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Title: Gendering emotions: tarab, women and musical performance at the abbasid court in kitab al-aghani.
Authors: Moukheiber, Karen 
Affiliations: Cultural Studies Program 
Keywords: The Abbasid court
Slave and free women singers and musicians
Arabic biographical narratives
Musical performance and audience response
Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī
Issue Date: 2017
Part of: Cultural history journal
Volume: 8
Issue: 2
Start page: 164
End page: 183
Conference: International Society for Cultural History entitled Senses, Emotions and the Affective Turn (26-29 June 2017 : Sweden) 
Musical performance was a distinctive feature of urban culture in the formative period of Islamic history. At the court of the Abbasid caliphs, and in the residences of the ruling elite, men and women singers performed to predominantly male audiences. The success of a performer was linked to his or her ability to elicit ṭarab, namely a spectrum of emotions and affects, in their audiences. Ṭarab was criticized by religious scholars due, in part, to the controversial performances at court of slave women singers depicted as using music to induce passion in men, diverting them from normative ethical social conduct. This critique, in turn, shaped the ethical boundaries of musical performances and affective responses to them. Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānīs tenth-century Kitāb al-Aghānī ('The Book of Songs) compiles literary biographies of prominent male and female singers from the formative period of Islamic history. It offers rich descriptions of musical performances as well as ensuing manifestations of ṭarab in audiences, revealing at times the polemics with which they were associated. Investigating three biographical narratives from Kitāb al-Aghānī, this paper seeks to answer the following question: How did emotions, gender and status shape on the one hand the musical performances of women singers and on the other their audiences emotional responses, holistically referred to as ṭarab. Through this question, this paper seeks to nuance and complicate our understanding of the constraints and opportunities that shaped slave and free women's musical performances, as well as men's performances, at the Abbasid court.
Type: Journal Article
Appears in Collections:Cultural Studies Program

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