Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam

Program: #19-16   Air Date: Apr 08, 2019

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The latest from Jordi Savall tells the tale of the “greatest traveler of all time”, whose 14th century journey took him from Morocco to Afghanistan, India to sub-Saharan Africa, Sri Lanka to Spain.

NOTE: All of the music on this program comes from the new release by Jordi Savall, Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam. It is on the Alia Vox label, and is CD # AVSA9930. For more information:
According to Islam’s earliest prophetic tradition, travel as training and a source of knowledge was advocated by the prophet Mohammed himself; he urged believers to travel far and wide in their search for wisdom and knowledge. One of the quotations attributed to him is “Seek knowledge even unto China.” The reader of Ibn Battuta’s fascinating travelogue discovers and experiences the full character of this literary genre, the “rihla”, which designates both the journey and the narrative of that journey. The genre can be traced back to the writings of Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217), the first great Muslim traveller from al-Andalus (Xativa, Valencia).
Ibn Battuta - The Traveler of Islam
Historical, geographical, literary and musical evocation of the Rihla of Ibn Battuta

The discovery of the Travels of Ibn Battuta in the great edition translated into Catalan by the historian Margarida Castells and the poet and arabist Manuel Forcano and published by Edicions Proa (Barcelona, ​​2005) has been the source of inspiration found in the "Origin of the realization of this new book/CD.

According to the earliest prophetic traditions, the invitation to the journey as a means of learning and source of knowledge was praised by the prophet Muhammad, who urged his believers to travel, wherever it was, in search of knowledge and knowledge. One of the phrases that are attributed to him says: "Search for knowledge to the confines of China." The reading of the fascinating story of Ibn Battuta's journey allows us to discover and discover this literary genre itself: the "Rihla that designates the journey and, consequently, the story that is in fact". This genus had been initiated previously by the Chabitian Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217), the first great Arab traveler.

Ibn Battuta was, above all, a real traveler, whose observations are not scientific but rather personal. However, important researchers provide sociological, customs or historical knowledge. We will cite a curious example in relation to Maldivian women, Muslims and very believers, but who were going with the naked trunk or their hair were not covered: like Cadi and Maghreb, Ibn Battuta condemned vehemently and tried to ban this practice that he It hit, however unsuccessful. The sovereign of the island was then a woman and a regime of matriarchal law was applied.

As Oriane Huchon emphasizes in his interesting article "Ibn Battûta: vie et voyages", he wrote his Travels thinking of a Muslim audience aware of the politicoreligious context of the 14th-century Islam. He did not necessarily explain elements that ought to seem obvious but that they would have contributed many keys to the Western reader to understand. Partly because of this, they have long remained unknown to Europeans. Until the 19th century, knowledge of his chronicle was limited mainly to the Muslim world. It was not until the translation of his Trips to the Western world that they were made known from the second half of the 19th century, especially thanks to the translations into German, and later to English and French, this Last published in full in 1858 by C. Defrémery and BR Sanguinetti and reissued in 1997.

The soldier from Morocco ordered in 1356 a young erudite of Andalusian origin, Ibn Juzzay, the transcription of all the adventures of Ibn Battuta. His travel narrative is written in the first person and gives us all the information that has come from Moroccan. It also follows that he married and repudiated a large number of women, as well as taking an even greater number of concubines. It is also known that he took a courteous life, surviving with the graces given by the mighty of the countries he was visiting. The importance of religion to his periplo is immediately credited, since Ibn Battuta was, above all, a Muslim traveler.

Most of the information we provide comes from your personal writings. In his work written in 1356 in collaboration with Ibn Juzzay, he relates his adventures and multiple trips that he had taken, from 1325 to 1354, throughout the known world.

In this way, one finds out that Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier in 1304, under the Marínida dynasty. He followed studies of the Koranic right and abandoned Tangiers with the aim of making the pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, in 1325. He arrived in Arabia after a year and a half, after visiting North Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Syria. During his pilgrimage done in 1326, he discovered Persia and Iraq, before returning to Mecca. He then sailed to East Africa, sailing to Kilwa, to present-day Tanzania, after passing through Mogadishu, Mombasa and Zanzibar. On return, visit Oman and the Persian Gulf, before arriving again in Mecca.

