SOAS University of London

London Middle East Institute

Where the Sea kisses the Desert – Multi-ethnic Musical Impressions from the Arabian Peninsula

Sea-Music in Sur, Oman
Rolf Killius

Date: 24 November 2015Time: 5:45 PM

Finishes: 24 November 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

In this lecture Rolf Killius elaborates on the rich traditional music of the Arabian Peninsula. He shows these (mostly young) nations as multi-ethnic societies as reflected in their rich musical culture.

Until recently Rolf was the Curator of Oral and Musical Cultures at the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership in London (see From this project he presents some of the recently digitised recordings on old shellac discs from the British Library archive and shows clips of his own footage from Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

The lecturer begins with the music played in the music clubs and coffee houses of the small towns along the coasts of Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq in the 1930s and 1940s. He revisits the first international Arabic music conference, which was conducted 1932 in Cairo and asks how this important conference relates to the Gulf music of the present. Many recordings from these days are still available on old and fragile shellac discs. Eventually the ‘shellac years’ ended with the issue of more recordings from Kuwait and Iraq in the roaring 1960s.

From these past days Rolf turns to the present hypo-modern multi-cultural societies along the Persian Gulf. In Qatar, Kuwait and Oman he filmed traditional music performances of the Arabic and long-term resident Indian communities. In these places he discovered the musically rich sea-music created by people working on the ships. For him the sea-music is the most-defining musical genre of the Gulf and has numerous influences from Africa and India. Although the times have changed and no Gulf-Arab works nowadays on a ship this music is still alive and practised by the descendants of Arab seamen.  

In his lecture Rolf relates his own contemporary footage to these historical recordings and offers suggestions and ideas.  He questions the concept of mono-ethnic societies often perceived by the rulers of the Gulf countries and asks whether music expresses the sentiments of a society and how musical culture can be a factor in solving difficult socio-political situations and stalemates.

Rolf Killius is an ethnomusicologist, filmmaker and museum curator and was till recently the Curator of Oral and Musical Cultures at the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership. He is also a lecturer on Intangible Heritage, Oral History and Music at University College London (UCL) in Qatar, Doha.Rolf works internationally in exhibition curating, academic research, music and sound production, film production and editing, digital library research, and the delivery of music, dance and arts events especially related to the Arabian Peninsula, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.

Chair: Jane Lewisohn, SOAS

Organiser: London Middle East Institute

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