Part One | The Girl from Shalabiya & A Brief Overview of Arab Music History

A love letter to the song البنت الشلبية and music in the Arab World


Waiting for your love under the arches of the pomegranate tree. The girl from Seville, with almond shaped eyes, whom I adore, that I meet here with. Darling you are my eyes (you are my universe)

The musical modus operandi [music theory, techniques, instruments] exchange between Eastern Asia and Northern Africa, defines Arabic music, according to Arab musicologist and composer, Habib Hassan Touma.

In support of Touma’s statement, the provenance [origin ] of Persian influence in Arabic music dates back to the 10th century, arising from the North African exchange, which remains salient to this day.

Likewise the Ottoman Empire, from the 13th to the 20th century, contributed to the richness of Arabic music incorporating musical exchanges of Byzantine and Armenian influences.

Jargon Breakdown

Modus Operandi

Provenance: where the source is from

Ottoman Empire:

Imperialism: forcing a set of beliefs, behaviours and organised roles to achieve power , through creating policy, colonising (taking of other people’s lands and using it without a proper consultation or respect towards nature)

Reformists: people who want to bring a new change to the social order


Image from: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Arabic consciousness against the imperialist rule of colonisers were fuelled by Islamic reformists accompanied by musicians and academics. This was a response to Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt in 1798, of Alexandria and Cairo. And hence the roots began from Egypt and trickled its way to the rest of the Middle East in a period called the ‘Al-Nahda’ or the ‘Nahda’. Thus the Nahda encapsulates the cultural, intellectual renaissance of the Arab world in the Modern Era. Which spanned from 1798 to the end of World War II.

In World War I, the distinctness of Arabic music is attributed to the fusion of colonists and Arabic musical styles, that feature orchestral instruments in conjunction to a melismatic or ornamented melodies , known as ‘maqam’.

Maqam’s origins can be traced back from the 9th or the 5th to 7th century in the Arab World. They include eight different melodic modes that are intended for the expression of certain moods or emotional states. They may are characterised by microtones in the music composition. Microtones are a part of traditional Arabic music ( and also in other cultures’ traditional music) , which sound out of tune in Western European music, as the latter employs fixed pitches.

Touma also states that, the cultural byproducts of American music, of jazz and hip hop, impacts the Modern Arabic music we see today.


The word Shalabia, may be a reference to a city in past Andalusia, and the word according to Malley, means something or someone of elegance or an epitome of beauty, within the Levantine Arabic Dialect.

The Delicate Girl Strings (1:45) | Trad./arr. Shalan Alhamwy The Delicate Girl, or Bint el-shalabiya in Arabic, is an old folk song, and depending on the source, originated in either Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon. The song, which dates back to a historical period when the area was still a combined region, is without a doubt one of the best love and most played songs in the Arab region. In this beautiful song, a young man confesses his love to the girl of his dreams: “Beautiful lady with the almond shaped eyes – I love you with all my heart, all my heart.”

– Excerpt from the Violet String Orchestra’s Hanin 2017 Album

The folk song is known to emerge from the Greater Syrian Combined region, before the divide. The song composition is known to employ maqam.

Oceanvs Orientalis impression of Al Bint Al Shalabiya


The Shalabi girl She has almond eyes I love you from the bottom of my heart Oh sweetheart you are everything to me (literally you are my eyes)

Under the arches my love is waiting It wasn’t easy for me to let you down, my love

You appear in the distance and my heart is wounded And I reminisce about days past

Under the pomegranate tree My love spoke to me Sang me songs and flirted with me


البنت الشلبيةعيونها لوزيةبحبك من قلبيياقلبي انت عنيابحبك من قلبيياقلبي انت عنيا 

حد القناطرمحبوبي ناطركسر الخواطرياولفي ماهان علياكسر الخواطرياولفي ماهان عليا 

بتطل بتلوح و القلب مجروحو أيام عالبال بتعن و تروح 

تحت الرمانةحبي حكانيوسمعني غنانيياعيونيوتغزل فياوسمعني غنانيياعيونيوتغزل فيا


Pink Martini

A multi-lingual band that uses Western instrumentation

Shovkat Alakbarova Şövkət Ələkbərova

Azerbaijan singer with an ensemble that uses Western instrumentation

Nofi Ayu

Uses Malay Gambus and Western instrumentation

Aleph Live at Olympia

Skip to 1:50

Uses Arabic instrumentation such as the Kanoun and the Nay including Western instrumentation such as the Cajun


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