Towards 1330, he embarked on the march again. I decided to go to India, with the goal of finding a place at the service of the Delhi soldier. With this design, he traveled for three years. He went through Egypt, Syria, Constantinople, Asia Minor, the Black Sea and Afghanistan. Ibn Battuta stayed for eight years in India, serving Muhammad Tughluq, the Delhi soldier. She obtained a charge from cadi (judge). In 1341, the sovereign commissioned him to carry out an expedition to the court of the Mongol emperor of China. After the ship was shipwrecked to the southwest of India, Ibn Battuta took advantage of it to travel for two years to the Maldives, southern India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). In the Maldives, I also played the role of cadi. In 1345, he returned to India by sea. He took advantage of it to visit Bengal, Burma, the island of Sumatra and southeast China, to Canton. He said he had traveled to Beijing on the ground, although there were no doubts. In 1346-1347, Ibn Battuta returned to Mecca, completing the hajj one last time. He returned in 1349 to Morocco, before visiting Granada. Finally, in 1353, he completed his last trip, which would take him through the Sahara to Mali and Sudan. In 1355, he settled in Morocco, who would no longer leave.

l With this book-CD, we wanted to evoke the wonderful journey of Ibn Battuta with a selection of texts, by Manuel Forcano and Sergi Grau, who illustrates the main stages of his journey, accompanied by music corresponding to the different cultures of each country or region where it passed. For the historical moments that refer to events that took place in the West, we have used music from the period corresponding to the country or place mentioned: the death of Marco Polo (1324), the voyage on a Catalan ship (1346), the conquest of Sardinia and the presence of Pere IV on the island (1353), the battle of Baeza (1368) or its passage through the Christian territories of the East and their arrival in Constantinople (1334). On the other hand, for most of the moments of the story that occur in the countries of Africa, in Granada andalusina or the Near or Far East, we have chosen, above all, songs and dances from the traditions of their respective places. In most Eastern cultures, the songs and songs performed today are often the result of a long process of transmission and improvisation. These songs have been alive to our days thanks to their transmission through ancient traditions (and often impossible to date with precision), in which the art of improvisation is always an essential element of interpretation and conservation. The chance to grasp all the richness and spontaneity of this art of improvisation has been precisely the main reason why we have chosen to present the music of the two parts of Ibn Battuta's journey from the two live recordings made in two magnificent concerts: the first CD, with the first part of the trip, corresponds to the concert performed in Abu Dhabi, at the Emirates Palace-Auditorium, on November 20, 2014 (which is why the texts are recited in Arabic and in English) , while the 2nd CD, with the second part of the trip, corresponds to the concert held in Paris, in the Grand Hall of La Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris, on November 4, 2016 (in this case, with recited texts in French).

Another important aspect of our project is the use of instruments based on the place and historical traditions. In other words, in addition to Western historical music, for which we use the medieval instruments in use -viela, rebec, medieval rebab, cistre, medieval lutee, organetto, xeremia, flutes, horns and various percussions-, all the musics of Eastern tradition are interpreted by instruments specifically touched on the different cultures of the countries visited by Ibn Battuta: moroccan and ney for Arab, Turkish, Qanun and Kaval pieces for Turkish music, santur for Iraq and Persia , rebab and zirko bag for Afghan pieces, sarod and table for the music of India and the Maldives, pipe and zheng for the Chinese pieces and kora and valiha for the empire of Mali.

The realization of this great literary, historical, geographic and musical fresco has been made possible thanks to the rich diversity of texts and the chosen music, as well as thanks to the wonderful creative and interpretative capacity of a team of singers and Exceptional musicians, from Hespèrion XXI with regard to the western music and the countries where Ibn Battuta has spent with regard to Oriental music: Morocco, Syria, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey (part of which corresponds to Bizanci and L The Ottoman Empire, as well as the Near East, the east coast of Africa and Arabia, Mali, Madagascar, Persia, Afghanistan, Armenia, India and China.

Finally, the beauty and emotion that brings all these fascinating music allow us to travel again with Ibn Battuta and pay homage to her extraordinary "Rihla". It is also thanks to the power of music that we can revive the charm of some of the main stages lived during its thirty years of pilgrimages and discoveries: personal adventures, descriptions and experiences, told in charm and eloquence by one of the greatest travelers of all time.

Amsterdam, October 20, 2018

Hespèrion XXI & Jordi Savall: Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam 1304–1377
Music of Afghanistan, Bagdad, China, Granada, India, Mali, Morocco, more
Alia Vox AVSA9930 (24/88.2, 2 SACDs). 2018. S.L. Sonjade, prod.; Harry Charlier, Manuel Mohino, engs. DDD. TT: 2:27:04
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Sixty years after Italian explorer and merchant Marco Polo chronicled his journey to Asia, Tangier-born Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta (b. 1304, d. 1368–1377) spent close to 30 remarkable years traveling to what were then the four corners of the earth. Following the words of Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, to whom is attributed the dictate "Seek knowledge even unto China," Ibn Battuta was only 21 when his desire for knowledge and learning propelled him on a quest far longer and wider-ranging than Polo's.

