RadioTripoli: broadcasting traditional Libyan music in the Thirties


The first radio broadcasts of traditional Libyan music date back to the end of the 1930s. During my recent studies on Italian Music and Colonialism, I've discovered one of the most valuable Italian rulers' cultural output featuring the dominator's needing to preserve good relations with the Libyan people. The North African country was under Italian domination from 1911 to 1944. On December 29th 1938, also the first Friday of the Dhu l-qa'dah, a sacred month in the Islamic calendar, 1357, traditional Islamic music performed live by North African musicians was disseminated by radio for the first time. Radio Tripoli came into being. It was considered to be the Arab EIAR (Ente Italiano Audizioni Radiofoniche) - the Italian broadcasting authority. The idea was to give Libyans, through the use of propaganda, a modern means to cultivate, disseminate and preserve their cultural traditions. The Radio's schedule featured daily broadcasts of Libyan culture with news preceding the readings of the Koran, talks from Islamic congressmen, and music. In just a few months the broadcast time was extended and the Radio reached a larger public through the use of loudspeakers located in the center of Tripoli.

Three musical ensembles directed by respected North African musicians were established as orchestras-in-residence. Their name refers to the musical tradition featured: La Libica, L'Orientale and La Tripolina, conducted respectively by Bescir Fehmi, Muktar el Mrabet e Kamel El Qady. Soon after, other ensembles performed at Radio Tripoli featuring different Libyan musical cultures, like La Bengasiana (from Bengasi), directed by Ali Sciaalia. Many others North African artists joined the project and it became a catalyst for Afro-Mediterranean musicians. At the end of February 1939, Radio Tripoli got its own identity, inaugurating an orchestra from Tripoli, made up by musicians from Tripoli, guided by Ismail Gaber Mohammed Ali. The following year, a resident choral ensemble was added to the instrumental group.

The ensembles played a miscellaneous program, occasionally enriched by famous Arab artists or traditional instrument virtuosi, in some case the conductors themselves. Music and songs referring to celebrations such as nuba, maluf, zamzamat, alternated with didactic pieces (mostly for the Arab lute, the ud) and new local traditional music.

The Radio Tripoli's schedule was disseminated through Italian radio journals of that time, one of the few pieces of evidences of Radio Tripoli's life. Unfortunately no Radio Tripoli's official broadcast recording has been preserved.

Isabella Abbonizio

(extracted and translated from Isabella Abbonizio Musica e colonialismo nell'Italia fascista (1922-1943), PhD diss., University of Rome 'Tor Vergata', 2010). image - Camillo Boscia, La radioindustria italiana in Prima Mostra Triennale delle Terre Italiane d'Oltremare (Napoli 9 maggio - 15 ottobre 1940) - Documentario, pp. 197-202: 201