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Lesson 6.8: Music: Influences Into and Out of the Mediterranean


Lesson 6.8: Music: Influences Into and Out of the Mediterranean


Topic 4: Patterns of Population & Expressing Identity—Migration


Students have the opportunity to explore two types of cultural exchange in music in the Mediterranean region. The first is the evolution of numerous North African strands of music into a genre called “Raï” and its merger into popular music in France and beyond. The second is the influence of North American hip-hop and rap music—with its African, blues, and urban cultural roots—in the Mediterranean region, and its emergence as a vehicle for expressing the need for change among youth that has culminated in the Arab Uprisings since 2011. The lesson traces these movements in the form of excerpts from music videos, journalism, and excerpts from academic writings.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-2 class periods


• Students will be able to identify the roots and influence of raï music from North Africa and hip-hop from the United States

• They will trace the evolution of these styles as popular music in Europe and in North Africa and beyond.

• They will explain the ways in which these music styles crossed cultural lines and hypothesize reasons for their transmission

• They will gain appreciation for the music and its role in cross-cultural exchanges


• Projection device and speakers for viewing/listening to music videos

• Student Handout 6.8.1

• Student Handout 6.8.2

Lesson Plan Text


1. Activity A: Raï music This lesson traces the musical evolution and influence of Andalusian and North African music to becoming a popular phenomenon in France, creating a dialogue with other forms of music such as jazz, rock, and punk. Beginning with definitions and background sample the music that traces a path from Andalusian, Berber, and Arab roots to the urban music of the twentieth century and its crossover to the immigrant and pop music scenes in France, concluding with crossovers to rock & punk music, in the example of “Rock the Casbah” by the Clash and the cover “with a twist” by Rachid Taha “Rock El-Casbah.”

2. Distribute Student Handout 6.8.1 in electronic form, or project it in the classroom with a speaker setup for listening to the music and podcasts and viewing the videos. Beginning with the definition of Raï music from Wikipedia and the article provided, have students list the influences mentioned and locate their origins on a map (Arabian Peninsula, North Africa’s coastal and interior regions that connect with sub-Saharan Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula. Arabic literature, however, continued to develop after the 7th century in the eastern Mediterranean, Persia and Central Asia, and absorbed influences, instruments, and techniques from those regions, stringed instruments in particular flowing from Central Asia toward the west. Have students note the social class of origin of raï music, as well as its rural and urban roots before the 20th century. As an expression of the poorer classes, trace the connection with immigrants to France, Spain, and beyond that would help the music follow immigrants to Europe. Listen to the Cantigas, Andalus Ensemble performance, and Chaabi music from Morocco and Algeria.

3. Read the article “Women in Raï Music” (, watch and listen to the singers videos that follow. How do the videos illustrate what the essay described? Cheikha Rimitti is one of the most famous singers in the tradition, who paved the way for the fame of younger singers. The next few links introduce students to the evolving tradition and its growing popularity through radio, music cassettes, albums, and later music videos, which introduced the music to immigrant audiences in France and elsewhere.

4. The last part of the exploration illustrates the fusion of the music with European popular music, and its attainment of mass audiences in Europe and North Africa, as well as international audiences. The example is the music of Rachid Taha, particularly two famous songs—the song Ya Rayah fusing traditional and modern elements (see English translation of the lyrics) of pop performance and musical infectiousness. The other is the ambiguous phenomenon of Orientalism, “Rock the Casbah” by the Clash, which Rachid Taha claims to have inspired by giving the Clash a demo by his band Carte de Sejour (translation: ''Residence Permit''). Taha then covered the hit song in an ironic way, reclaiming its Algerian roots and Arabic lyrics in Rock El Casbah. (See links on Student Handout 6.7.1) Divide students into two groups to read the two New York Times articles on the crossover of Raï music to regional and international fame at “MUSIC - Shock the Casbah, Rock the French (And Vice Versa) -” “Arabic-Speaking Pop Stars Spread the Joy - New York Times.” .

5. Assessment: Students can write a reflective piece on the music, or conduct additional research into world music and describe its local and regional context and journey into the international arena. 6. Extension: Read the Wikipedia account of the influence of Rock the Casbah in the recent history of the Middle East, and discuss .


1. Activity B: Hip-Hop and Its Influence on the Arab Uprisings Distribute Student Handout 6.8.2 in electronic form, or project it in the classroom with a speaker setup for listening to the music and podcasts, and viewing the videos. This part of the lesson deals with the recent phenomenon of revolutions and social discontent against authoritarian regimes in Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. In this case, the music style and substance being discussed involves an influence from outside the region having a major impact, in contrast to the first part that dealt with influence emanating from North Africa to Europe and beyond.

2. Begin by reading the NPR History Detectives dialogue to understand the origins of hip hop music in its urban setting in the Bronx, New York City during the 1970s. Students will list the different cultural influences from African American culture, Latino and Jamaican culture, and other influences. What was the impact of poverty on this type of music creation, and why did it become a global phenomenon?

3. Then trace the influence of this music and its social critique in the Arab uprisings of the early millennium. Notice that the movement had reached the Arab countries as well as many other countries, and did not emerge spontaneously, but had already become part of youth culture in these places. Note also, providing background for the students, that the youth population is very high as a percentage of total population, and many of them, though educated, cannot find jobs in order to live independently, marry, and fulfill the expectations of their generation. For a chart and explanation, see “Children and Youth in History | Arab Countries Youth Population Projection [Chart].” .

4. Next, listen to the song by El General from Tunisia, and study the lyrics. Ask students to identify and list complaints issued by the artist against the government’s treatment of the people. Compare these lyrics’ spirit with those of rap artists working in a similar vein in the U.S., Africa and elsewhere around the world. The links are “The Rap That Sparked a Revolution: El General (Tunisia) | Hip Hop Diplomacy.” and “Muftah » Revolutionary Arab Rap.”

5. The next links relate to other hip hop artists whose songs became anthems of the Arab Awakening in Egypt and beyond. “The Rap Songs Of The Arab Spring : The Record : NPR.” . Sample the five songs and compare; “Inside Tunisia’s Hip-Hop Revolution | SPIN | Profiles | Spotlight.”

6. The next set of materials provides analysis of the phenomenon by a prominent blogger who was approached by major Italian Newspaper Corrierre Della Sera to write about it. “Revolutionary Arab Rap الراب العربي الثوري: My New Article in Italy’s Corriere Della Sera.” . “Notizie Di Libri e Cultura Del Corriere Della Sera.” . Political scientists, sociologists, and historians have taken note of the phenomenon and have already held panels and conferences about the content, spirit and cultural influence of the music.

7. Extension: students can research hip hop music’s influence in other Mediterranean countries, and in other parts of the world.



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 6.8: Music: Influences Into and Out of the Mediterranean,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed September 25, 2020,

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