In 1356, the Sultan of Morocco commissioned a young scholar of Andalusian origin, Muhammad Ibn Juzayy, to transcribe all of Ibn Battuta's adventures. But knowledge of Ibn Battuta's achievement was basically confined to the Islamic world until 1858, when Travels was translated into German and published. When musical polymath and viola da gamba master Jordi Savall read Margarida Castells and Manuel Forcano's 2005 translation (from Arabic into Catalàn) of Travels, he assembled a two-concert program to illustrate Ibn Battuta's adventures by mixing historically authentic music from the lands he visited with narration in English, Arabic, and French.


319rotm.250.jpgSavall's first concert of this material, performed and recorded in the resonant acoustic of the Emirates Palace-Auditorium in Abu Dhabi on November 20, 2014, chronicles Ibn Battuta's itinerary from Morocco to Afghanistan (1304–1335). The second concert, which took place in the even more resonant and remarkably clear acoustic of the Philharmonie de Paris on November 4, 2016, follows Ibn Battuta to Afghanistan, India, China, Bagdad, Granada, Mali, and back to Fez, where he died. The difference in sound of the two concerts, along with miking that lets you hear the stops of ancient woodwind instruments, add to an authentic sense of occasion that makes listening to this chronicle of Ibn Battuta's adventures a special experience. Bass lines seem more focused in the Philharmonie de Paris, but that may have more to do with the review equipment in my system right now than anything else.


The care that Savall puts into creating his weighty SACD packages—in this case, a hardbound book—commands respect. Printed on quality paper, lavishly illustrated, and filled with scholarly essays in multiple languages, Savall's book-albums are works of art. For anyone who can play SACDs, buying the physical package is a must.

While superficial listening may give the impression of a carefully programmed travelogue, more concentration reveals how nuanced each performance is. These musicians have not simply taken this music to heart; it's in their blood, and sings with their every breath and movement. For this project, Savall enlisted his Hespèrion XXI instrumental ensemble, whose membership changes as Ibn Battuta undertakes the second half of his journey. There are also three narrators, and an extraordinary group of vocal and instrumental masters from many countries. While many of the soloists will be known only to aficionados of world music, readers of Stereophile's web reviews may recognize the name of French early-music singer Marc Mauillon, whose extraordinarily agile and compelling baritone graces Harmonia Mundi's 2018 recording of Michel Lambert's (ca 1610–1696) Leçons de Ténèbres and other works.

Suffice it to say that every soloist on this recording is as musically gifted and inspired as Mauillon. After hearing the voices of Ahmed Al Saabri (Abu Dhabi), Meral Azizoglu (Turkey), Katerina Papadopoulou (Greece), tenor Lluis Vilamaj (Bacelona), and baritone Furio Zanasi (Italy), along with the voice and oud of Waed Bouhassoun (Syria) and Driss El Maloumi (Morocco), you'll know that Savall and his supporters spared no expense in assembling this ensemble. I sat transfixed, not only by the distinctive Western baritones of Mauillon and Zanasi, but also, in the foot-tapping Imperial Dance from the Empire of Mali, by the gentle voice of El Maloumi. We should all be blessed by such sweetness.

Moving on to Sardinia, the trio of Pierre Hamon on recorder, Michael Grébil on ceterina, and longtime Savall compatriot Pedro Estevan on percussion was mesmerizing in Isabella—and Lingling Yu's pipa artistry, which appears multiple times, could certainly give the justly famed Wu Man a run for her money. The massed voices of Savall's other ensemble, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, sound wonderful in the single track they appear on, and the combination of Ahmed Al Saabri's voice with the voices and instruments of Hespèrion XXI in the four-minute Sallatu Allah (Mecca) is so beautiful in its fervent devotion that it inspires the knowledgeable Abu Dhabi audience to applaud mid-concert.

There is much improvisation here. This traditional music—like all Western music up to and well into the Classical era—included considerable improvisation, and was passed down from generation to generation before being written down, always refracted through the lens of the artists at hand. Savall's artists' devotion to their crafts have ensured that Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam 1304–1377 will remain an artistic and historical triumph.—Jason Victor Serinus


