Book Review – The Music of the Arabs

In the early 90’s I visited a client’s house in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There was a banquet after which we retired to an entertainment room. There was a traditional six piece ensemble playing Arabic music. His eldest son served traditional coffee which I think is made from coffee and cardamon seeds, not been able to replicate this back home, but it is really nice. No alcohol, of course, but a large Hookah Shisha Pipe was available, it stood about four feet tall (1.2m) had a very long hose enabling it to be passed from person to person. The night had a great atmosphere and it really sparked my interest in traditional Arabic music. I look back on the night for two other reasons, first, the best night out ever with no alcohol, and second, the hospitality. Well enough of me reminiscing, let’s take a look at the book…

Review – The Music of the Arabs

Music of the Arabs front cover

Originally published in Germany in 1989, The Music of the Arabs (Amadeus Press) is the first English translation of the book, though there are French and Italian editions.

This is a well written and well translated (by Laurie Schwartz) book and is very easy to understand.

A real bonus is the inclusion of a “Transliteration and Pronunciation of the Arabic Alphabet” plus a very comprehensive Discography and Bibliography. There is also an extensive list of recent publications on Arabian Music.

The first chapter covers the history of Arabic music and the centres where it was practised: Iraq, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. It spans over fourteen centuries of history.

Further chapters delve into the tonal maqām system and the rhythm or Wazn. It covers the different genres of Secular Art Music and has a chapter on Religious music.

There is also a very fine chapter on the musical instruments in use in the Arabic World.

Who would I recommend this book to? Well anyone interested in Arabian music, anyone wanting a quick resource covering all aspects of Arabian music, and finally all those musicians with an enquiring mind wishing to expand their horizons. Highly recommended!

Music of the Arabs rear cover

Rather confusingly the rear cover states that the book comes with a CD. Sadly this is not the case, but the CD can be downloaded for free at:

The CD contains seven tracks recorded by the author with a detailed description of these within the book itself.

Review – Jahloon, February 2017

About the Author

Habib Hassan Touma, was a Palestinian composer and musicologist, he compiled a number of authoritative books on Arabic music in his lifetime. Dr. Touma (born 1934) died in 1998.

Unfortunately, despite thorough research, we have been unable to find a picture of the author, if anyone has one we would much appreciate being able to add it to this page.

Book Credits

Author: Habib Hassan Touma
Translator: Laurie Schwartz
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Amadeus Press; New revised edition (15 Mar. 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1574670816
ISBN-13: 978-1574670813
Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
CD available free at:


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