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The Roots of Classical Music Pt1



In his 2006 book, Listening to Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Israel/Palestine, Theodore Burgh posits that classical music ultimately has its roots and began in North Africa, firstly in the influence of the music of Ancient Kemet, where it informed other ancient cultures such as Greece. Giuseppe Verdi's opera, based on the play Shakespeare wrote in the very early 1600s, centers on the Moor, Otello. Whether or not Mozart was actually of Moorish descent, there is no doubt that he was influenced by Moorish culture. Described as a Moor, the character of Monostatos in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute (1791) represents an amalgam of racist sentiment held against the very people responsible for the rebirth of Europe!




The 18th and 19th centuries were the beginnings of a larger more Eurocentric engagement in the later formative period of classical music and saw the birth of the opera and the oratorio, the sonata, the concert, and the symphony. Italians because of their close trade connections to the most learned of the Moors through shipbuilding were the first to develop these europeanized genres, but the Germans, Austrians, and English soon followed. When Shakespeare used the word “black” he was unequivocally and exactly describing a race the way we would. He meant someone with much darker skin than an Englishman at a time when Englishmen were very, very pale like North Africans were very very dark even the Arab was much, much darker than he is today as there was not a large mixture of people outside of the Mediterranean with the early nomadic desert tribes

Othello is a Moor, a word which literally means black we don't have to assume he is from Africa, although his ancestry definitely would be; he never names his birthplace in the play. In Shakespeare’s time, Moors could be from Africa, but they could also be from the Middle East, or even Spain as they controlled those regions for hundreds of years.



The black skinned Moors often called Blackamoors in the common vernacular of the time settled in Europe, they brought with them culture, raw materials, and technology which had never before been known in Europe. The majority of the Moors were from African Berber populations, which represented the bulk of the Muslim army that later conquered southern Europe. Referred to either as Moors (in Iberia) or Saracens (in South Italy and Sicily), their arrival in Europe dates to 711 AD, rapidly subduing most of Iberia and Sicily (831 AD) Europeans described Moors as being black, “swarthy meaning dark-skinned” or “tawny an orange brown to yellow brown” much like African Americans in skin color. (Othello, Shakespeare's Moor of Venice, comes to mind in such a context.)


Before classical music could begin in Europe, Europeans would need the tools, instruments and goods to create their own versions of instruments under the influences that fed their imaginations. Those influencers were most notably the Moors and nomadic Romani called Gypsys.To begin with, most goods used in Europe had been known to come from the east (Africa & Asia). The Kale dark skinned nomadic tribes from India and north Africa came into Spain and brought their musical influences as well.The Kale tribe of the Romani migrated from what is the modern Indian state of Rajasthan,Their subsequent westward migration, in waves, is now believed to have occurred beginning in about 500 CE. genetic evidence identifies an Indian origin for Romani, the Kale being significantly darker than other tribes because they traveled into Europe through North Africa over centuries and picked up specific instruments that became popular with other travelers over decades as their specific influence spread especially with the African muslim inspired dance that would become Flamenco upon ending each dance the Kale would shout Allah! Allah is the translation of Hebrew Eloah. When the Moors were forced out of Spain it was illegal to say the word Allah and the Kale instead said Ole’as the dance became a protest against the massacres and tortures the of the inquisition to wipe out the influences of the moors and gain control over a population that had prospered under the Moors for centuries. Other Romani tribes came to Iberia through Asia and Europe to Spain and when they had to flee to places like Italy they brought their melodic influences as well! For about 300 years, after the Moors Gypsies were subject to a number of laws and policies designed to eliminate them from Spain as an identifiable group, especially the Kale who were of darker complexions.


Gypsies were required to marry non-Gypsies; they were denied their language and rituals as well the Kale popularized the fasılan early predecessor of the clarinet, the berbers brought the imzad the one stringed predecessor of the violin prized by the nomadic Tuareg tribes of North Africa. The Egyptian harp was turned on its side and encased in a box reverberating its sound. The strings were plucked by a mechanism of depressing wooden pieces called keys creating the harpsichord. This invention included efforts to give it the chromatic notes demanded by changing musical styles. Two approaches were used to augment the sound of the harpsichord: hooks or pedal mechanisms that altered the pitch of selected strings when necessary. The earliest complete harpsichords still preserved come from Italy, the oldest specimen being dated to 1521





The Moors brought precious wood and metals from Africa by way of camel and horse caravans by land and ships by sea. There was the Great Silk Road from China which reached Egypt via India and Arabia. The Phoenician routes circled the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and allowed for trade among the nations of southern Europe, Central Asia and North Africa.

The Moors would use the wood for construction, ship building and carpentry. From China, the Moors brought the hemp paper making technique and they began planting hemp fields in the area of Morocco. They also brought silk and other oriental goods to Europe.


The Moors built numerous castles and mosques in Southern Europe.The architecture of the Moors was sophisticated, the most brilliant and many structures built by the Moors still stand in Spanish states such as Granada. The Moors introduced more musical instruments from Africa, Arabia and Asia and these included the drum and a number of stringed instruments that would be the influences for the modern guitar, xylophone, cymbals, guitar, violas, metal bells, trumpets, flutes.

The Moors used harps and horns which would later become pianos and trumpets. Therefore, this means that a good number of musical instruments used in Europe today, have their origin in Africa. As a matter of fact most people think the guitar came first, but the bass came first. The first bass was created in the 1500s, and the first modern type of guitar was created in the 1600s but some of the earliest forms of the guitar are found in Ethiopia where it is known as Krar Harp. The Krar Harp or one of its variations later developed into the guitarro, the direct ancestor of the guitar which was used widely in ancient Mauritania, the ancient home of the the Haratin, or so-called "blackamoors"!

The Moors as you can see were deeply associated with what is today known as classical music in Europe. The popularity of this type of music declined when the Moors exited Europe. Beethoven who would later dazzle Europe with classical music was a descendant of the Moors.

He was known as Thoven Bet the Moor and his mother was a full blooded Moorish (black) woman. He is also remembered for his wooly hair (black hair) and “swarthy” complexion

The Moors built libraries which accommodated millions of books. They possessed books from Asia, Africa and also Greece and Rome.


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