For more than a century, urban North Africans have sought to protect and revive Andalusi music, a prestigious Arabic-language performance tradition said to originate in the “lost paradise” of medieval Islamic Spain. Yet despite the Andalusi repertoire’s enshrinement as the national classical music of postcolonial North Africa, its devotees continue to describe it as being in danger of disappearance. In The Lost Paradise, Jonathan Glasser explores the close connection between the paradox of patrimony and the questions of embodiment, genealogy, secrecy, and social class that have long been central to Andalusi musical practice.
Through a historical and ethnographic account of the Andalusi music of Algiers, Tlemcen, and their Algerian and Moroccan borderlands since the end of the nineteenth century, Glasser shows how anxiety about Andalusi music’s disappearance has emerged from within the practice itself and come to be central to its ethos. The result is a sophisticated examination of musical survival and transformation that is also a meditation on temporality, labor, colonialism and nationalism, and the relationship of the living to the dead.
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The Lost Paradise
Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa
By Jonathan Glasser
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
An Andalusi Archipelago
In 1934, in the Moroccan city of Tetuan, a collection of Arabic poems appeared under the title Anthologie d'auteurs arabes / [Kitab nafh al-azhar (Anthology of Arab Authors / The Book of the Scent of Flowers). Although printed in the capital of the Spanish Protectorate in northern Morocco, home to its own longstanding Andalusi musical tradition, the book was decidedly a product of Algeria and specifically of the far western city of Tlemcen. Gathering poems from Tlemcen's nuba repertoire as well as Moroccan poems known in Algeria as gharbi or "western," its editors were two young Tlemcanis from well-off families, Abderrahmane Sekkal and Mohamed Bekhoucha, the former a leading amateur performer then living in his native city, the latter a professor of Arabic at the Lycée Lyautey in Casablanca. In turn, the audience they invoked was comprised of their fellow Tlemcanis. Writing just four years after the centenary of the French invasion of Algeria, they suggested that
after a century of French domination, thanks to the influence, direct or indirect, exercised by the médersas [government-run Arabic-language schools], high schools, colleges, discs, and radio, people's spirits have turned toward the Arabic language and its unsuspected treasure of music and poetry. We have often heard in the streets of Tlemcen children singing "The Dewdrop," "The Setting Sun," "Morning," and other pieces of real artistic value. An ardent desire to revive the glorious past of the Muslims appears to have been born from this influence, and we have seen fit to respond by grouping in this collection Andalusi poems, in an Andalusi idiom, together with their child: Maghribi poems in a Maghribi idiom.
Closely echoing other such printed collections of nuba poetry, they stated that their "only aim was to save an entire literature from total loss."
There was another way in which Nafh al-azhar was deeply Tlemcani. In both the French and Arabic versions of the introduction, the compilers acknowledge their "old friend," the Tlemcani musician Moulay Djellali Ziani as the most immediate source for the poems. In turn, this great musician learned these poems from his teacher Moulay Mounaouar Benatar (also known as Bin 'Attu), a renowned performer who split his time between Fes and Tlemcen, where he helped to "revive" the gharbi repertoire. It was these two masters, one the teacher of the other, who served as "the intermediaries" for the collected poems. The link of these poems to the past of Tlemcen by way of particular Tlemcanis, and in turn the link of Tlemcen to al-Andalus by way of this embodied art, is telescoped and elaborated in a passage from the Arabic introduction:
Tlemcen — may God guard it — was of the highest rank in this wondrous Granadan art, and there was no place like it anywhere in the world since the existence of al-Andalus. There is nothing surprising about this, because her people were accomplished in poetry and the serious pursuit of learning. The age looked kindly upon them in every respect, and they lived the good life, so that they were able to attain their desires, including complete mastery of the practice of this musical science, until it was as if Tlemcen were itself part of the islands of al-Andalus. Its inhabitants willingly put themselves at the service of belles-lettres, refined love, and intense musical devotion [wulla'a] to the point that both love and understanding suffused their spirits. Men passed on from their ranks who continue to be widely remembered and praised (may exalted God have mercy on them). The first of them is Shaykh al-Hajj Hammadi al-Baghdali, who died in Tlemcen  and was buried there. Second after him is Shaykh al-Munawwar Bin 'Attu, who died in Fes and was buried there . Third is Shaykh Muhammad Bin Sha'ban, known as Budalfa [Boudelfa], who is buried in Tlemcen . Their student is the revered and distinguished musician Mulay al-Jilani al-Zayyani [Moulay Ziani], who today is still alive at about eighty years of age. He has played a part in writing the biographies of these shuyukh, all of whom he recalls as very eminent, and until today a class of people exists who devote themselves to musical knowledge and performance.
