The secret life of an Arab record label

Congratulations to French architect Jean Nouvel for winning the prestigous Pritzker prize. Nouvel's work in the field of music includes the new hall for the Philharmonie de Paris (do view the stunning images via that link) and the Copenhagen Concert Hall. But his masterpiece is his 1987 l'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris which won a huge following for modern architecture a decade before Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim. The photos of l'Institut have all been kindly supplied by fellow blogger Tara Bradford.

The award of the Pritzker prize has deservedly put l'Institut du Monde Arabe in the spotlight. But the glorious building also has a little secret, it is the home of an enterprising record label with a small, but very interesting catalogue of Arab music. An example of their output is Saïd Chraïbi’s La clef de Grenade (The Key to Granada). This CD features the Moroccan ud (lute) virtuoso playing his own compositions and improvisations, all of which are linked to Muslim Spain, al-Andalus, and the residence of the Muslim kings of Granada, the Alhambra palace.

The Alhambra palace is a gem of 14th century Islamic architecture, and the l'Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute or AWI in English) is a gem of late twentieth century modern architecture. The AWI was conceived in 1973 by French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing as a way of forging closer links with the Arab world, not the least with the North African countries from which many migrants had settled in France. The project was planned as a French showcase for Arab culture, with sponsorship from eight leading Arab nations, and participation from all member states of the Arab League.

Despite these lofty aims the AWI remained nothing more than a concept for seven years while local left wing politicians blocked Giscard d’Estaing’s proposals. A change of president to François Mitterrand in 1981 suddenly meant that the AWI became a priority presidential project, and Jean Nouvel won a competition to design the building with an ambitious design for the site on Rue de Fossés Saint Bernard on the Left Bank of the Seine. Construction was completed in 1987 at a cost of $100m, and the striking modern building houses an important museum of Arabic and Islamic culture, a large library, and an auditorium that stages music, cinema and drama. The huge south-facing courtyard with its Islamic motifs provides a symbolic link to the patio delos leones in Granada.

L'institut du Monde Arabe positions itself as having no political agenda, and in its early days an official explained that its aim was to “satisfy widespread curiosity about the Arab world by correcting the often factual ignorance about it.” The political landscape and the image of the Arab world has changed dramatically since those words were spoken in the late 1980’s. But despite Western leaders’ current preoccupation with the ‘war on terror’ L'institut du Monde Arabe is a remarkable building and educational resource, and not a bad little record label either.

Now celebrate Islam in the art of the mosque
All images are reproduced with permission from Paris Parfait. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Civic Center said…
What a lovely addition to my consciousness, the fact that this building exists in Paris, waiting like an anti-time-bomb to defuse Eastern/Western bellicosity. Thanks.
Garth Trinkl said…
Beautiful article, pliable. Thank you.

My visit to Jean Nouvel's l'Institut du Monde Arabe, in 1991, was one of the high-lights of my life.

Though I am going to be open minded, and I am crossing my fingers hoping to be able to visit them, I wonder if my impressions of the Lyon Opera House, the new Philharmonie de Paris, and the new Copenhagen Broadcasting Center will match the overwhelming impact Nouvel's Arab World Center had on me twenty years back.

[I am also a little worried about the Herzog and Meuron new Hamburger Philharmonie [Elbephilharmonie], because I love that reviving waterfront district so much:
paris parfait said…
I didn't know about the record label here - and I live in Paris! Thanks for the info and for the nod to my photographs.

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