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Contribution to Book
The Sound of Culture, The Structure of Tradition: Musicians’ Work in Arab America
Arab Detroit : From Margin to Mainstream (2000)
  • Anne K. Rasmussen, College of William and Mary
With their loud sound systems and lively dance tunes, Arab American musicians bring to community gatherings an all-encompassing sonic environment that replaces the host culture with the home culture. Night after night, performance after performance, they supply "the language of Diaspora" (Clifford 1994). While I have framed musicians as "curators of culture" and their activity as "art," they have continuously referred to the same as "work" (Rasmussen 1989, 1991). Their work, as they have told me time and again, is audience driven, and they are surprisingly compliant with the sometimes abrupt demands of their clientele. Although this way of performing cannot be reduced to a simple formula, several patterns are apparent in the careers of Arab American musicians that help explain why they tend to discuss their "art" as "work," and these patterns have been in place for much of the twentieth century.
In this essay, I offer a historical synopsis of the rise of musical professionalism and the development of music patronage in the Arab American community. I then profile the ways in which professional musicians supply the "sounds of culture" by discussing prevalent lyrical themes and musical styles and the ways in which these are transmitted in live performance and through transnational media networks. Finally, I explore the ways in which musicians, particularly those of Arab Detroit, involve their audience and community in the "structure of tradition" by presenting examples of their work in the context of wedding celebrations.

Publication Date
Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock
Wayne State University Press
Contemporary Film and Television Series
Citation Information
Abraham, Nabeel, Andrew Shryock, and Muse Project. 2000. Arab Detroit : From Margin to Mainstream. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 20, 2017).