CD1 : 1304-1335 (live nov 2014)
1-2. 1304 · Tanger. Narration : Naissance d’Ibn battuta … / Bismillah ir-Rahman
3-4. 1311-1315 · Apogée de l’Empire musulman du Mali. Taqsim : Valiha / Kouroukanfouga (instr.) – Mali
5-6. 1324 · Mort de Marco Polo. Narration : Le célèbre voyageur meurt à Venise … / Plainte grècque
7. 1325 · Maroc – Égypte. Taqsim : Oud / Narration : À l’âge de 21 ans, Ibn Battuta de Tanger…
8-9. 1326 · Le Caire – Jérusalem – Damas. Narration : Ibn Battuta remonte le Nil … / Kevoque (instr.)
10-11. À Damas. Réc. I. Battuta : C’est l’un des édifices les plus surprenants … / Qays ibn al-Moullawwah
12-13. 1326 · Mort d’Osman Ier. / Taqsim : Oud & Kaval / Nihavent (Chant ottoman)
14. 1326 · Arabie : la Mecque. Taqsim : Ney & Oud / Narration : Après une visite …
15-16. Danse de l’âme, Taqsim / Réc. I. Battuta : La majorité de ceux … / Sallatu Allah
17. 1326-27 · Irak – Perse. Narr. : Une fois / Réc. I. Battuta : La partie occidentale de Bagdad. / Chahamezrab
18. Taqsim – Neveser · Hal asmar
19. 1328-1330 · Yémen – Zanzibar. Narration : Après la Perse et l’Irak …
20. Véro (instr.) / Récité I. Battuta : Depuis la ville de Mogadiscio …
21-22. 1329 · Bataille de Pelekanon. Narration: Bataille … / Der makām-ı Hüseynī Sakīl-i – Anon. Ottoman
23-24. 1331 · Oman et le Golfe Persique. Narration : Revenu de son périple … / Talaa’ al-badr ‘aleina
25-26. 1332-1333 · Anatolie. Narration : Ibn Battuta prendra deux ans… / Sufí Dance (instr.)
27. 1334 · Ukraine – Constantinople. Narration : Depuis la côte turque de la Mer Noire …
28-29. Réc. I. Battuta : Notre arrivée dans la grande Constantinople … / En to stavro pares tosa – Chant byzantin
30. Samarcande. Ясен месец веч изгряава (Une lune claire se lève) / Réc. I. Battuta : Ensuite, je me suis dirigé…
31. 1334-1335 · L’Asie centrale. Impro: Tabla / Narration : Ibn Battuta quitte Constantinople …
32. Laïla Djân (instr.) – Chant-danse de Kabul (Afghanistan)

CD2 : 1335-1377 (live, nov 2016)
1.2 1335 · Voyage au centre de l’Asie. Laïla Djân (instr.) – Chant-danse de Kabul (Afghanistan)
3. 1336 · Fondation du royaume de Vijayanagar. Réc. I. Battuta : Au centre du vaisseau …
4. Muddhu gare yashoda (Raga) – Sarod & Tabla
5-6. 1344 · Voyage aux îles Maldives. Réc. I. Battuta : Les habitants des Îles … / Raga: Sarod & Tabla
7. 1345 · Voyage au Sud de l’Asie, à Sandabur (Goa) et en Chine. / 高山流水 Gao shan liu shui
8. Impro.: Zheng / Réc. I. Battuta : Les Chinois sont des infidèles adorant des idoles …
9. 1345 · Début de la colonisation chinoise de l’Asie du Sud-ouest. 蕉窗夜雨 Jiao chuang ye yu
10. Chanson dansée « Ya bourdaeyn »
11. 1346 · Le grand retour au Maroc, Bagdad et Alep (1348). Réc. I. Battuta : Je partis de Tunis par mer …
12. Quant ai lo mont consirat – Anonyme catalan (Chant spirituel)
13-14. 1350 · Al-Andalus. Il visite Grenade. Réc. I. Battuta : Depuis Alhamma … / Fiyachia – Trad. arabe
15. 1352 · Ibn Battuta traverse le Sahara. Anonyme arabe : ‘Al maya, ‘Al maya (Chanson dansée)
16-17. 1353 · Il visite l’Empire de Mali. Réc. I. Battuta : Parmi tous les peuples … / Danse impériale (impro.)
18. 1354 · Pierre III conquête Sardaigne. Isabella (Stampitta)
19. 1356 · Zhu Yuanshang se révolte contre les Mongols. / 天山之春 Tian shan zhi chun
1357 · Ibn Battuta, dès son retour à Fez, débute la chronique de ses Voyages : La Rihla.
20. 1359 · Murat I succède à son père le sultan Ohrhan Gazi. Der makām Çargah sirto (instr.)
21. 1368 · Battaile de Baeza. Anonyme : Cerco de Baeza (Romance de la Frontière, CMP 106)
22. 1368 · Les Yuan Mongols sont expulsés de Pékin. 行街 Xing jie – Sud-est de la Chine
23. 1377 · Mort d’Ibn Battuta. / Lamentation arabe : Li Saheb : Chant de la séparation – Taqsim


CD Info

CD # AVSA9930