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Listen to the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago

Open Culture, July 8th, 2014

In the early 1950s, archaeologists unearthed several clay tablets from the 14th century B.C.E.. Found, WFMU tells us, “in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit,” these tablets “contained cuneiform signs in the hurrian language,” which turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever discovered, a 3,400 year-old cult hymn. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, produced the interpretation above in 1972. (She describes how she arrived at the musical notation—in some technical detail—in this interview.) Since her initial publications in the 60s on the ancient Sumerian tablets and the musical theory found within, other scholars of the ancient world have published their own versions.

The piece, writes Richard Fink in a 1988 Archeologia Musicalis article, confirms a theory that “the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3,400 years ago.” This, Fink tells us, “flies in the face of most musicologist’s views that ancient harmony was virtually non-existent (or even impossible) and the scale only about as old as the Ancient Greeks.” Kilmer’s colleague Richard Crocker claims that the discovery “revolutionized the whole concept of the origin of western music.” So, academic debates aside, what does the oldest song in the world sound like? Listen to a midi version below and hear it for yourself. Doubtless, the midi keyboard was not the Sumerians instrument of choice, but it suffices to give us a sense of this strange composition, though the rhythm of the piece is only a guess.

A new Youtube music video on the nightmare in Syria…

لبلادي عمل من إعداد وإنتاج وتنفيذ مجموعة شباب يقيمون في السويد وهم من سوريا و العراق و لبنان و فلسطين. على أمل السلام…

“To Our Countries” is a project produced by a group of youths who live in Sweden and are originally from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine

I recently across a copy of The Christian Herald from December 1, 1915 and the lead article by John Maynard Owen Williams is on a recent trip he took to Syria and Iraq. The images are from a century ago and I attach a few excerpts from the article. For the first part, click here and for part two, click here.

to be continued

There is a very good Youtube video of interviews with a hundred British imams about the problems with ISIS and how it is doing damage to Islam, especially in Britain. It is well worth seeing. The video was posted on July 11, 2014.

The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 67, made a major contribution to the study of the Qur’an and other important aspects of Islam, for which he was branded an apostate in Egypt. For a summary of his life with links to videos and major works, check out the page on him in the series of “A Profile from the Archives” on al-Jadaliyya. For a film on his thinking, Youtube has the Lebanese film في إنتظار أبو زيد .

On Youtube there is a fascinating film on co-existence in Haifa. It is well worth watching at this time of intense violence in Gaza.

Here is an interesting Youtube video of Tariq Ramadan speaking about the issue of apostasy in Islam. For an Arabic translation of what he said, click here.

Here is a Youtube trailer for an environmental documentary film about Yemen, produced by Tony Milroy of Arid Lands and Sustainable Communities Trust for the Channel 4 series ‘Fragile Earth’.

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