Fossil fuels and the Pandemic has yet to be proven irrelevant

Fossil fuels and the Pandemic has yet to be proven irrelevant

Any causality with direct effects, between Fossil fuels and the Pandemic has yet to be proven irrelevant.

In any case, we are convinced that the petrol-economies experiencing or going to experience economic and financial difficulties shortly, will not be the end of history. This is in no way the cause of that and vice-versa, but it remains that some linkage of mysterious lineage between the fossil fuels and the pandemic has yet to be proven irrelevant.

To provide any serious analysis and reflections on the Arab and Muslim world, we publish below is a contemporary history of the Middle East as compiled in little more than 600 words. It must be said that the said history is a history of conflicting vested interests that more recently culminated with the advent of the so-called ‘black gold’.

Fossil fuels and the Pandemic has yet to be proven irrelevant

The Middle East, the cradle of civilizations and the three monotheistic religions, will forever stay in the collective consciousness as the blessed land of God and men. After the successive Islamic Caliphates, three essential elements modelled contemporary history of this part of the world: The Ottoman conquest, the British- French rivalries and finally the discovery of the fossil fuels. The Arab Middle East was subject to Ottoman domination since the beginning of the 16th century up to the First World War era. The Turkish rule ended with the Arab revolts and the intervention of the British and French troops. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 had to consecrate the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The consequences of this last resulted in a new political configuration of the Middle East: in the northwest, the territories under French mandate: Syria, Lebanon, and other Druze regions, in the south the British mandate of Palestine and Iraq. In the Arabian Peninsula, the emergence of two kingdoms, of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Three events later changed this map: in 1948 the creation of the Jewish state at the expense of Palestine That seriously amputated the Palestinian territories was Transjordan then formed as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Finally, the year 1967 saw the birth of the Republic of South Yemen. Between 1915 and 1917 Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the region into zones of French and British influence. Another highlight of 1917 is the presentation of Lord Walter Rothschild to the British government with Balfour’s famous statement letter. It launched the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was conditioned by the understanding that no harm to the civil and religious rights of any non-Jewish communities were to be tolerated. This statement bore an internal contradiction that harmed the Jews as much as the Arabs and provoked the bloody events of 1947. For it was not possible to create a Jewish homeland without harming the rights of the indigenous Arab communities. Thousands of Palestinians languished in the camps in general indifference of British and French agents. In other terms, Americans, British and the French have always refused to recognize the “Israel Prize” which has served neither the cause of this state nor the prestige of the West. Anglo-French bloody rivalries by interposed Arab revolts continued until the eve of the 2nd World War. The occupation of its territory by the German had to coerce France to freeze its imperial policy in the Middle East. The British intrigues made the position of the French in the Levant untenable to the point of their complete ouster in 1945. Another highlight in the Hejaz, a Bedouin warrior Abdelaziz ibn Saud attacked Mecca, laid down the ruling Hussein and named himself King of the Hejaz in January 1926. The absolute monarchy of Ibn Saud was born and governed to this day. It should be remembered that Cherif Hussein is the head of the illustrious Beni-Hachem family that has ruled Mecca since the 11th century and still doing so far in Jordan. A landmark in the history of the Middle East is the adoption of the Palestine sharing plan on December 1, 1947, providing for the creation of two independent states, one of which Arab and the other Jewish, leaving Jerusalem under UN control. On May 15, 1948, the British mandate ended and evacuated Palestine. On the same day, the Arab armies crossed the newly established border. The result of such assault is to no surprise for anyone. And then the success of the start of operations, this was a debacle Palestine that would shake the Arab world to its foundations. The defeat of Palestine was going to inspire the Arab people by giving a sense of revolt against regimes treated as corrupted by foreign powers. This widespread attitude led to the downfall of some monarchies in favour of republican systems. What paved the way, for the first time, Soviet penetration of the Middle East. 

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas

Christmas has become important in the Palestinian territories as these hosting Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born, the once a year world festivities beginning in this part of the West Bank could be vitally important to their cause. Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University explains in this story of Olive trees, markets and hikes: how the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas.


