Ziryab: Wikis


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Abu l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn Nafi‘ (Persian and Arabic: أبو الحسن علي ابن نافع;Kurdish:ئه‌بو ئه‌لحه‌سه‌ن عه‌لی إبن نافع)(c. 789857), nicknamed Ziryab (Persian language:Zaryâb, Kurdish: زۆراو Zorab), was a Persian[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] or Kurdish[10][11][12][13][14][15] polymath: a poet, musician, singer, cosmetologist, fashion designer, celebrity, trendsetter, strategist, astronomer, botanist and geographer.[9][16] He was active at the Umayyad court of Córdoba in Islamic Iberia. The name "Ziryab" (Blackbird) was given to him for his dark complexion, eloquence, and melodious voice.[17] He first achieved notoriety at the Abbasid court in Baghdad, Iraq, his birth place, as a performer and student of the great musician and composer, Ishaq al-Mawsili.

Ziryab was a gifted pupil of Ishaq al-Mawsili. He had to leave Baghdad when his skills as a musician surpassed those of his teacher. He moved to Córdoba in southern Iberian Peninsula and was accepted as court musician in the court of Abd al-Rahman II of the Umayyad Dynasty (822-52).


Historical context/early life

By the 8th century Muslims occupied most of the Iberian peninsula. While Muslims dominated the Iberia territorially, Christians and Jews were very prominent throughout al-Andalus[citation needed]. Before the Islamic occupation of Iberia several cultures such as Christians, Iberians, Berbers, and Jews created many unique musical styles in Iberia.[18] Christians or Muslims were most likely the key contributors to the music of the early decades during the Muslim occupation of Spain.[19] After the occupation of Persia by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century, Arabs were greatly influenced by the richness of Persian culture and way of life. As the Islamic armies conquered more ground during their wars in the centuries that followed, this culture was spread from western China to the Iberian peninsula and Music was no exception. During the 8th and 9th centuries, a wealth of musicians and artists flocked toward Iberia. While many talented artists immigrated to Iberia, Ziryab surpassed all of them with his extraordinary musical talent.[18] There are conflicting tales of the early years of Ziryab. Ziryab was most likely born in Baghdad, and was trained in the art of music from a young age. During that time Baghdad was the center of music and culture in the East. According to many sources the accomplished and talented musician Ishaq al-Mawsili was Ziryab’s teacher. The debate continues about how he arrived in al-Andalus, but it is clear he offended his patron or a powerful figure with his musical talent.[20] One account recorded by al-Maqqari says that Ziryab outperformed his mentor Ishaq al-Mawsili at a concert. Out of jealousy, Ziryab was told to leave the city or face the penalty of death.[18][19] Ziryab left Baghdad some time after the death of the Caliph al-Amîn in 813 and traveled first to Sham (Syria), then to Ifriqiyya (Tunisia), where he lived at the Aghlabid court of Ziyadat Allah (ruled 816-837). Ziryab fell out with Ziyadat Allah but was invited to Al-Andalus by the Umayyad prince, Al-Hakam I. He found on arrival in 822 that the prince had died, but the prince's son, Abd ar-Rahman II, renewed his father's invitation. Ziryab settled in Córdoba, where he soon became even more celebrated as the court's aficionado of food, fashion, singing and music. He introduced standards of excellence in all these fields as well as setting new norms for elegant and noble manners. Ziryab became such a prominent cultural figure, and was given a huge salary from Abd al Rahman II.[18] He was an intimate companion of the prince and established a school of music that trained singers and musicians which influenced musical performance for at least two generations after him. In the 9th Century he introduced the New Year celebration based on the Iranian holiday Nouroz to the courts of Andalusia in Iberia and thence to Europe.[21]



Ziryab is said to have improved the Oud (or Laúd) by adding a fifth pair of strings, and using an eagle's beak or quill instead of a wooden pick. Ziryab also dyed the four string a color to symbolize the Aristotelian humors, and the fifth string to represent the soul. [19] He is said to have created a unique and influential style of musical performance, and written songs that were performed in Iberia for generations. He was a great influence on Spanish music, and is considered the founder of the Andalusian music traditions of North Africa and the Middle East. Zyriab is thought to have codified the disparate elements of Arab poetic traditions of qasidah, mwashah and zajal.[1]

