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Versatility of the <i>Taarab</i> lyric: Local aspects and global influences

Said A.M Khamis


Even in an extreme case of ‘art for art sake’, literature invariably shows a correlation with its function(s). It partakes of Wellek/Warren’s utility axiom that ... [t]he nature of an object follows from its use: it is what it does ... an artefact has the structure proper to the performance of its function, together with whatever accessories, time and materials may make it possible, and taste may think it desirable, to add ... (1973:29). The examination of the structure of the taarab1 lyric constantly metamorphosing, attests very well the claim that ‘change’ in art is often tickled by functional criterion. This is an attempt to affirm this claim by showing how various functions assigned to this music complex, trigger change in its lyric, producing formal and thematic variation therein.
Theoretically, this essay sets out to deal with ‘three’ phenomena in relation to change. Firstly, machination of the lyrical structure: the inner mechanism of language system involving choice of syntagms (morpho-syntactic elements and processes) and paradigms (lexical and grammatical units), self-regulatory rules that bind discrete components to form wholes. Secondly, resources with which the art is made; the materiality: sounds, forms, tropes, images, figures, words, word groups and sentences considered not as empty vessels, but vessels impregnated with substance: ideas, themes, motifs, messages – all historical, social, cultural, political and psychological concomitants so to say. To this, we should add, mediated fluxes that have increasingly become more attainable as signs, images and labels or concepts of commodities – initially via print-media, phonograph record, sound film, radio, audio-cassette, video and now via public and satellite television and perhaps, computer internet and websites, expanding the range of available repertoire and tempting local artists to tap beyond immediate confines with the aim of (re)structuring taarab to suit new requirements. Thirdly, different purposes or functions – professional or amateurish – assigned to taarab at the level of individuals, groups and society or public domain, helping taarab and its lyric to find the ‘appropriate’ aesthetic and thematic expression and fulfilment of certain purpose(s).

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eISSN: 0023-1886