How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Manger Square with Bethlehem Peace Centre and Christmas tree, December 2019. Dorina Buda, Author provided

There are often marches and demonstrations in support of Palestine in cities around the world, but for those who want to visit the region, a thriving tourism industry has emerged in recent years. “Solidarity tourists” arrive at all times of year to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, with events like olive tree planting in February and olive harvesting in October organised by local Palestinian initiatives such as the Alternative Tourism Group and Joint Advocacy Initiative.

Given Palestine’s place in what is known as the Holy Land – the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ – one of the busiest seasons for visiting is during the Christmas period. Despite the region’s troubled history, thousands make the trip each year.

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Tourists help pick olives in the Palestinian West Bank. Dorina Buda, Author provided

Many will take the Masar Ibrahim – meaning the path of Abraham – a 330km-long trail running from the north to the south of the Palestinian West Bank. Tourists are encouraged to stay with local families, as the hiking trail passes through more than 50 communities, including villages that are entirely Muslim, entirely Christian or with mixed communities.

Christmas in Palestine is a season for neighbourly relations among the various communities, and a period to tell stories of the ancestors. During the first week of December, most Palestinian towns light a communal Christmas tree, while local bands and choirs perform, and international tourists are encouraged to take part.


Read more: Uncovering the language of the first Christmas


Since September 2019, I’ve been researching tourism in the Palestinian West Bank and trying to understand how people celebrate their ancient heritage amid modern tensions and conflict. This is my second Christmas in the region, and on both occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to stay with a local family in Beit Sahour town, which is part of the Bethlehem area.

Peace and goodwill

Communities gather to light Christmas trees at the beginning of December. Dorina Buda, Author provided

Few visitors realise that three Christmases are actually celebrated in Palestine. The Latin churches, which includes Catholic worshippers, recognise December 25 as Christmas Day. But the Greek Orthodox church, which represents the majority of Christians in Palestine and Israel, observes Christmas according to the old Julian calendar created during the time of Julius Caesar in 45 BC. For them, Christmas Day falls on January 7, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem marks Christmas and Epiphany together on January 19.

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Local Palestinian Family at the Lighting of the Tree in Beit Sahour Market, December 2017. Dorina Buda, Author provided

It’s still warm enough to go outdoors, so most visitors at this time of year will explore the beautiful Palestinian landscape. Hiking in the hills of Battir between Bethlehem and Jerusalem takes tourists through a UNESCO heritage site, while in the north part of the country near Ramallah, the hills of Birzeit offer charming views of valleys and hillsides. Christmas markets are also popular and for children, there’s the traditional practice of decorating the al-burbara, a Palestinian dessert, at the Bethlehem Peace Center in celebration of Saint Barbara’s Day on December 4.

Violence flared after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. According to one hotel manager in Palestine’s West Bank, the cancellation rate for bookings that month was around 80%. Palestine’s tourism industry seemed to recover in 2018, but the conflict can have a lasting impression that serves to turn away potential tourists.

Local authorities are quick to denounce the risk and insist that Palestine is safe to visit. Anton Salman, the mayor of Bethlehem said:

Bethlehem as a tourist destination is a secure and safe place. We are showing to the world with the lighting of the Christmas Tree ceremony that Bethlehem is a safe place … Tourists can visit and they can have the experience together with Bethlehemites, ours is a welcoming, hospitable community.


Read more: Spare a thought for Bethlehem this Christmas as politics and tourism collide


Tour guides also seem optimistic about demand from visitors. Yamen Elabed from Beit Sahour has worked as a tour guide for the past ten years and said:

I have not seen such a busy November in a long time. Compared to the same months in 2018, the number of tourists has increased significantly.

I spoke with one tourist from the US who praised the “amazing” hospitality of the local people. Even amid the turmoil and conflict, the friendly welcome of Palestine is an example to the world.

Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

English and languages in general in higher education

English and languages in general in higher education


Global Trends posted on November 19, 2019, The Dilemma of English-Medium Instruction in International Higher Education written by Philip G. Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, and Hans de Wit, Professor and Director at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. This article gives us an instead glance at the worldwide debate that is emerging about the role of English and languages in general in higher education. The issue in the MENA region has been de facto settled sometime back, despite resurging questions as to the position of the local language utilisation in the universities. Hence the featured picture above.