Ziryab’s eastern musical style became very popular in the court of Abd al Rahman II.[20] Ziryab also became the example of how a courtier, a person who attended the royal courts of a king, should act. Scholars have also credited Ziryab with the creation of the nawba, or Nuba, classical arabic music of Andalusia. One example of a nawba is a larger group of people taking turns singing individually. While he did not create such important musical styles like muwashshah and zajal, he laid the groundwork for their creation.[18][19] Other rival musicians envied the accomplishments of Ziryab, but the emir remained on his side, preventing any harm from befalling him. Abd al-Rahman II was a great patron of the arts and Ziryab was given a great deal of freedom. He established one of the first schools of music in Córdoba. These musical and singing schools incorporated both male and female students. The school encouraged new and experimental sounds and styles of music.[22][18] He was a great virtuoso on the la'ud and an amazing singer. Ziryab also introduced musical instruments—notably the Persian lute that became the Spanish guitar[17]—as well as passionate songs, tunes and dances of Persia and Mesopotamia that later, mixed with Gypsy influence, evolved into the famed Spanish flamenco. Ziryab established a music conservatory at the court of Abdel-Rahman at Cordoba. (The German scholarly book "Moorish Architecture" by Barrucand states that Ziryab also introduced good taste, fine court manners and even new hair cuts into Spain)


According to some sources Ziryab is credited as having eight sons and two daughters, and all became musicians of some prominence. [18] The children kept the music schools of their father going, and also spread the music of Ziryab throughout Europe.[22]

Fashion and Hygiene

Ziryab is said to have had a lasting influence on fashion, bringing styles from the Middle East to Al-Andaluz, including sophisticated styles of clothing based on seasonal and daily timings. In winter, for example, costumes were made essentially from warm cotton or wool items usually in dark colours and summer garments were made of cool and light costumes involving materials such as cotton, silk and flax in light and bright colours. Brilliant colours for these clothes were produced in tanneries and dye works which the Muslim world perfected its production, for example, in 12th century Fes, Morocco, there were more than 86 tanneries and 116 dye works.[23]

According to Al-Maqqari the fashion of the time was for both men and women to part their hair down the middle. The opening of Ziryab’s beauty parlors created new shorter hairstyles that were considered risky at the time.[22] Ziryab also introduced bleached white clothing, and created a new type of deodorant[18] Royalty used to wash their hair with rose water, but Ziryab introduced the use of salt to improve the hair’s condition.[22]

In daily timing Ziryab suggested different clothing for mornings, afternoons and evenings. Henri Terrasse, a French historian, commented on the fashion work of Ziryab; "He introduced winter and summer dresses, setting exactly the dates when each fashion was to be worn. He also added dresses of half season for intervals between seasons. Through him, the luxurious dress of the Orient was introduced in Iberia. Under his influence a fashion industry was set up, producing coloured striped fabric and coats of transparent fabric, which is still found in Morocco today.", though Terrasse goes on to caution "Without a doubt, a lone man could not achieve this transformation. It is rather a development which shook the Muslim world in general, although historic legend attributes all these changes to Ziryab and his promoter, Abd-Al-Rahman II"[24]

Ziryab is known to have invented an early toothpaste, which he popularized throughout Islamic Iberia.[25] The exact ingredients of this toothpaste are not currently known,[22] but it was reported to have been both "functional and pleasant to taste."[25] He also introduced under-arm deodorants and "new short hairstyles leaving the neck, ears and eyebrows free,"[19] as well as shaving for men. He was well versed in many areas of classical study such as astronomy, history, and geography. Ziryab encouraged the spread of knowledge from different cultures and backgrounds to better the people of Cordoba.[22] For women, he opened a beauty parlour or “cosmetology school” near Alcázar, where he introduced a "shorter, shaped cut, with a fringe on the forehead and the ears uncovered." He also taught "the shaping of eyebrows and the use of depilatories for removing body hair", and he introduced new perfumes and cosmetics.[22] Ziryab started a vogue by changing clothes according to the weather and season.[18]


He also "revolutionized the local cuisine," by introducing new fruit and vegetables such as asparagus, and by introducing the three-course meal, insisting that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, the main course, and dessert. He also introduced the use of crystal as a container for drinks, which was more effective than metal goblets.[19]

He was an arbiter of fashion and taste. Ziryab's influence is felt to this day, especially in music and food. Prior to his arrival in al-Andalus in 822, there had been no style in food presentation since the Roman Empire. Food was served plainly on platters on bare tables, much as remains the "traditional" style in the middle east to this day.[9]

Ziryab changed that. He brought with him many dishes from Baghdad, to add fools introduced fine tablecloths and glassware instead of metal goblets, and developed a new order of service for the table. This "more elegant, better-bred and modern style" became established in al-Andalus, thence spread across the Pyrenees to Europe, and became the standard service we still use today. Hence the banquet will be served according to the precepts of Ziryab, and so will differ from the "traditional" style of serving one associates with Islamic food.[9]


