Where the Sea Kisses the Desert – Music from the Persian Gulf

In the last years Rolf Killius has worked and researched the rich traditional music of the Arabian Peninsula. He encountered these (mostly young) nations as multi-ethnic societies reflected in their rich musicalculture.

Until recently Rolf was the Curator of Oral and Musical Cultures at the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership in London. Within this project he digitised old shellac discs from the British Library archive and from his own material produced short films on traditional music from Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.  Read his articles and watch the videos on music of these countries:


Qatar Digital Library Articles BBC Article

British Library Blog QDL YouTube Channel

The research begins with the music played in the music clubs and coffee houses of the small towns along the coasts of Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq in the 1930s and 1940s.

He revisits the first international Arabic music conference, which was conducted 1932 in Cairo and asks how this important conference relates to the Gulf music of the present. Many recordings from these days are only available on old and fragile shellac discs. Eventually the ‘shellac years’ ended with the issue of more recordings from Kuwait and Iraq in the roaring 1960s.

Iraqi Maqam

From these past days Rolf turns to the present hypo-modern multi-cultural societies along the Persian Gulf. In Qatar, Kuwait and Oman he filmed traditional music performances of the Arabic and long-term resident Indian communities. In these places he discovered the musically rich sea-music created by people working on ships. For him the sea-music is the most-defining musical genre of the Gulf and has numerous influences from Africa and India. Although the times have changed and no Gulf-Arab works nowadays on a ship this music is still alive and practised by the descendants of Arab seamen.

In his research Rolf relates his own contemporary footage to these historical recordings and offers suggestions and ideas.  He questions the concept of mono-ethnic societies often held by the rulers of the Gulf countries and asks how music expresses the sentiments of a society and how musical cultures can be a factor in solving difficult socio-political situations and stalemates.