Music is an important element of Tunisian life, though few visitors will be lucky enough to see it played as it should be seen, at a wedding, a birth celebration or some other happy family occasion. Impromptu performances in cafés, such as you might witness in some countries, is not the Tunisian way. Instead, an organised evening of folk music and dancing at one of the major hotels will usually have to suffice, but these are well worth seeing.
Rhythmic percussion plays a big part in Tunisian music, usually accompanied by stringed instruments such as lutes in the towns and cities, or by wind instruments like flutes and bagpipes in Bedouin areas further south. Displays in Tunis are likely to feature both, along with the energetic dancing, perhaps with the traditional dance where the dancer starts placing pots on his head, gradually increasing the number as he whirls round.
The type of music played will go by the name of malouf. It was brought to Tunisia in the 15th century by refugees from Andalucia, which is why it blends the wailing sounds of both gypsy and Arabic music. It is now the national music of Tunisia, and alternates instrumental passages on drums, lute and violin with vocal passages from a solo singer. This is the traditional style, but today more of a show is made of the performances, to the extent of having full orchestras and a chorus of singers. There is even a renowned all-female orchestra called the El-Azifet ensemble.
Malouf Music in Tunisia
The El-Azifet Ensemble