Though not particularly dramatic on first reading, this passage condenses a great deal about Andalusi music considered as a social practice. Some of it concerns the connection between cosmology, genealogy, and genre, what Mikhail Bakhtin might have called the chronotope (the time-space) of Andalusi music: it highlights North African places and their connection to al-Andalus, vividly demonstrates the logic and ethos of genealogical authority, and hints at the intertwining of "Andalusi" music with other musical forms marked as "Maghribi." The passage also raises questions of historical context: its appearance in a collection of nuba poetry printed at the high watermark of European colonial rule in the Maghrib intimates the nesting of Andalusi musical connoisseurship within a project of musical reform that was itself nested within wider sociopolitical currents, including the ones that passed through the government-run Arabic colleges known as the médersas. Finally, the passage hints at the temporal and geographic reach and texture of the collectivity that forms itself around Andalusi music: Bekhoucha and Sekkal were situating themselves within generations of musical practice stretching outward from Tlemcen, pointing westward to Fes and northward and backward to medieval Granada. Implied in their list is a blurring of temporal hierarchy with qualitative hierarchy: the best, they seem to be saying, comes first, or rather, the good of the last derives from the good of the first. In turn, their retrospective glance came to be taken up in later retrospections, so that eighty years later I found tattered copies of Nafh al-azhar in the archives of devotees who traced their own genealogies through some of the same people cited in the above passage, and even through Sekkal himself.
This passage, then, is a fragment within a still living tradition, and this chapter begins to draw a map of this tradition. In doing so, it introduces a network of sites that for Andalusi music practitioners are linked by people, history, narrative, genealogy, movement, musical form, and affect. In orienting the reader to these linkages — to what we might call the spatial poetics of Andalusi music — this chapter aims to address several questions. How is it that Andalusi music is both intensely local and part of a transnational network of cities? How does its status as an import from al-Andalus make it deeply Maghribi? And what is the relationship between musical genealogies, contemporary musical practice, and this temporal, geographic, and narratival map? The following pages approach these questions first by considering the relationship among mobile people, immobile place, and the notion of musical treasures. It then turns toward a discussion of the palimpsestic relationship between the Maghrib and al-Andalus — in other words, the layering of al-Andalus onto the map of North Africa. In the final section, I consider the way in which this palimpsest is reinscribed and in many respects produced in everyday musical practice.
A Treasure Map
Contemporary scholars draw on a panoply of terms to talk about musical collectives, ranging from communities to scenes to publics and well beyond. While Bekhoucha and Sekkal were working with a more limited palette, it was one that held great expressive powers for their readers. Their primary medium was place: Tlemcen. Yet the power of their home city as a locus of musical prestige rested on their evocation of a link to al-Andalus, and specifically to the city of Granada, the last bastion of Muslim sovereignty in the Iberian peninsula. In their text, the link is two-sided, in that Granada is presented as the immediate source for the nuba tradition of Tlemcen and other cities (hence the term gharnati or Granadan), and Tlemcen is described as having lived up to its music's fabled roots. In this way, the Andalusi musical imaginary upon which they draw and which, in the process, they reproduce places Tlemcen and its parallel North African cities within a geographic and temporal framework that includes al-Andalus as a potent, storied, yet nearly palpable point of origin.
But let us look more closely at the claim in Nafh al-azhar that "it was as if Tlemcen were itself part of the islands of al-Andalus." Instead of the usual jazirat al-andalus, "the peninsula [literally the island] of al-Andalus," it reads jaza'ir al-andalus, "the islands of al-Andalus." Al-jaza'ir, the islands, is also the Arabic name for Algeria (even if the etymology is disputed), so that another way of reading this felicitous slip is as "the Algeria of al-Andalus." We will shortly see that this is not the only way to read the passage. But for now, such verbal play suggests how Andalusi music could stand as a potent signifier of Algeria as a whole and serve as a pathway for communion with al-Andalus and its spirit. It also suggests a useful conceptual term for conceiving the site of this study, a site that is both multiple and singular in the sense that its component localities can be imagined as constituting one large, internally differentiated, noncontiguous territory. There is no established insider term for this terrain, even if it is intimated on those fairly rare occasions when people speak of la musique andalouse or al-musiqa al-andalusiyya, "Andalusi music" in its broadest sense. Riffing on the slip between island and islands, let us call this site the Andalusi archipelago.
It is worthwhile to briefly think about this archipelago's geological age. According to what Carl Davila terms "the standard narrative," it began in al-Andalus, fashioned in large part by the legendary ninth-century Baghdadi musical migrant and courtier known as Ziryab, and was transplanted to the Maghrib whole-cloth by Andalusis after 1492. Viewed through a more scholarly lens, this narrative poses some problems. For Mahmoud Guettat, the musical connection of al-Andalus to the Maghrib long predated 1492 thanks to the social and political melding of these lands over many centuries. A close reading of the documentary evidence also raises some doubts about our ability to connect various swathes of contemporary practice to medieval al-Andalus. Although the musical term nuba, for example, shows up in several medieval sources, it is difficult to clearly attach it to its contemporary meaning in the Andalusi musical milieu, and we can find several other meanings for it in the modern period, including melody and even the military fanfare in the Ottoman Algerian court. The earliest manuscript that uses some of the terminological and organizational elements of the nuba as known in the modern Maghribi traditions likely dates to the beginning of the sixteenth century and was probably compiled in the region of Tlemcen. Other than this exciting rediscovery, however, as well as an early eighteenth-century description of an urban musical genre in Algiers that strongly resembles the nuba and eighteenth-century Moroccan manuscript collections, our knowledge of the repertoire dates to the nineteenth century. It is particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century that we begin to find descriptions of the nuba repertoire in the works of both European and Maghribi writers, and it is also at this time that we see the fairly widespread production of nuba songbooks that follow the basic modal and movement organization that the repertoire takes today. At the very least, something formally close to the modern nuba traditions has existed in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia since the eighteenth century, with an apparently sharp increase in the production of songbook compilations in the nineteenth century.
