Friday, April 18, 2014

Arabic Bagpipes

I was at Souq Waqif again watching the entertainment during the Souq Waqif Festival and there was something interesting about an Arabic band that was on stage.

Yep, they had a bagpiper!

Most Westerners equate bagpipes with Scotland and most people (including myself up until recently) don't realize that the instrument is actually much more widespread. While its origins are subject to debate there is evidence that bagpipe-like instruments originated in Roman times, which means they would have been used throughout the Roman Empire, including the Levant and the Holy Land. I found one tourist website about Syria that claimed bagpipes originated there during Roman times. From Roman times bagpipes spread throughout the area and instruments similar to a Scottish bagpipe can be found today in places like Turkey, Bulgaria, Syria, and Arabia. It’s a bit ironic that the instrument is best known with Scotland given that the Romans never conquered that area.

I’ve seen Arabs using bagpipes before but for traditional music it is not as common as it would be in Scotland. Drums and percussion instruments are the most common instruments, with bagpipes being something you only see occasionally.

But take a look at the picture again, do you see the second set of bagpipes resting on the ground? The fabric pattern certainly looks similar to a Scottish tartan. This band is from Oman so I did a search on traditional musical instruments in Oman. Websites such as this one had some interesting information. Despite the fact that bagpipes are used in many parts of Arabia they were not traditionally used in Oman (who call bagpipes ‘habban’) until recently. So where did they get them from?

The British, during the colonial period! So Arabia has bagpipes -- but Omanis didn't use bagpipes -- until they were introduced to Oman by the British. So these particular bagpipes are based on the Scottish bagpipes as opposed to traditional Arabian bagpipes. Yep, fooled you with the title, these aren't Arabic bagpipes. :p

The world is a funny place sometimes.

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