WENR would like to congratulate our partners at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) for its upcoming 100th issue of International Higher Education. Enjoy this advance look into the issue with Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit’s article on the increasing global dominance of English-language instruction.

By the mid-twentieth century, English had become the global language of science and scholarship. With the rise of the internet and globalization in the latter years of the century and in the new millennium, this domination has only increased. The top 50 scientific journals are published in English, as are the vast majority of internationally circulated scholarly articles.

The advent of mass student mobility (more than five million students now study outside of their home countries, the majority of whom choose countries where English is spoken) has also increased the attraction of English. An increasingly mobile professoriate, including thousands of postdocs, gravitate to English-speaking universities. In non-English-speaking countries such as Ethiopia, academic programs and even entire universities use English as a language of instruction, or even as the only language of instruction. In Africa, Rwanda moved from French to English as a country and in higher education; and Algeria’s minister of education recently announced a shift from French to English in higher education.

Indeed, most countries now have English-medium universities, branch campuses that use English, or complete graduate programs in English. For example, one can obtain an English-medium Master of Business Administration from more than 30 universities in China. Universities in Russia are offering academic programs in English that target mainly Russian students, who seek such degrees to boost their prospects in local and international job markets. Chinese universities urge their faculty members to publish in prestigious English language journals and offer them handsome financial rewards for doing so—while, at the same time, publishing in Chinese journals yields few benefits. Indeed, the number of journals in English in China is growing exponentially. The same is true in South Africa and other countries. Without question, English will remain the key global scientific language and an important language of instruction for the foreseeable future. Even in these days of nationalism and populism, its role is likely to increase. Countries, institutions, and individuals are seeking to adapt to the impact of global English on academic life worldwide. Yet, at the same time, a worldwide debate is emerging about the role of English and of languages in general in higher education.

Questions Worth Asking

It is worth raising questions concerning the impact of the tide of English. In the broader sense, there is no use in rejecting it; just as globalization is an inexorable force, so is the role of English in higher education.

Language is more than just a means of communication; it is also an aspect of culture. The implications of using English as a key language for higher education in non-English-speaking countries may affect culture and ways of thinking. The French and the Italians, historically protective of their culture, have long resisted the use of English in higher education, but even they have recently yielded. There are now a growing number of English-medium courses in France and Italy, despite intense protests not only by nationalists and advocates of safeguarding their national cultural heritage, but also by academics.

Using English also has implications for research methodology, publication, and academic orientation. This is true for several reasons. The prestigious English-medium journals are edited almost exclusively by academics in English-speaking countries, and these editors rely in large part on reviewers also located in these countries. Even the most internationally minded editors will bring a bias toward the methodologies and academic orientations favored in English-speaking academe, as will most reviewers. Studies show that the journals and articles that are most cited are written in English, disadvantaging academics from non-English-speaking environments in several ways: The academics’ command of the English language will often be imperfect. More important, in general, they will be pressured to conform to the methodological strictures of mainstream English-dominated trends in their disciplines. This may be less consequential in the natural sciences where methodologies may be more universal, but it has considerable salience in the social sciences, where cultural and national realities shape scholarship. And researchers and scholars in all fields may be tempted to orient their research topics toward what will appeal to journal editors and publishers in the dominant English-medium markets.

Another implication, especially for the humanities and social sciences, is that the pressure to publish in English-medium international journals limits opportunities to contribute to the debate in local language media and to contradict fake news. Academics in the Netherlands have argued against this pressure. In International Higher Education No. 88, Winter 2017, Akiyoshi Yonezawa noted that “limited publication in English in these fields is becoming a serious obstacle to the further development of the humanities and social sciences in Japan,” and that “it is unlikely and undesirable that English as an academic language should continue to monopolize fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which are deeply rooted in multilinguistic and multicultural activities and values.”

A consequence of offering English-medium courses and programs in many non-English environments is the poor quality of the instruction offered by many faculty whose command of English may be only rudimentary, or whose ability to teach in the language is limited. This low-quality instruction, often combined with limited English comprehension on the part of many local and non-Anglophone international students, creates an environment where little actual learning is taking place. Additionally, knowledge of and access to current course texts and other materials in English may be limited. In short, offering high-quality programs in English is a complex undertaking that requires a high level of fluency on the part of both faculty and students.

