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Brian Kay



Middle Eastern and Medieval Andalusian music from the three faiths - Islam, Judaism, and Christianity - and the uniquely Spanish and South American music born from these styles.

13th century illumination showing an African muslim and a christian prince playing lutes.

Excerpt: Polo Margariteño

Excerpt: As Froles Do Meu Amigo

Brian Kay

13th century illumination showing a christian playing the arabic oud.

Excerpt: Lamento di Tristano

Program Notes

    Ziryab was an African slave troubadour in 9th century Baghdad.

As the story goes; the Kalif of Baghdad suffered from insomnia and he would have his favorite oud player, Ibrahim Mouseli, play for him at night until the Kalif eventually fell asleep. One evening the Kalif requested Mouseli but he was not available, so one of Mouseli’s students, a young man of 17 called Ziryab (Blackbird), played for the Kalif instead. The Kalif was transported and he called for Ziryab night after night. But Mouseli threatened his student that he would be a dead man if he didn’t leave Baghdad. Ziryab left immediately to Cordoba. There he found a young Kalif who was interested in all the new ideas, and Ziryab’s style was very popular at court. Ziryab not only brought an awareness of the oud into Europe, but he brought a new style of food - which we now know as tapas - he brought cosmetics for men and women, and a new style and sense of dress. Ziryab was an amazing transmitter for his incredible sense of refinement and discrimination. He became quite famous in his lifetime and remained famous for hundreds of years. People wanted to dress like him, learn from him, and play the oud like him. The oud was still played in Europe by Muslims, Jews, and Christians for hundreds of years after his death. He is thought to have been one of the greatest influences on Spanish music of all time.                          

    This is a celebration of Ziryab that explores the Middle Eastern roots of Spanish music, the intertwining of Andalusian cultures, and their far-reaching influence on modern Spanish and South American folk traditions. 



Brian Kay


The oud is known as the most played instrument in the Middle East, but it is so old that its origins have been lost in the mists of time. The oldest stories about its development come from the Koran and from ancient Rome. The oud was brought to the western world by Moors around the year 711 and was likely  brought to various parts of Europe by Crusaders. It may have even been played in Scandinavian lands long before it was played by Christians because vikings travelled and traded in the Meditarranean. It is one of few instruments so ancient that is still played and has never fallen out of popularity. 

Brian Kay


The lute developed as a European counterpart to the oud in the Medieval era. It grew to be the most popular instrument in all of Europe. In the 16th century more music was written for the lute than all other instruments combined. Professional lutenists shared the same status as famous artists like Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. By the year 1500, the lute had six courses (pairs of strings) and by the end of the 17th century had as many as 14 courses and could play five octaves. Stravinski is quoted as saying that the lute "is perhaps the most perfect instrument of all."  

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