Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Carol Muller


This dissertation is about musical imaginaries and nation building in the Arab world. By Musical Imaginaries I refer to those familiar rhythmic and melodic modes, performance practices, instrumentations, vocal timbre and techniques, musical forms, and musical arrangements, which foster a shared sense of national belonging. They are aspects of what Michael Billig refers to as banal nationalism, the everyday representation of the nation. Musical imaginaries come into existence as composers and performers acknowledge previously circulating performances and compositions in their work— for example by training their minds to make music in ways that respond to previous publications and anticipate others to come.1 Similar to Benedict Anderson’s “imagining,” my use of the term musical imaginaries should not suggest that imaginaries are unreal. On the contrary, to illustrate the existence of musical imaginaries, it suffices to play the maqsum rhythm on the dumbek to an Arab in order to confirm the existence of musical imaginaries. This is typically manifested by his reacting to the rhythmic pattern with certain bodily movements, or clapping on certain beats. This volume is a journey through musical genres and attached discourses in different historical phases and regions in the Arab world. It becomes evident that shared musical imaginaries in the mind of Arab listeners were instrumental in paving the way for the wide public reception of songs that promoted different social imagining. If in previous decades shared imaginaries facilitated the emergence of state identity markers, in recent years these imaginaries are fostering faith-based social imagining. Seen this way, Arabism, the distinctive musical stimuli, is far from dead. It is very much alive and has been instrumental in shaping identity politics in the Arab world over the past century.

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