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Abdulhamid Alwan

Arabian Percussion
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Arab: Anyone from an Arab country, a country where Arabic is the primary language.
Arabesque*: (sounds like a-rah-BESK) Traditional Arabic designs that are complex and fancy and usually made with flowers, leaves or vines.
Arabian: (sounds like, a-RAY-be-in) Relating to Arab people and culture.
: (sounds like, buh-ZAR) A store or group of vendors selling different items.
Beat: A regular unit of time in music.
: (sounds like, ka-LIG-ra-fee) The art of beautiful handwriting.
: (sounds like, DOOM-beck) Another name for the Arabic tabla. In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, these drums are called dirbaka.
: (sounds like, e-LAB-rit) Intricate and rich in detail.
: To bake in a kiln.
: An oven or furnace that can hold high heat long enough to bake (or “fire”) ceramics.  
: A paint-like coating put on ceramics before firing.
: Mixed with.
A nation in western Asia. It shares borders with Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
: A person whose religion is Islam.
Negative space: The part of a design you see because something is not there.
Onomatopoeia: (sounds like, on-na-mat-ta-PEE-a) A word that sounds like what it is describing.
Percussion: (sounds like, per-CUS-shun) Instruments played by striking or shaking.
Plaster of Paris: A type of cement used to make molds, casts and sculptures.
Positive space: The part of a design you see because something is there.
Ramadan: (sounds like, RAH-mah-dahn) Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. It is when Muslims take extra time to focus on loved ones and spiritual development. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, eating one meal before dawn and one after dark.
Rhythm: A regular pattern of notes.
Riqq: (sounds like, REEK) A percussion instrument made from a wooden frame with stretched skin for the head and brass cymbals.
Riqq - playing classical style: Playing the riqq by holding it in both hands and using only your ring fingers to strike the drumhead.
Riqq - playing modern style: Playing the riqq by shaking it with one hand and striking it with the other.
Slip: Liquid clay.
Tabl Baladi: A large, two-headed drum. 
Tabla: (sounds like, TAH-bla) A traditional Middle Eastern goblet-shaped drum played with the fingers of both hands.
Wauwatosa: (sounds like, Wah-wah-TOE-sa) A town that borders Milwaukee on the west.

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Journal Questions

Have you ever thought two words meant the same thing, only to find out later that they don’t?

How many Arab countries can you name? (Hint: there are more than 20!) Go here for the list.

How are drums used in Arabic culture?

Words like doumbek are onomatopoeias. That means the word sounds like what it’s describing, like “buzz” and “boom”. Can you think of any others?

Can you see that the positive space and negative space of the larger design are the same shape? That’s a traditional Arabic style.

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Resources For Teachers

This program plays MIDI files of Middle Eastern Rhythms. Plug in the abc musical notation for three Middle Eastern Songs (with links to more). 

This 2004 article from Aljazeera discusses threats to traditional music in Iraq, and this 2003 article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides an overview of the music scene in Iraq.

This lesson plan offers ways to explore Positive and Negative Space with upper elementary and middle school students.  

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Resources For Students

Hamid talked about the different emotions in Arabic music. Want to hear some examples? Go to Smithsonian Folkways’ Arabic & Druse Music and click on the links to listen. 

Can you name the Arab countries? This site will tell you where they are. 

Interested in other aspects of Arabian culture?

الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية spells United States of America in Arabic. You can see other Country Names in Arabic too. 

Visit one of the several Islamic centers in Wisconsin to meet Muslims, some of whom probably will be Arabian. 

Find out more about Arab World Fest in Milwaukee by visiting the Arab World Fest 2004 website. Plan to go to Arab World Fest 2005 on September 17-19 at Maier Festival Park.

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Text written by Louie Holwerk, edited by Anne Pryor.

Sources consulted include tape recorded interviews with Abdulhamid Alwan by Nasser Abufarha (9/5/03) and Louie Holwerk & Anne Pryor (6/15/04), all sources housed at the Wisconsin Arts Board.


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