A little-noticed consequence of the rise of global English in universities is the deteriorating status of learning other languages by students in English-speaking countries. Enrollments in “foreign language” courses and programs throughout the English-speaking world have declined, with many students (and faculty) feeling that they can communicate anywhere in the world in English. This trend has also led to declines in courses on world cultures and world civilizations, thus reducing in-depth knowledge of cultures among native English-speaking students. An additional concern is the increasing sophistication of machine translation of academic materials of all kinds, further reducing the perceived need to learn languages other than English.

There is also a consideration about the role of colonial languages in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Local languages are used in public primary and secondary education but, with some exceptions, are not the language of instruction in higher education. The risks of such policies are high and can result in or exacerbate elitism in higher education access, lower quality education and research, lack of alignment with local needs, and the dominance of Western paradigms.

The Debate in the Netherlands

Resistance to the use of English as a language of instruction in the developed world is increasing. In Italy and the Netherlands, academics have gone to court to stop universities from adding more English-taught programs to their course offerings. Arguments vary, from concerns about maintaining the national culture and the quality of education, to claiming that internationalization is a source of revenue that is promoted at the expense of good education for local students. These last two arguments are dominating the current debate in the Netherlands, where there is a general feeling that the spread of English as a language of instruction, with its lack of a strategic approach, has gone too far and become a liability.

The following are among the questions that have been raised:

  • Why should subject areas such as Dutch literature, history, or law be taught in English?
  • Are disciplines like psychology taught in English in order to attract international students and compensate for a decline in interest among local students?
  • Should the substantial contribution that international students make to institutional budgets and to the local and national economy count more than investing in quality education for local students?
  • Why should local students have to compete with international students for limited student housing?
  • How does one counteract the declining interest of local students in Dutch language and literature?

The Dutch minister of education, culture, and science along with institutional leaders is caught between the pressure to compete internationally and the imperative of responding to these arguments—as well as those of nationalists in parliament. Finding a compromise is not easy. Other countries, like Denmark and Germany, are having similar debates.

Conclusion

There are no easy solutions to what some are calling “English imperialism.” It is a fundamental reality today that English is the dominant language of science and scholarship, and increasingly of communication, both formal and informal, among students and academics globally. Understanding all the implications of selecting the language of instruction of a program or of an entire institution, including the costs and benefits of that decision, is crucial, and decision makers bear a heavy responsibility.

  • altbach@bc.edu
  • dewitj@bc.edu
MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency

MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency

EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.

And In today’s world, the English language demonstrates a strong network effect: the more people use it, the more useful it becomes.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.

The EF English Proficiency Index is an annual ranking of countries and regions by English skills

In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.

The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.

In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.

The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.

The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.

The EF EPI and EF EPI-s reports and country/region fact sheets are available for download at http://www.ef.com/sa/epi.   

About EF Education First

EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

EF Logo

Logo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1021478/EF_Education_First_Logo.jpg
Photo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1027036/EF_English_Index.jpg

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

As a Friday essay: why traditional Persian music should be known to the world, Darius Sepehri, of University of Sydney goes through all aspects of why today’s Iran cultural heritage should be appreciated. The author confronting life in today’s world recalls the Traditional Persian Music through remembering his own personal origin rooted in the world’s first superpower that is the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.

Weaving through the rooms of my Brisbane childhood home, carried on the languid, humid, sub-tropical air, was the sound of an Iranian tenor singing 800-year old Persian poems of love. I was in primary school, playing cricket in the streets, riding a BMX with the other boys, stuck at home reading during the heavy rains typical of Queensland.

I had an active, exterior life that was lived on Australian terms, suburban, grounded in English, and easy-going. At the same time, thanks to my mother’s listening habits, courtesy of the tapes and CDs she bought back from trips to Iran, my interior life was being invisibly nourished by something radically other, by a soundscape invoking a world beyond the mundane, and an aesthetic dimension rooted in a sense of transcendence and spiritual longing for the Divine.

I was listening to traditional Persian music (museghi-ye sonnati). This music is the indigenous music of Iran, although it is also performed and maintained in Persian-speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It has ancient connections to traditional Indian music, as well as more recent ones to Arabic and Turkish modal music.