Louie Provencal, the renowned historian of Spanish civilization says about Ziryab, "he was a genius and his influence in Spanish society of the time not only encompassed music but also all aspects of Society.” Titus Burckhardt, the German historian of Islam writes, “he was a genius musical scholar and at the same time the one who brought Arabic music to Spain and consequently to all of the western world.”Ziryab revolutionized the court at Córdoba and made it the stylistic capital of its time. Whether introducing new clothes, styles, foods, hygiene products, or music Ziryab changed al-Andalusian culture forever. The musical contributions of Ziryab alone are staggering, laying the groundwork for classic Spanish music. After the death of Adb al Rahman II and Ziryab, Cordoba developed into one of the intellectual capitals of Europe. Ziryab transcends being a popular icon in music and style, and became a revolutionary cultural figure in 8th and 9th century Iberia. Without his influence Spanish music and culture would have been years behind.


  1. ^ A Literary History of the Arabs. Reynold Alleyne Nicholson. p.418
  2. ^ Persian and Turkish Loan-words in Malay. Muhammad Abdul Jabbar Beg. 1982. p.80
  3. ^ Hispano Arabic Poetry: A Student Anthology. James T. Monroe. Gorgias Press. 2004. p.7
  4. ^ Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East. Sherifa Zuhur. 2001. p.324
  5. ^ The Holy Sword: The Story of Islam from Muhammad to the Present. Robert Payne. 1961. p.186
  6. ^ Aspects of Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages. Paul Edward Szarmach. 1979. p.55
  7. ^ The Story of the Moors in Spain. Stanley Lane-Poole, Arthur Gilman. p.81
  8. ^ Shojaedin Shafa (شجاع الدین شفا) in his book Iran and Spain (ایران و اسپانیا) goes into detail about the fallacy of claims of Ziryab's "Arab origins". His argument can be found on p.325-340 of his book. Farzad publications 2005 (نشر فرزاد). A copy of the book is located at the Perry-Castañeda Library at DS274 S523
  9. ^ a b c d Andalusian Feast
  10. ^ Ana Ruiz, page 53, Vibrant Andalusia: Moorish Culture in Southern Spain, Published 2007, Algora Publishing, ISBN 0875865399
  11. ^ Cello - Los Kurdos - Transoxiana 2
  12. ^ CULTURA | Flamenco y música kurda: un tronco común
  13. ^ La Gastronomia En Al-Andalus: Islam Y Al-Andalus
  14. ^ http://www.dipucadiz.es/Portada/cultura/dosorillas.pdf
  15. ^ La Orden Sufi Nematollahi / Sufismo
  16. ^ van Sertima, Ivan (1985), African Presence in Early Europe, Transaction Publishers, pp. 159–61, ISBN 0887386644 
  17. ^ a b van Sertima, Ivan (1992), The Golden Age of the Moor, Transaction Publishers, p. 17, ISBN 1560005815 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i Menocal, Maria Rosa, Raymond P. Scheindlin, Michael Anthony Sells (eds.) (2000). The Literature of Al-Andalus. Cambridge University Press. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Manuela Marin (1994), The Legacy of Muslim Spain, p. 117, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004095993
  20. ^ a b Constable, Olivia Remie (ed.) (1997). Medieval Iberia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 
  21. ^ Newroz Films
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Lebling Jr., Robert W. (July-August 2003), "Flight of the Blackbird", Saudi Aramco World: 24–33, http://www.islamicspain.tv/Arts-and-Science/flight_of_the_blackbird.htm, retrieved 2008-01-28 
  23. ^ al-Hassani, Woodcok and Saoud (2004), 'Muslim Heritage in Our World', FSTC publisinhg, p.38-39.
  24. ^ Terrasse, H. (1958) 'Islam d'Espagne' une rencontre de l'Orient et de l'Occident", Librairie Plon, Paris, pp.52-53.
  25. ^ a b van Sertima, Ivan (1992), The Golden Age of the Moor, Transaction Publishers, p. 267, ISBN 1560005815 


Other sources

  • Encyclopedia of Islam
  • al-Muqtabis by Ibn Hayyan
  • The Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldoun, Chapter V, part 31, "The craft of singing."
  • Ta'rikh fath al-Andalus by Ibn al-Qutiyya
  • al-'Iqd al-farid by Ibn 'Abd Rabbih
  • Ta'rikh Baghdad by Ibn Tayfur
  • Kitab al-Aghani by Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani
  • Tawq al-hamama by Ibn Hazm
  • Jawdhat al-Muqtabis by al-Humaydî
  • Mughrib fi hula l-Maghrib by Ibn Sa'id

Further reading


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