Sultans of Spin: Syrian Sacred Music on the World Stage



This article examines how the performance of a variety of Islamic music in transnational cultural circuits helps to promote the idea of a style of sacred music within the category of world music. Taking as an example the performance of the mawlawiyya, or "Whirling Dervish," music and dance by a Syrian–based ensemble, I show how the idea of an authentic local Syrian sacred music tradition requires its performance globally. I use the concept of the "world stage" to examine how musical performance practices that are represented as authentic local traditions obtain both their authenticity and their local specificity through their staging in global contexts. I further explore how such musical styles as sacred and Sufi emerge as naturalized categories in world music discourse, and how processes of differentiation and commodification reconfigure both the "local" and "global." [Keywords: world music, globalization, style, Syria, Islam]