It is a world-class art that incorporates not only performance but also the science and theory of music and sound. It is, therefore, a body of knowledge, encoding a way of knowing the world and being. The following track is something of what I might have heard in my childhood:

Playing kamancheh, a bowed spike-fiddle, is Kayhān Kalhor, while the singer is the undisputed master of vocals in Persian music, ostād (meaning “maestro”) Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He is singing in the classical vocal style, āvāz, that is the heart of this music.

A non-metric style placing great creative demands on singers, āvāz is improvised along set melodic lines memorised by heart. Without a fixed beat, the vocalist sings with rhythms resembling speech, but speech heightened to an intensified state. This style bears great similarity to the sean-nos style of Ireland, which is also ornamented and non-rhythmic, although sean-nos is totally unaccompanied, unlike Persian āvāz in which the singer is often accompanied by a single stringed instrument.

A somewhat more unorthodox example of āvāz is the following, sung by Alireza Ghorbāni with a synthesised sound underneath his voice rather than any Persian instrument. It creates a hypnotic effect.

Even listeners unfamiliar with Persian music should be able to hear the intensity in the voices of Ghorbāni and Shajarian. Passion is paramount, but passion refined and sublimated so that longing and desire break through ordinary habituated consciousness to point to something unlimited, such as an overwhelming sense of the beyond.

Beyond media contrived images

The traditional poetry and music of Iran aim to create a threshold space, a zone of mystery; a psycho-emotional terrain of suffering, melancholy, death and loss, but also of authentic joy, ecstasy, and hope.

Iranians have tasted much suffering throughout their history, and are wary of being stripped of their identity. Currently, economic sanctions are being re-applied to Iran’s entire civilian population, depriving millions of ordinary people of medicine and essentials.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A Persian woman playing the Daf, a frame drum, from a painting on the walls of Chehel-sotoon palace, Isfahan, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Persian music matters in this context of escalating aggression because it is a rich, creative artform, still living and cherished. It binds Iranians in a shared culture that constitutes the authentic life of the people and the country, as opposed to the contrived image of Iran presented in Western media that begins and ends with politics.

This is a thoroughly soulful music, akin not in form but in soulfulness with artists such as John Coltrane or Van Morrison. In the Persian tradition, music is not only for pleasure but has a transformative purpose. Sound is meant to effect a change in the listener’s consciousness, to bring them into a spiritual state (hāl).

Like other ancient systems, in the Persian tradition, the perfection of the formal structures of beautiful music is believed to come from God, as in the Pythagorean phrase, the “music of the spheres.”

Because traditional Persian music has been heavily influenced by Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, many rhythmic performances (tasnif, as opposed to āvāz) can (distantly) recall the sounds of Sufi musical ceremonies (sama), with forceful, trance-inducing rhythms. (For instance in this Rumi performance by Alireza Eftekhari).

Even when slow, traditional Persian music is still passionate and ardent in mood, such as this performance of Rumi by Homayoun Shajarian, son of Mohammad-Reza:

Another link with traditional Celtic music is the grief that runs through Persian music, as can be heard in this instrumental by Kalhor.

Grief and sorrow always work in tandem with joy and ecstasy to create soundscapes that evoke longing and mystery.

Connections with classical poetry

The work of classical poets such as Rumi, Hāfez, Sa’di, Attār, and Omar Khayyām forms the lyrical basis of compositions in traditional Persian music. The rhythmic structure of the music is based on the prosodic system that poetry uses (aruz), a cycle of short and long syllables.

Singers must therefore, be masters not only at singing but know Persian poetry and its metrical aspects intimately. Skilled vocalists must be able to interpret poems. Lines or phrases can be extended or repeated, or enhanced with vocal ornaments.

Thus, even for a Persian speaker who knows the poems being sung, Persian music can still reveal new interpretations. Here, for example (from 10:00 to 25:00 mins) is another example of Rumi by M.R. Shajarian:

This is a charity concert from 2003 in Bam, Iran after a horrendous earthquake destroyed the town. Rumi’s poem is renowned among Persian speakers, but here Mohammad-Reza Shajarian sings it with such passion and emotional intensity that it sounds fresh and revelatory.

