Accordion History in Arab countries
Accordion History

HISTORY OF THE ACCORDION IN ARAB COUNTRIES

Although present in nearly all Arab countries, the accordion is virtually never mentioned in books or heard on recordings. Anonymity is a matter of course in Arabian orchestras, and although there are a multitude of accordion players, few names are known. In the mid 1930's, an oriental style accordion arrived in Arabic countries from Egypt. It was quickly taken up in night-clubs, playing Western dances such as the Waltz and Tango.

In Arab countries the accordion seems to be played with Arabian stringed instruments, in which the quarter tone is prominent. The accordion is very widespread in many types of orchestras. The accordion is rarely seen played solo.

During the 1950's, an accordion was made a quarter of a tone by a German company, for a Lebanese accordion society, and quickly became popular. Abdel Wahab composed for the accordion, but did not play himself. In the late 1950's, the accordion appeared in orchestras. It was adopted for its unique resonance, but was only allowed to be played in unison with the other instruments. This rendered it fairly indiscernible among the mass of strings. Soon Arab musicians began to use the accordion in their own compositions. Some composers liked its tone straight away.

In the Sudan, the accordion is popular and integrated into musical tradition. There are accordionists who back famous vocalist El Aziz El Moubarak, who has sold over 100,000 records. In Lebanon however, solo accordionists are more common. Alex Menakian is probably the best Arabic style solo accordionist. He also plays 'taxim', improvised music, rarely heard on the accordion. In Turkey around 1850, Ernest Kaps began making accordions in Constantinople (now Istanbul). In Israel, accordionist Nahoum Heiman has recorded some accordion music. In Armenia, the accordion is present in folk music, together with traditional instruments. It is also a part of many orchestras.

When electronic instruments were introduced, interest in the accordion declined. Up until this time, accordions were very heavy, and musicians often had to play standing for long periods. Since the middle of the 1980's, accordion music has been available in shops, mostly in the form of cassettes. In the mid-1980's, better quality recordings became available, mostly of contemporary ethnic music. Over the last thirty or so years, the organ has begun to replace the accordion, but with the advent of MIDI accordions, the accordion is now starting to make a comeback.
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