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Arab-Latin Music: A Rich, Shared History

posted on: Jan 13, 2010

Tonight, Arabic oud virtuoso, Victor Ghannam and Spanish guitar specialist, Jacco Muller will take the stage at the prestigious Theatre of Old Town in the heart of Chicago to showcase the fusion melodies of their debut album. The recently released collaboration—titled “Viento del Desierto” (Dessert Wind) in Spanish or “Reeh el-Sahara“ in Arabic—is said to be an exhilarating blend of the Middle Eastern and Spanish percussion.

Ghannam, a Palestinian American and fellow metro-Detroiter, says “The two genres compliment each other so beautifully…they have a similar musical scale and infrastructure, not to mention that they are both extremely expressive and passionate.” While Ghannam and Muller are apart of a revitalized effort to fuse the music of the Latin and Arab worlds, it is in fact, a relationship that took root hundreds of years ago.

It is in the 8th century that Arabic musical instruments were introduced to Spain by way of the Arab Muslims (Moors) who resided in the southern province of Andalusia for about 800 years. Historians note that Arabs are responsible for the introduction of the guitar to the western world—with the oud giving way to the lute, and lute evolving into the modernized guitar known today.

The Arabs are also thought to have had a significant influence on the traditional Spanish music known as flamenco—an art shaped entirely by the “gitanos” (gypsies) who lived amongst the Arabs. In fact, some scholars believe the word “flamenco” is an adaptation of the Arabic colloquial phrase “fellah minko” translating to “one who flees”—a defining characteristic of gypsies.

Although the Moors and Spaniards are credited with the first real fusion of eastern and western music, the immigration of Arabs outside of the Middle East in the 20th century really solidified this cross-cultural movement. The Arab Diaspora to countries such as Brazil, Chile, Columbia, and Mexico has resulted in the fusion of Arab-Latin beats and languages, as is the case with world renowned singers Dalida, Alabina, and Shakira.

Singer, songwriter Elizabeth Ayoub, is a product of this fusion as well. While she was born in Venezuela, her lineage traces back to southern Lebanon. Ayoub, set to release her second cross-cultural album in May of this year, says she loves this fusion of music, “It is open to interpretation ethnically and culturally and therefore is attractive to so many different people— people from Latin America, the Middle East, and all over the world.”

As Ghannam and Muller take the stage this evening, they are excited for what the future holds. Already, they have been asked to perform at numerous venues around the world, including Istanbul, Turkey and Melbourne, Australia. As they play, each musician will showcase distinct characteristics of Spanish and Arabic music, yet as Ghannam puts it “Our similarities will come from our extraordinary and rich, shared history.”

Ameera David
Arab Detroit
Ghannam and Muller will perform tonight in Chicago at The Old Town School, at 8:30 PM in the Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N Lincoln Ave. Call (773) 728-6000 for reservations. The recently released album “Viento del Desierto” is available for purchase on iTunes.

Elizabeth Ayoub’s first album, Prelude, is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and through her website at