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After the revolution, arts bloom in Tunisia

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"I think Ben Ali did not know enough about Western art music to appreciate its true value and encourage it," Mr. Ben Abderrazak says.

Today, the euphoria surrounding the 2011 revolution is fading. Islamist parties gained considerable power in Tunisia's elections last October, and many cultural organizations fear another clampdown on creativity. Yet Ben Abderrazak doesn't expect the new government to hinder the growth of the classical music scene.

"One of the founding members of Al Nahda [Tunisia's majority Islamist political party], Abdelfattah Mourou, even sang an operatic aria in German on television," he says.

Ben Abderrazak is also greatly encouraged by the work of Mr. Ayed, the classical composer who served as Tunisia's interim finance minister after the revolution. "He's undertaken a number of projects with the Ministry of Culture, even though he was finance minister, to improve and develop classical music in Tunisia, to restructure and improve working conditions for musicians, and to correct the shortcomings of the orchestra," Ben Abderrazak says.

Ayed recently brought international attention to this cause with the Kennedy Center concert, and says, "I believe that classical music is a universal language and one that we have to perform, particularly now while we have a good story to tell and the whole world is watching us."

Western classical music has had a presence in Tunisia ever since Italian expatriates built the first opera house in Tunis in the 1820s. Under the ensuing French protectorate, Tunis established a philharmonic orchestra and Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were introduced into the music schools. Over time, conservatory graduates were expected to be proficient in both Arab and Western classical music.

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