The Making of Tarab: Emotion as Temporal Disruption in Umm Kulthūm's 'Alf Leila wa Lelia'

Issa Aji, University of Texas at Austin

In discussing music of the Arab world, the term tarab is used to describe the aesthetic phenomenon by which music produces intense musical emotions. In practice, the cultivation of tarab relies, in part, on rhythmic flexibility and variety to create aesthetically pleasing moments of disruption to the orderly temporal flow of the music. This paper provides a model that seeks to elucidate these expressive implications by tracking the movement between rhythmic modes (īqā'āt) in Umm Kulthūm's "Alf Leila wa Lelia" (1969) using Toussaint's (2013) method of mapping cyclical rhythms and De Souza's (2017) notion of consistency and displacement. Then, by drawing on theories of phenomenology (Husserl 1990), temporality (Shannon 2006), and emotion (Juslin 2019), I suggest that larger degrees of displacement between rhythmic modes lead to the types of temporal disruptions and embodied interactions that are so critical for the expressivity and production of tarab in Arab music.