Book Review – Salhi (2014)

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Salhi, K. (Ed.) (2014). Music, Culture and Identity in the Muslim World: Performance, Politics and Piety. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.


Cheri Ang,MMusTher, NZ RMTh
Private Practice, Singapore


As music therapists come into contact with people from diverse backgrounds, it becomes increasingly important for us to seek an understanding of the socio-political situation faced by Muslims and the current trend in the Islamic music scene. According to a report by Pew Research Center (2015),Islam was (in 2010) the second the largest religious group after Christianity, with an estimated population of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The same report predicted that Islam would grow faster than any other major religion.

I was excited to be writingthis review because of my interest in Sufi philosophies and the Mevlana Dervish dances. I initially found this book a challenge to read because some chapters contained many Arabic and Persian terms unfamiliar to me –a glossary would have helped to make this book easier to read. In addition, there were significant typographicalerrors (consistent omission throughout the book of “ff”, “ffi” and “fl” in words such as off-line, office and conflict) that need to be corrected in future editions. Once these omissions were figured out, I found the book informative because it demonstrates the socio-political situation and on-going tensions and disagreements within Islamic communities about acceptable approaches to music and performance. It also provided insights into how these factors influence the practice of the musicians, the cultural scene and the sense of identity of young Muslims living in various countries, such as Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the USA, UK, France and Germany.

This book begins with an introduction by the editor, Kamal Salhi, who explains his intentions to address the place of music, culture and identity of the worldwide Muslim population. The book comprises 11 chapters, all by different authors with notable credentials. Their backgrounds range from ethnomusicology, Islamic studies, sociology, music, to religious and cultural studies specializing in both Eastern and Western traditions. Overall, this book effectively demonstrates how social-political situations shape the development of Islamic music in the Muslim world. As this theme recurs throughout the book, one can benefit equally from reading individual chapters.

Chapter 1 explores the musical culture of Turkey through an extensive research intoa prominent music practitioner,Mehmet Emin Ay,and interviews with local teachers in Turkey. This chapter studies the tension surrounding the legitimacy of performance and music in the Muslim world. Chapter 2 demonstrates the heterodoxy of Sufi musical performances in Egypt, and Chapter 3 examines how Sufi chanting can be a vehicle of empowerment for Moroccan Muslims,that extends to the wider Moroccan community. Chapter 4 provides insightful, personal accounts by a few Egyptian musicians who left a successful performance career to devote themselves to God. While some of them remain active through preaching, others returned to their profession and serve as role models to the public. Chapter 5 examines the role of dance in Afghanistan. Although it is not about music, it highlights many similar contradictions and conflicting views by the Muslim community about its legitimacy.

Chapter 6, one of the longest chapters, focuses on the Muharram rituals in Delhi, Karachi and Hyderabad in Pakistan, where the ritual drummers, musicians and co-participants in Muharram are being interviewed. This chapter involves an in-depth discussion around the manifested and hidden aspects of performances and how performers viewed their roles and interpreted the music. One can find some detailed descriptions of the musical repertoire, drumming rhythms and patterns employed.

In Chapter 7, the author highlights how issues of Islamophobia resulted in marginalised Muslimyouths turning to the Internet as a means of expressing their political views. Digital media and Taqwacore, a transnational punk music scene have become a popular platform for Muslim youths in the USA and other western countries to form their own identities and engage meaningfully with others from the Muslim diaspora.

Chapter 8 analyses the use of qawwalimusic in Indian films and shows the influence of Muslim and Sufi traditions and music on Indian films. Chapter 9 investigates the history and programming of Bradford Mela, the United Kingdom’s largest South Asian music and art festival,to show how fear of terrorism impacted the festival and contributed to the marginalization of young Pakistani Muslims or Mirpuris. Chapter 11 analyses the 2007 single Mange du kebab (“Eat kebabs”)1 by Lil’Maaz, who went from kebab shop waiter to online YouTube rap sensation in France. The stereotypes faced by Muslims in France and the socio-cultural significance of the video are discussed.

I found Chapter 10, by Maruta Herding, to be the most useful and easiest to read. Herding’s ideas and arguments are clearly articulated and foreign words used are fully translated and defined. This chapter describes the development of the Islamic music scene in Germany, France and the United Kingdom within a socio-political context. The author names several influential Islamic rappers and provides readers with insights into their background and motivations. The types of songs and possible messages to their listener are clearly described. Most of these songs can be found on YouTube. Extracts of song lyrics in French and German are fully translated into English, providing readers with a better feel of the songs. The comparisons between countries and multi-dimensional analysis of Islamic music development in Western Europe help readers to gain a fuller understanding of the social and political context.

138For music therapists, I would highly recommend reading Chapter 10, because it explains in a very clear and concise manner, the socio-political context and current Islamic music scene. In addition, Herding’s suggestions of several hip-hop songs popular with Muslim youths in Germany, France and the United Kingdom might be useful for music therapists. Chapter 6 might interest some music therapists because it describes in detail a few drumming patterns used in Islamic Muharram2rituals in Pakistan and the role of the different musical instruments in different contexts.

To conclude, I do not recommend reading the entire book, but I encourage music therapists to beginwith Chapter 10 by Maruta Herding, which is both accessible and highly informative. In my personal view, it is a well-written piece of work, which I have found inspirational.



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