The Arab Avant-Garde
Fig. 1. The Arab Avant-Garde. Courtesy of Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

Wesleyan University Press published a new book titled "The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity" edited by Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson, and Benjamin J. Harbert.

Publication Data

Burkhalter, Thomas; Dickinson, Kay & Harbert, Benjamin J. (Eds.). The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity. Wesleyan University Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-8195-7386-5.


From jazz trumpeters drawing on the noises of warfare in Beirut to female heavy metallers in Alexandria, the Arab culture offers a wealth of exciting, challenging, and diverse musics. The essays in this collection investigate the plethora of compositional and improvisational techniques, performance styles, political motivations, professional trainings, and inter-continental collaborations that claim the mantle of “innovation” within Arab and Arab diaspora music. While most books on Middle Eastern music-making focus on notions of tradition and regionally specific genres, The Arab Avant Garde presents a radically hybrid and globally dialectic set of practices. Engaging the “avant-garde”—a term with Eurocentric resonances—this anthology disturbs that presumed exclusivity, drawing on and challenging a growing body of literature about alternative modernities.

Chapters delve into genres and modes as diverse as jazz, musical theatre, improvisation, hip hop, and heavy metal as performed in countries like Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and the United States. Focusing on multiple ways in which the “Arab avant-garde” becomes manifest, this anthology brings together international writers with eclectic disciplinary trainings—practicing musicians, area studies specialists, ethnomusicologists, and scholars of popular culture and media. Contributors include Sami W. Asmar, Michael Khoury, Saed Muhssin, Marina Peterson, Kamran Rastegar, Caroline Rooney, and Shayna Silverstein, as well as the editors.

Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration
Introduction: “Arab” + “Avant-Garde” — Kay Dickinson
Part I. Alternative Modernities: Norms and Innovations
1. Transforming Space: The Production of Contemporary Syrian Art Music — Shayna Silverstein
2. Balancing Integration and Disintegration: Amir Elsaffar and the Contingent Avant-Garde — Kamran Rastegar
3. Multisited Avant-Gardes or World Music 2.0? Musicians from Beirut and Beyond between Local Production and Euro-American Reception — Thomas Burkhalter
Part II. Roots and Routes
4. The “People’s Artist” and the Beginnings of the Twentieth-Century Arab Avant-Garde — Saed Muhssin
5. Challenging the Status Quo in War-Torn Lebanon: Ziad Rahbani, the Avant-Garde Heir to Musical Tradition — Sami W. Asmar
6. A Look at Lightning: The Life and Compositions of Halim El-Dabh — Michael Khoury
Part III. Political Deployments of the Avant-Garde
7. Sonic Cosmopolitanisms: Experimental Improvised Music and a Lebanese-American Cultural Exchange — Marina Peterson
8. Activism and Authenticity: Palestinian and Related Hip-Hop in an International Frame — Caroline Rooney
9. Noise and Its Formless Shadows: Egypt’s Extreme Metal as Avant-Garde Nafas Dawsha — Benjamin J. Harbert
Selected Discography

About the Authors

Thomas Burkhalter is a researcher at Zurich University of Arts, editor-in-chief of, and author of Local Music Scenes and Globalization: Transnational Platforms in Beirut.

Kay Dickinson is an associate professor at Concordia University and the author of Off Key: When Film and Music Won’t Work Together.

Benjamin J. Harbert is an assistant professor of music at Georgetown University and the director of the documentary Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians.

To order the book online visit the Wesleyan University Press website.