Using the archipelago metaphor to talk about the modern configuration of Andalusi musical places is attractive in a number of ways. The image of an island conveys the sense of local coherence and distinctiveness that is often associated with individual cities where Andalusi music is practiced: in what may at first seem paradoxical, Andalusi music is always from a specific North African locale. Furthermore, not all the islands are the same size, and there are groupings within the archipelago itself, so that Constantine serves as a sort of Andalusi musical capital for eastern Algeria for much of the twentieth century, Tlemcen for western Algeria and eastern Morocco, and Algiers for central Algeria as well as for Mostaganem and Béjaïa. In many cases there are distinct names for the music characteristic of these somewhat smaller configurations: ma'luf is often used for the nuba tradition of Tunisia and eastern Algeria, ala is generally reserved for the dominant nuba tradition of Morocco, gharnati is today frequently used for western Algeria and its Moroccan offshoots, and san'a is used for Algiers as well as for Tlemcen, even while the Algiers and Tlemcen traditions are largely compatible (fig. 2). In order to further specify, one can speak of the ma'luf of Testour versus the ma'luf of Annaba, the san'a of Mostaganem versus the san'a of Blida, or the ala of Fes versus the ala of Tangier. In addition, the term andalusi, andalous, andalou, or andalus, all translatable as simply Andalusi, can be used to refer to both the pan-Maghribi musical form as a whole and to its local instantiations.
Islands are also necessarily sharply divided from the water around them, and to speak of Andalusi music is to speak of a quintessentially urban music that is mainly discontinuous from its non-urban surroundings. As will be explored further in chapter 3, Andalusi music is a genre complex whose edges invoke the urban hinterland, particularly through the colloquial Maghribi song repertoire sometimes known as hawzi, which etymologically points to the hawz or outskirts of a city. But at the center of the genre complex, which is to say with regard to the nuba, we are talking about an urban, urbane music — une musique savante, a "learned music" that acts as the classical pinnacle for what in French is called la musique citadine, urban music. Ideologically speaking, such urban music stands in maximal contrast to the musical and more broadly social space of the countryside — a space that in predominantly Berber-speaking regions often stands in linguistic contrast to the urban center as well. And not just any city will do: the places most closely associated with Andalusi music are also associated with the Arab-Islamic conception of hadara or civilization, or else are home to communities closely connected to those old centers of learning, trade, government, and urbanity. Hence for Tlemcen, Oujda, Nedroma, and Oran but not Maghnia or Berkane; for Algiers, Blida and Mostaganem but not Bouira; for Constantine, Annaba but not Souk Ahras; for Fes, Meknes but not Sefrou.
Furthermore, the urbanness that Andalusi music invokes is not the urbanness of the present. Instead, it recalls the urbanness of the era before massive rural-to-urban migration, when only a very small percentage of Maghribis lived in urban centers. Thus for many practitioners I have encountered, Andalusi music is properly the preserve of "old families," "noble families," or "pure families," whose roots reach back to a time before the cities were inundated with people from the countryside and hence became "mixed." For some aficionados who are able to lay claim to old urban roots, such a pedigree is a weapon in the act of self-differentiation, and it can even be turned on fellow practitioners, as when devotees quietly use their rivals' purported rural roots (and the lack of erudition and respect that such roots allegedly entail) to criticize their musical efforts. Similarly, I know practitioners who reserve their highest praise for those amateur associations that at one time were known for their refusal to admit any members from outside the local elite. But for those who do not lay claim to such roots, there are alternative ways to invoke urbanity. For Nour-Eddine Saoudi, for example, a leading figure in the Algiers scene whose family originally came from the southeastern oases, citadinité or urbanness is something that can be taken on by choice and is not the keep of particular families. And in the associative realm, many people credit the growth of populist, non-elitist amateur associations, particularly in the late 1970s and the 1980s, with improving the level of pedagogy and performance in a variety of cities. There is, then, a tension between a notion of citadinité in the blood and citadinité as a sensibility that can be cultivated. The value of citadinité, however — the marriage of urbanism and sophistication — is not up for dispute.
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Table of ContentsList of Figures
Note on Transliteration
Part I The People of al-Andalus
Prologue: An istikhbār
1 An Andalusi Archipelago
2 The Shaykh and the Mūlū‘
3 Andalusi Music as Genre
Part II Revival
Prologue: A Photograph
4 Ambiguous Revivals
5 Texts, Authority, and Possession
6 The Associative Movement
7 The Politics of Patrimony
Conclusion: The Lost