Arab Music

Welcome to QNL's Arab Music Subject Guide!

Arab music is characterized by its rich traditions and a large variety of styles and instruments used. Its influence spans across Gulf countries, the wider MENA region and beyond.
This guide provides an overview on Arab music and offers ideas on how to start looking for materials in print and digital format, including strategies on how to search them. Here, you will find several curated lists of recommended readings and links to useful online resources that are freely available on the web. For Western music, see the Music Subject Guide.
Please search the QNL Catalog to find out which of the recommended resources can be accessed in digital format on the QNL website. The catalog also indicates where these resources can be obtained if available only in a printed format.

For study or general reference questions and further assistance on how to find relevant materials for your information needs, please feel free to contact us through the Ask QNL Librarians service.


Within QNL Online Resources, you will find lots of material related to Arab music culture. Below are some examples, ranging from encyclopedic articles to musical recordings. For a comprehensive overview, see the Guide to Arab Music Contents in QNL Online Resources

Arabic Music Between the Hammer of Technological Creativity and the Anvil of Cultural Identity – Academic paper on JSTOR
The JSTOR archive includes more than 1,500 leading academic journals in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. The entire archive of journals (from volume 1, issue 1) is provided, with an embargo for the most recent three years.

Music and Media in the Arab World – Ebook on University Press Scholarship Online
This online database provides access to the full text of more than 10,000 academic ebooks in 20 subject areas, including humanities, social sciences, medicine and law. It includes titles from Oxford University Press and partner presses.

'ABOU-KHALIL, Rabih: Tarab' – Recording on Naxos Music Library Jazz 
Naxos Music Library Jazz offers a selection of jazz legends, contemporary jazz and newly selected titles from leading independent labels, which are updated every month.

Print Books

Below is a list of recommended print books on Arabic music. For more books, search the QNL Catalog:

Danielson, V. (1997). The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthūm, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Call number: ML420.U46 D36 1997
In this first English-language biography about Umm Kulthum, Virginia Danielson chronicles the life of the most celebrated musical figure of the 20th century in the Arab world.

Katz, I. J. (2015). Henry George Farmer and the First International Congress of Arab Music (Cairo 1932). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.
Call number: ML189.F3 K37 2015
This book presents the journal and minutes of the musicologist Henry George Farmer (1882-1965) from the First International Congress of Arab Music in Cairo in 1932. They reveal new aspects of the congress, which is considered a crucial event in modern Arab music history.

Powers, C. (2005). Arabic Musical Scales: Basic Maqam Notation. Boulder, CO: GL Design.
Call number: MT45 .P77 2005b
Arabic Musical Scales provides instruction and guidance on the maqam, the system of melodic modes at the heart of traditional Arab music. Readers will learn about 45 musical scales, many of which include quartertone intervals.

Shiloah, A. (2003). Music in the World of Islam: A Socio-Cultural Study. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.
Call number: ML3545 .S486 2003
Music in the World of Islam is a socio-cultural study providing ethnomusicological insights into a number of Middle Eastern musical genres.

Toshich, M. (2008). The Basics of Oud. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications.
Call number: MT654.O9 T68 2008
The Basics of Oud is a comprehensive instruction manual for the Arabic oud, an essential instrument in the musical tradition of the region. The companion DVD includes additional video material illustrating playing techniques for the instrument.

Touma, H. H. (2003). The Music of the Arabs. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.
Call number: ML332 .T6913 2003
In this book, Habib Hassan Touma introduces Arabic music by providing historical insights and cultural descriptions, along with many musical examples and information about song styles and musical instruments.

Urkevich, L. (2015). Music and Traditions of the Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. New York, NY: Routledge.
Call number: ML348 .U75 2015
Lisa Urkevich provides a comprehensive overview of the musical traditions of the Arabian Peninsula. The book focuses on folk and traditional urban music, as well as dance and rituals of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

Listen to This

Would you like to watch Arab music performances? Do you prefer listening to podcasts? Are you looking for a music streaming platform for contemporary Arab artists? The selections below give you several starting points.

Musical performances



Music Streaming

Qatar Digital Library articles on Arab music traditions

Learn more about Arab musical heritage in these expert articles from the Qatar Digital Library. They include both archival material from the British Library and recent video recordings of musical performances from the Arabian Peninsula.

Sing, Play and Be Merry: The Unique Ṣawt Music of the Arabian Peninsula – Rolf Killius
Ṣawt, the urban music of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, has evolved from diverse musical traditions, including sea music, and was profoundly influenced by Indian, African and classical Arabic music.

