Moorish music was a vibrant blend of different cultural influences which utilised a wide range of instruments and resulted in a widespread culture of music, poetry and singing throughout medieval Iberia under Moorish rule.
Since the establishment of Moorish rule in Iberia in the 8th century, Moorish royal courts became home to leading singers of the day, often inviting them over from the Arab world in the East.
This resulted in a rich and diverse tradition of music in Moorish Iberia, one which was to influence not only music in other European regions such as the music of troubadours but also the music of Spain and neighbouring regions in the centuries following the end of Reconquista.
Moorish Music Culture
Music in Moorish Iberia, unlike in most medieval regions, was composed not only for the royalty and the nobility but also for the commoners.
While the royalty hired famed singers and musicians who came with entire ensembles, commoners would sit down for a musical evening in front of a singer for hire and enjoy music at their homes and gardens.
Some 13th century historical sources suggest that even peasants in Moorish Iberia actively enjoyed poetry and music, partaking in its composition at times.
The key element which helped in the flourishing of music in Moorish culture was the active patronisation by rulers throughout the Moorish period, a tradition which was brought to Moorish Iberia from Omayyad Damascus and later rivalled the contemporary music culture of Baghdad.
Moorish music also began to pervade the mystics and Sufis of medieval Iberia who actively explored the potential uses of music in attaining the final stage of mysticism, union with God.
Political Patronisation of Moorish Music
From the earliest days of the Moorish rule in Iberia, Moorish rulers actively patronised the pursuit of arts and sciences, including music.
This remained true for most of the reign of the Omayyad dynasty during the Cordoba Caliphate and later through the era of taifa states as well.
Abdul Rahman I, who established the Cordoba Caliphate in Moorish Iberia, brought a notable singer “Afza” to his court from the East.
Similarly, during the reign of subsequent Omayyad rulers, a large number of notable music composers and singers came to grace the royal palaces.
These included the highly learned and talented Biscayan singer, Qalam and more notably, Ziryab who was one of the most famed musicians and singers of early 9th century Arab world and who chose to give up his position in Baghdad for a position at the royal court in Moorish Spain.
Important Facts about Moorish Music:
Moorish music flourished in medieval Iberia from the 8th century until the 15th century.
Moorish music was influenced by Arab tradition of singing and poetry, Berber music traditions as well as the music of native Visigoth Christian populations of Iberia.
In the 9th century, a music conservatory was established in Cordoba which was the first conservatory of its type in contemporary Europe.
The most common instrument used in Moorish music included the lute, tambourine, flute, trumpet, drum, bagpipe, a sort of basic guitar and rebec.
Two types of song and verse which were very popular in Moorish Iberia were the muwashshaat and zajal.
Important Music treatises from the period include Ibn Rushd’s Kitab al-Musiqi al-Kabir and Ibn Sabin’s Kitab al-Adwar al-Mansub.
The most popular musician in Moorish Iberia was Ziryad who gave up his position in Abbasid court to settle in Moorish Spain.
Types of Moorish Music
A vast variety of musical styles and types evolved and flourished in Moorish Spain. These blended together the Arab, Moorish and local Christian influences.
A notable form was the “muwashshaat” which was a song written and sung in Arabic but with its concluding verses in the romance language of the Christians of Moorish Iberia.
Zajal was another form of song composed in Moorish Iberia, written and sung in vulgar Arabic.
Moorish music composed in “Zajal” style was immensely popular among the common people and songs composed in this style rapidly proliferated through Arab-speaking world of the time.
Music Theory and Literature
Given the official patronage that music enjoyed in Moorish Iberia, a large number of books and treatises on music were penned down by the leading scholars of medieval Spain.
The most notable example of this is the “Kitab al-Musiqi al-Kabir” penned down by Ibn Rushd and considered one of the most important books on music for many centuries.
Another notable treatise on the subject was the “Kitab al-Adwar al-Mansub” penned down by Ibn Sabin.