“Without everyone else it’s possible,” Rumi says, “Without you, life is not liveable.”

While such lines are originally drawn from the tradition of non-religious love poems, in Rumi’s poems the address to the beloved becomes mystical, otherworldly. After a tragedy such as the earthquake, these lyrics can take on special urgency in the present.

When people listen to traditional music, they, like the singers, remain still. Audiences are transfixed and transported.

According to Sufi cosmology, all melodious sounds erupt forth from a world of silence. In Sufism, silence is the condition of the innermost chambers of the human heart, its core (fuad), which is likened to a throne from which the Divine Presence radiates.

Because of this connection with the intelligence and awareness of the heart, many performers of traditional Persian music understand that it must be played through self-forgetting, as beautifully explained here by master Amir Koushkani:

Persian music has roughly twelve modal systems, each known as a dastgah. Each dastgah collects melodic models that are skeletal frameworks upon which performers improvise in the moment. The spiritual aspect of Persian music is made most manifest in this improvisation.

Shajarian has said that the core of traditional music is concentration (tamarkoz), by which he means not only the mind but the whole human awareness. It is a mystical and contemplative music.

The highly melodic nature of Persian music also facilitates expressiveness. Unlike Western classical music, there is very sparing use of harmony. This, and the fact that like other world musical traditions it includes microtonal intervals, may make traditional Persian music odd at first listen for Western audiences.

Solo performances are important to traditional Persian music. In a concert, soloists may be accompanied by another instrument with a series of call-and-response type echoes and recapitulations of melodic phrases.

Similarly, here playing the barbat, a Persian variant of the oud, maestro Hossein Behrooznia shows how percussion and plucked string instruments can forge interwoven melodic structures that create hypnotic soundscapes:

Ancient roots

The roots of traditional Persian music go back to ancient pre-Islamic Persian civilisation, with archaeological evidence of arched harps (a harp in the shape of a bow with a sound box at the lower end), having been used in rituals in Iran as early as 3100BC.

Under the pre-Islamic Parthian (247BC-224AD) and Sasanian (224-651AD) kingdoms, in addition to musical performances on Zoroastrian holy days, music was elevated to an aristocratic art at royal courts.

Centuries after the Sasanians, after the Arab invasion of Iran, Sufi metaphysics brought a new spiritual intelligence to Persian music. Spiritual substance is transmitted through rhythm, metaphors and symbolism, melodies, vocal delivery, instrumentation, composition, and even the etiquette and co-ordination of performances.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A six-string fretted lute, known as a tār. Wikimedia Commons

The main instruments used today go back to ancient Iran. Among others, there is the tār, the six-stringed fretted lute; ney, the vertical reed flute that is important to Rumi’s poetry as a symbol of the human soul crying out in joy or grief; daf, a frame drum important in Sufi ritual; and the setār, a wooden four-stringed lute.

The tār, made of mulberry wood and stretch lambskin, is used to create vibrations that affect the heart and the body’s energies and a central instrument for composition. It is played here by master Hossein Alizadeh and here by master Dariush Talai.

Music, gardens, and beauty

Traditional Persian music not only cross-pollinates with poetry, but with other arts and crafts. At its simplest, this means performing with traditional dress and carpets on stage. In a more symphonic mode of production, an overflow of beauty can be created, such as in this popular and enchanting performance by the group Mahbanu:

They perform in a garden: of course. Iranians love gardens, which have a deeply symbolic and spiritual meaning as a sign or manifestation of Divine splendour. Our word paradise, in fact, comes from the Ancient Persian word, para-daiza, meaning “walled garden”. The walled garden tended and irrigated, represents in Persian tradition the cultivation of the soul, an inner garden or inner paradise.

The traditional costumes of the band (as with much folk dress around the world) are elegant, colourful, resplendent, yet also modest. The lyrics are tinged with Sufi thought, the poet-lover lamenting the distance of the beloved but proclaiming the sufficiency of staying in unconsumed desire.

As a young boy, I grasped the otherness of Persian music intuitively. I found its timeless spiritual beauty and interiority had no discernible connection with my quotidian, material Australian existence.

