Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m hopelessly in love with Arabic music and the Moorish influence in flamenco. You can only imagine my delight to learn that the Moors had a very important role in the history of the world, and that their influence has affected our very way of life, even today! They acted as a bridge between the ancient civilizations of Greece and Egypt and paved the way for Renaissance, which would not have been possible without them. As a person who has a deep love of learning, art, music and culture, I’ve been revelling in the wonderful realization that the Moorish way of life included many of the same things. They brought light to the dark ages in Europe, creating wealth, knowledge, trade, opportunity and bringing the best technology the world had on offer at the time – which was far more substantial than I knew.
For them, music, art and all things beautiful existed for the glorification of God. They valued curiosity and education and made it available to everyone, not just the clerical elite, as was the norm in Europe at the time. They were willing to explore and preserve ancient texts from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. They were very interested in astronomy, sciences, math, arts & culture. Their value on education was pervasive, and as they created wealth and abundance in Spain, they generously shared their knowledge, as you can see in the following examples:
- They knew how to make paper, which they likely learned from the Chinese. When they went to Andalusia, they built paper factories, making paper widely available as an intellectual tool.
- With the use of the Arabic numbering system, math (ie accounting) became much more accessible: Can you imagine doing multiplication using Roman numerals?
- There are over 4000 arabic words in Spanish and many in English as well. This is because the Arabs began studying many sciences that didn’t previously exist. The flamenco jaleo “Olé” is thought to have come from the Arabic word, ‘Allah.’ This simple, but important spiritual value passed down from the Moors still exists today in flamenco: The artist is a conduit for the Divine.
- Women entertainers weren’t just pretty faces! They were expected to be good conversationalists, capable of intellectual discourse, composing and reciting poetry, and educated musicians.
- Their love of mosaics continues to pervade Spanish architecture and beyond. The rosette on my guitar – the inlaid decoration around the sound hole – is a beautiful little mini-mosaic that the builder made himself. This is part of the Moorish tradition!
- The guitar is thought to have been a variation on the Arabic oud, brought to Spain by the legendary Zyryab. In flamenco playing, we still deliberately imitate sounds and techniques originally done on the oud at times.
The Moors ultimately lost power because they placed a greater value on their lifestyle over military might and were overthrown. The most important value that has been reinforced from my study is that our wealth is meant to uplift humanity, not destroy it. We are meant to be nourished by it, but this must be done consciously – especially in our modern world, where consumption is the malady of the day.
I’ve created a playlist on Spotify that exemplifies some of Arabic and Middle Eastern musical elements, either on their own or shown in flamenco. The process of digging for all these musical examples has been a super-juicy experience – one that’s sure to be ongoing. I hope you’ll give it a listen!