Playing out: Women Instrumentalists and Women's Ensembles in Contemporary Tunisia


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world, women musicians are appreciated as vocalists but rarely as instrumentalists, and it has been considered disreputable for women to play instruments in public. Yet greater numbers of women in Tunis have been “playing out” as instrumentalists for mixed-gender audiences since the 1990’s, particularly as they have created their own women’s ensembles and received advanced degrees in music. In the past six years the number of women’s ensembles performing at state-sponsored festivals and private weddings has furthermore increased. By examining the performances and lived experiences of musicians playing in contemporary women’s ensembles and mixed-gender ensembles, this project explores how women play out, resist, and re-shape representations of gender and nation in performance. Among other strategies, many women’s ensembles mix traditional/modern and Tunisian/foreign elements in their performances, thereby challenging frameworks that have heretofore dominated discourses on gender and national culture in Tunisia.