Modernity Meets Tradition: Reflections on Traditional Music in Qatar – Rolf Killius
Though nowadays Qatar is well-known for its immense natural oil and gas reserves and the rapid modernization of society, it has a rich heritage of music and dance intimately related to pearl diving, sea trade and Bedouin traditions.

Hidden Treasures: Reflections on Traditional Music in Kuwait – Rolf Killius
Kuwait has maintained a thriving traditional music culture; in particular, bahri, or sea music, and ṣawt have remained at the heart of the music scene.

Sea Meets Desert: Reflections on Traditional Music in Oman – Rolf Killius
In the Sultanate of Oman, traditional music, poetry, and dance are still part and parcel of everyday life and national celebrations alike.

The Singing Sailor, Salim Rashid Suri: A Ṣawt Musician from Oman – Rolf Killius
Salim Rashid Suri, an Omani ṣawt singer and oud player became famous as the ‘singing sailor’ and for developing a truly unique style, which took influence from musical sources across the Middle East and India.

Love and Separation in Baghdad: Pesta and Rifi Songs on Shellac Discs – Rolf Killius
Pesta and rifi Songs, which developed in the 20th century from Iraqi maqam, became more popular because they were recorded on shellac and broadcast throughout Iraq in the mid-century.

Dusty Streets and Hot Music in Baghdad: Iraqi Maqam Music and Chalgi Ensembles – Rolf Killius
Kept alive until today by a very small number of chalgi Baghdad ensembles and through remaining shellac recordings, Iraqi maqam is a sophisticated musical genre from urban Iraq that developed in the 1920s‒1940s.

Qatar National Anthem

Qatar’s National Anthem, ‘As-Salam al-Amiri,’ was adopted in 1996. The lyrics were written by Sheikh Mubarak bin Saïf Al-Thani, while famous Qatari musician Abdulaziz Nasser composed the music.

According to the Amiri Diwan, in English, the lyrics translate to:

Swearing by God who raised the sky
Swearing by God who spread the light
Qatar will always be free
Elevated by the souls of the loyal
Follow the path of the ancestors
And the prophets' guidance
In my heart
Qatar is an epic of dignity and glory
Qatar is the land of the forefathers
Who protect us on call-up to sacrifice
Dovish at times of peace
Hawkish at times of sacrifice

Listen to Qatar National Anthem (on Qatar TV YouTube Channel)

Arab Music in QNL Online Resources

This section lists content about Arab music in QNL Online Resources and materials available through the QNL Catalog. There is a focus on music-specific resources, but you will also find links to more general databases. The section contains both links to searches as well as individual titles and articles. When doing searches on the topic, suggested keywords include ‘Arab/Arabian/Arabic music,’ ‘Middle East music,’ and ‘Islam/Islamic music.’ Note that different variants of the keywords will have an effect on the search results. If a search by geographical location is possible, countries of the MENA region are included.

This section is updated on an ongoing basis. In case the links are not working properly, details on the kind of search are added, so you will be able to find your way through the main page of the particular resource.

QNL Catalog

Harvard Dictionary of Music, selected articles:

De Gruyter eBooks
Selected title:

eBook Central (ProQuest)
Selected titles:

Music Periodicals Database

Performing Arts Periodicals Database
Advanced search in ‘Anywhere except full text’ for ‘arab/ic music’, ‘arabian music’, ‘islam/ic music’, ‘’middle east’ music’ + limit to ‘Full text'


Naxos Music Library

Naxos Music Library Jazz
Selected recordings:

Naxos Video Library
Selected titles:

Oxford University Press Journals

Periodicals Archive Online (ProQuest)



University Press Scholarship Online
Selected titles:


This is a list of recommended ebooks on Arab Music. For more ebooks, search the QNL Catalog.

Bayat, A., & Herrera, L. (2010). Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Call number: BP188.18.Y68 B45 2010
This book explores the cultural and political views of Muslim youth around the world by looking at lifestyles, identity issues and musical subcultures, among others. The book shows that they share very similar views with their non-Muslim counterparts. 

Burkhalter, T., Dickinson, K., & Harbert, B. J. (Eds.). (2013). Music Culture: The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Call number: ML348 .A73 2013
This collection of essays provides insights to a wide variety of musical styles, compositional techniques, collaborations and other aspects of Arab music that are considered ‘avant-garde.’ It features writers with diverse backgrounds, including both practicing musicians and researchers. 

Frishkopf, M. (Ed.). (2010). Music and Media in the Arab World. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
Call number: ML68 .M87 2010
This study on contemporary Arab society and culture takes a look at the impact of mass media on music practices in the Arab world since the turn of the 20th century.