsula, with its square or rectangular wooden frame, accompanies poets, singers and storytellers, tracing the singer’s tune with intervallic instrumental solos. There are several similar bowed instruments and spike fiddles played throughout the Islamic world. The Egyptian rababa is a vertical spike fiddle. The jawzah of Iraq uses a coconut shell as its base, and the Persian fiddle is a kamanche. Malaysia’s three-stringed rabab often features an ornately carved bow.

Acrylic on paper by LINDA DALAL SAWAYA (lindasawaya.com)


June Ramadan  –  Shawwal

Today’s Western oboes descend from a family of loud, double-reed instruments usually played outdoors, including the shawm of medieval Europe and the zurna or surnay of the wider Islamic world. The zurna was an integral part of the Ottoman mehter marching bands, and it is still played at celebrations across the Arab world, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. In Malaysia, the ornately carved and painted serunai, a cousin to the zurna, accompanies shadow puppet performances that remain popular today.

Oil on panel board by EUGENIO OCAÑA (eugenioocana.com)


July Shawwal  –  Dhu al-Qa`dah

This painting is based on an original gold lusterglazed dish produced in 11th-century Cairo during the Fatimid period, a time when ceramic objects were often decorated with scenes and activities. This dish portrays a female musician playing a two-stringed instrument without a plectrum. While many other music-related designs from the period feature the larger, pear-shaped ‘ud, this instrument’s compact, tulip-like design is reminiscent of the robab of East Tajikistan in Central Asia—evidence of how both music and instruments flowed freely along the Silk Roads.

Oil on canvas by LEONOR SOLANS (leonorsolans.com); original ceramic from the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo


August Dhu-al-Qa`dah  –  Dhu-al-Hijjah

Military and ceremonial bands of the Ottoman Empire, called mehter, featured ranks of kettledrums and large, hand-held crash cymbals. The largest drums were played on camelback, and their deep booms inspired the troops and intimidated their enemies. These instruments so fascinated Europeans visiting the Empire that European composers adopted the instruments during an 18th-century craze for everything Turkish. By 1825 kettledrums and crash cymbals were integrated into both the European orchestra and marching band. Today descendants of the mehter band can be found in nearly every large American high school and heard during nearly every holiday parade.

Vellum page from the Sur-Nama of Murad III, Turkish School, 16th century / Bridgeman Images (detail)


September Dhu-al-Hijjah  –  Muharram 1440

The world’s oldest and most universal instrument—the human voice—is also considered the most powerful vehicle for inducing tarab. In modern times, Egyptian vocalist Um Kulthum, who was born in 1904 and lived until 1975, is most often cited as a preeminent vocalist with the power to lead her audiences to profound, sustained tarab. Born the daughter of a Qur’an reciter, she was a masterful interpreter of poetry in song. Two of the many other leading tarab vocal artists include Egyptian musician Abduh al-Hamuli (1836–1901) and Syrian singer Sabah Fakhri (1933–).

Gouache and ink on board by HELEN ZUGHAIB (hzughaib.com)


October Muharram  –  Safar

In the 13th century ce, King Alfonso x of Castille in Spain produced a book of more than 400 songs in praise of the Virgin Mary. Known for his patronage of music, Alfonso assembled court musicians that included Muslims, Jews and Christians. The manuscript illuminations are one of our most vivid sources depicting musical contact between Hispano-Arab and European cultures. The woodwinds, like the shawm, or double clarinet, and bagpipes, resemble the zurna, mijwiz and habban of the Middle East. The illustration of an Arab and European musician playing longnecked lutes, top left, particularly captures the era’s storied crosscultural music-making.

Images: ARCHIVO ORONOZ (oronoz.com)


November Safar  –  Rabi` i

When the violin, viola, cello and bass appeared with Western musicians in the 19th century, Arab and Turkish musicians adopted them. Today, they are found throughout the region. In some Moroccan ensembles, including those specializing in Tarab Andalusi, music said to have roots in al-Andalus, violinists and violists play their instruments on one knee, the way their ancestors once played the smaller, two-stringed rabab. In the rest of the Middle East, the viola and violin are played under the chin, Western-style.

Acrylic and oil on linen by DAVID CONDE AYALA (davidcondeayala.wixsite.com/pintura)


December Rabi` i  –  Rabi` ii

The tar, or frame drum, is made from animal skin stretched over a wooden frame, and it is played across the Islamic world. Women have played this instrument to accompany singing in celebration for centuries. In some areas, such as Iran, Pakistan and India, metal chains or small “jingle” bells are attached to the inside for more complex sounds and opportunities to display virtuosity. In the Arabian Peninsula, folk groups use tars in a range of sizes to produce different tones and to add depth to syncopated rhythms.

Gouache, watercolor, metallic gouache, gel pen and gold leaf on black printmaking paper by MARIUM RANA (mariumrana.com)


Download full calendar printable PDF