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Mizmar, zurna, surnai,gaïta

Name: mizmar
Classification: aërophones (*)
Origin: Middle East

Alphonso el Sabio Cantigas (26K)

The zurna is a typical folk instrument and it was widely used by sheperds. This because the sound of it frightens bears and so it was a protection and a pastime as well. Small ensembles consisting of a davul player and a zurna player accompagnied often caravans. When they had to camp in the countryside, dancers and musicians not only entertained the public, but as well kept away wild animals such as bears, lions and wolves. In this way entertainers also served a practical purpose. The dancers wore colourfull costumes to keep predators at a distance. The effect of a huge fire, loud music and the big gestures of the dancers served for protection of the travellers. When the caravan reach a city, the entertainers did guest shows in the caravanserai. The first international touring artist were bellydancers and their musicians!

This is the reason why the name of the instrument is almost simular on the different countries along the silk road. It's an windinstrument close related to the oboe and the shawm. The middle eastern oboe plays an important role in folk music from China to Morrocco. It's a double reed instrument called mizmar in Egypt, and named zurna in Turkey. In China the Uygur people used the surnai or surnay in their music and in Iran the people know it under the name sorna or sornay which means literally "strong flute". The word nay means flute. According to other sources sorna simply means horn. The Nepalese version of the is in a cresent form and looks more like a horn. Another related instrument is the Indian shehnai which contains the same root "nai".

Alphonso El Sabio (1221 1284) or Alfonso X of Castile illustrated his Cantigas de Santa Maria - Songs to the Virgin Mary - with miniatures depicting musicians playing diverse instruments. Among them a zurna type of instrument which clearly indicates that the style of music can be defined as Moorish - Andalusian, a fusion of Western and Eastern traditions of music.

This wind instrument is usually played accompagnied by a double-sided bass drum in Turkey a davul, in Egypt as tabl baladi or simply tabl. Mizmars are usually played in Egypt for either weddings on a zaffa rhythm or as an accompaniment to belly dancers. You can also hear it at wedding processions played by a so called "zaffa band". The accompagnying rhythm name is Zaffa as well. In Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, it is influenced by the Turkish zurna, a higher-pitched version of the mizmar, and may also be known in those countries as a zamr or zamour, as well as mizmar. In Morocco a similar instrument is popular under the name of ghaita or rhaïta. Debke or dabke - a folkloric line dance done in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq - is done on the tunes of mizmar and davul.

For music featuring zurna:
Mizmar, zurna, surnay, schalmei (66K)