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Culture and Music in the Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East is home to three major religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The region also harbors people of different ethnic groups such as Arabs, Turks, and Persians. The major ethnic group and religion in North Africa are Arabs and Islam respectively, justifying the strong ties that the region has with the Middle East. Religion and the values of the ethnic communities are the major cultural influences of music in the two regions.

Musical themes and activities vary depending on the religion being practiced. The avoidance or acceptance of music in the Middle East and North Africa is determined by the faith of the people. Judaism and Islam embrace “religious music” that is presented as a solo performance. According to these two ethnic groups, pop music and music styles with sexual content are considered taboo and labeled haram. Therefore, Islam, which is the predominant religion in North Africa and the Middle East, heavily influences the limits of acceptable.

The cultural values and beliefs embraced by the different ethnic communities have also shaped the music in the region. The Islamic community holds a belief that the compositional music style and vocals should be derived from the holy Koran. Jewish and Persian communities believe that music must create an emotional bond between the audience and the performer to be acceptable in the community. The three ethnic communities embrace a unifying compositional principle that requires combining different pieces of music to achieve emotional attachment. The performance venue should also be private to improve the acceptability of the activity. As demonstarated, such elements as compositional style, purpose, and even appropriate location are all predetermined by cultural beliefs.

Religion and the cultural values of the ethnic communities in the Middle East and North Africa do not only influence the style and theme of the music but also determine its acceptability. Sexual content is prohibited due to the conservative worldview of people in the two regions. On the other hand, an emotional response to the music is prioritized as its purpose.

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