'Malouf', the Arabic music of the Andalousian Muslims chased out of Spain, was imported to North Africa, and Tunisia in particular , at the end of the 15th century. It grew so popular that it became the Tunisian music par excellence, supplanting all other forms, to the extent that it was named 'malouf', which means 'that which is normal'.
The small orchestras who play this music uses violins (rbab), lutes, sitars and drums. The music is plaintiff, sometims insistent, and has a hint of Berber influence notably in the rhythms and the forms. It is generally made up of several different pieces or 'nouba' (equivalent of the 'suites' in Western music) which alternate poems, songs, preludes and instrumental breaks.
The music-loving Baron Erlanger, who had a passion for « malouf » and who lived in the Sidi Bou Saîd palace now converted into the Music museum, compiled all the rules and history of this music in six volumes. In the 1930s he set up an association called the 'Rachidia', which is a veritable conservatory of Arabic and Andalousian music, where most of today's great musicians studied.
Among them were the fourteen musicians and singers from the Tunis El Azifet ensemble, one of the rare, exclusively female orchestras in the Arab world. Led by Amina Srarfi, the El Azifet ensemble is inspired by the traditional Tunisian malouf and oriental mouachah .
Anouar Brahem, a lute (oud) player from Tunis who perpetuates tradition whilst also remaining open to Mediterranean influences, is currently one of the established stars of Tunisian music (his main recordings include 'Barzakh' and 'Conte de l'incroyable amour').