Persian music and arts, like other traditional systems, gives a kind of “food” for the soul and spirit that has been destroyed in the West by the dominance of rationalism and capitalism. For 20 years since my boyhood, traditional Persian culture has anchored my identity, healed and replenished my wounded heart, matured my soul, and allowed me to avoid the sense of being without roots in which so many unfortunately find themselves today.

It constitutes a world of beauty and wisdom that is a rich gift to the whole world, standing alongside Irano-Islamic architecture and Iranian garden design.

The problem is the difficulty of sharing this richness with the world. In an age of hyper-communication, why is the beauty of Persian music (or the beauty of traditional arts of many other cultures for that matter) so rarely disseminated? Much of the fault lies with corporate media.

Brilliant women

Mahbanu, who can also be heard here performing a well-known Rumi poem, are mostly female. But readers will very likely not have heard about them, or any of the other rising female musicians and singers of Persian music. According to master-teachers such as Shajarian, there are now often as many female students as male in traditional music schools such as his.

Almost everyone has seen, however through corporate media, the same cliched images of an angry mob of Iranians chanting, soldiers goose-stepping, missile launches, or leaders in rhetorical flight denouncing something. Ordinary Iranian people themselves are almost never heard from directly, and their creativity rarely shown.

The lead singer of the Mahbanu group, Sahar Mohammadi, is a phenomenally talented singer of the āvāz style, as heard here when she performs in the mournful abu ata mode. She may, indeed, be the best contemporary female vocalist. Yet she is unheard of outside of Iran and small circles of connoisseurs mainly in Europe.

A list of outstanding modern Iranian women poets and musicians requires its own article. Here I will list some of the outstanding singers, very briefly. From an older generation we may mention the master Parisa (discussed below), and Afsaneh Rasaei. Current singers of great talent include, among others, Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, Homa Niknam, Mahileh Moradi, and the mesmerising Sepideh Raissadat.

Finally, one of my favourites is the marvellous Haleh Seifizadeh, whose enchanting singing in a Moscow church suits the space perfectly.

The beloved Shajarian

Tenor Mohammad-Reza Shajarian is by far the most beloved and renowned voice of traditional Persian music. To truly understand his prowess, we can listen to him performing a lyric of the 13th century poet Sa’di:

As heard here, traditional Persian music is at once heavy and serious in its intent, yet expansive and tranquil in its effect. Shajarian begins by singing the word Yār, meaning “beloved”, with an ornamental trill. These trills, called tahrir, are made by rapidly closing the glottis, effectively breaking the notes (the effect is reminiscent of Swiss yodeling).

By singing rapidly and high in the vocal range, a virtuoso display of vocal prowess is created imitating a nightingale, the symbol with whom the poet and singer are most compared in Persian traditional music and poetry. Nightingales symbolise the besotted, suffering, and faithful lover. (For those interested, Homayoun Shajarian, explains the technique in this video).

As with many singers, the great Parisa heard here in a wonderful concert from pre-revolutionary Iran, learned her command of tahrir partly from Shajarian. With her voice, in particular, the similarity to a nightingale’s trilling is clear.

Nourishing hearts and souls

The majority of Iran’s 80 million population are under 30 years of age. Not all are involved in traditional culture. Some prefer to make hip-hop or heavy-metal, or theatre or cinema. Still, there are many young Iranians expressing themselves through poetry (the country’s most important art form) and traditional music.

National and cultural identity for Iranians is marked by a sense of having a tradition, of being rooted in ancient origins, and of carrying something of great cultural significance from past generations, to be preserved for the future as repository of knowledge and wisdom. This precious thing that is handed down persists while political systems change.

Iran’s traditional music carries messages of beauty, joy, sorrow and love from the heart of the Iranian people to the world. These messages are not simply of a national character, but universally human, albeit inflected by Iranian history and mentality.

This is why traditional Persian music should be known to the world. Ever since its melodies first pierced my room in Brisbane, ever since it began to transport me to places of the spirit years ago, I’ve wondered if it could also perhaps nourish the hearts and souls of some of my fellow Australians, across the gulf of language, history, and time.

Darius Sepehri, Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Literature, Religion and History of Philosophy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.