4. Institutional developments since the late 1980s

In 1990, the twenty-fourth year of the Testour festival, the government took a definitive step in de-nationalising the ma’luf. At the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the festival ceased to function as the national competition between amateur regional ensembles, and the funds formerly allocated to prizes and jury fees were diverted instead towards the hire of professional and other specialist ensembles. The Ministry of Culture had formerly supported an exchange programme enabling the participation of foreign ensembles; this too was disbanded, and the local festival committee was encouraged to seek private sponsorship instead. As a result, most of the visiting ensembles now come from Tunis, and many have no particular connection with the ma'luf. Deprived of the main focus of their efforts and in numerous cases, the major incentive for their commitment to the ma'luf, many amateur regional ensembles have apparently dropped this repertory altogether, concentrating instead on lucrative dance songs to play at weddings.

Interior of Ennejma Ezzahra

As it withdrew its support for the ma'luf from the provinces, the Ministry of Culture consolidated its efforts in Tunis. In 1988, the government acquired d'Erlanger's former palace, Ennejma Ezzahra, from the d'Erlanger family, and opened it to the public. Poised on cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Tunis, with terraced gardens descending to the sea, replete with internal fountains and waterways and d’Erlanger’s original furnishings, Ennejma Ezzahra is a masterpiece of traditional North African architecture and decoration.

In November 1992, the Centre de la Musique Arabe et Mediterranean was inaugurated in Ennejma Ezzahra under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.

The CMAM is the home of the National Sound Archive; it hosts exhibitions and promotes research on aspects of Tunisian music, particularly those relating to d'Erlanger's life and work; it produces recordings of the ma'luf and other traditional repertories in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture; and it presents public concerts on themes relating primarily to the ma'luf, and to the achievements of past and present personalities of the Rashidiyya.

In 1988, the award-winning violinist Amina Srarfi, daughter of the eminent composer and lead violinist of the Rashidiyya Kaddur Srarfi (d. 1977), established the first private music conservatory in Tunis. Since then, a plethora of private conservatories have grown up in Tunis and its suburbs. These offer the same basic curriculum, with the ma’luf at its core, as the state-maintained conservatories; and in many cases, they employ the same teachers as the National Conservatory, but each has its individual character, emphases, teaching methods and specialisations. Running parallel to this development are the private music clubs – informal musical gatherings, often attached to private conservatories. The clubs tend to specialise in particular types of repertory and many support a professional ensemble. The most prestigious club for the ma'luf is that of the veteran authority of the ma'luf, 'ud 'arbi player and chorus master of the Rashidiyya, Tahar Gharsa, who co-directs a private conservatory with his son Zied.

In 1992, after several turbulent years marked by leadership crises and financial disputes, the Rashidiyya ensemble acquired a new leadership and a new professional status. Ostensibly in order to raise the standards of the national ensemble for the ma’luf, the Ministry of Culture provided sufficient funds to appoint Muhammad Belalgia, retired leader of the Radio ensemble, leader of the Rashidiyya, and Tahar Gharsa, its chorus master. The former players, mostly conservatory professors and students, were replaced by professional Radio musicians, effectively transforming the Rashidiyya into a specialist branch of the Radio ensemble. With the ensemble’s unique history and reputation, and its association with successive generations of legendary figures in Tunisian music, the Rashidiyya’s prestige remains undimished. However, while both Gharsa and Belalgia are undisputed authorities, the majority of the player s today have no special relationship with or commitment to the ma’luf. Originally an association of amateurs and professionals, united in their dedication to the conservation and promotion of traditional Tunisian music, the Rashidiyya is now just another job and the ma'luf just another repertory for a large proportion of its rank and file players.

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