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The Rebab
Several sources agree that the Rebab, an instrument used to play nostalgic music, spread from the Ar...

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Issue 38
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The Rebab
Issue 38

By Husni Abdulhafiz, an Egyptian writer and researcher


Several sources agree that the Rebab, an instrument used to play nostalgic music, spread from the Arabian Peninsula to other areas of the world.

The Western historian Henry George Farmer said that a branch of the Salim Tribe of Yemen took the Rebab across the Red Sea to rural areas of Egypt during the second century after Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) migration. Its spread was at its peak in the Ayoubi Era, and the Rebab became the most popular instrument used to accompany the narrators of folk epics.

The Rebab then spread to southern Europe, where it underwent slight changes. It spread widely to rural areas of France, where it was known as ‘Rabila’ and ‘Rabil’, to Spain as ‘Rab’ and ‘Rabiken’, and to Italy as ‘Rabec’. The Portuguese took it across the Atlantic, and it spread to various parts of Brazil, where it was called ‘Rubeca’. 

In his study of the anthropology of the Arabian Peninsula’s Rebab, researcher Rashed bin Ji’asin wrote that the Rebab broadened the horizon for inventors of string instruments. The violin is derived from the Rebab, which was adopted and modified following its migration to Europe.

 Westerners modified the Rebab to create four instruments: the violin; the viola; the cello; and the contrabass. Using the skills available at the time, they crafted new instruments suitable for symphonies and concertos. 

One reason the Rebab continues to exist is its ability to convey nostalgia and anguish. As the German philosopher Heine said, it has the same moods as people. The Bedouins take it with them on their travels and use it to accompany their singing.

Although the Rebab was the companion of the desert Bedouin, it spread to rural areas and cities with the 'madaheen', (singers who praised the prophet), the narrators of folk epics, and folk bands. These bands attracted sizeable audiences at Mawlids, Sufi celebrations and on Ramadan nights, when folktales and epics such as Antara's, Al Zir Salim’s and Abu Zeid Al Hilali's are narrated. The Rebab can be found at every wedding and public event.

The Algerian singer Warda even sang about the Rebab.

With its strong presence at folk celebrations and tourist and heritage festivals across the world, the Rebab will continue to be used to express melodies and emotions.