In 1986 there were 107,000 people of Arabic extraction in Canada. The first immigration, in 1882, brought only Syrians and Lebanese who, even in the 1970s, formed a majority of Arab-Canadians, though 17 nations were represented to some degree in the total. (See also Egypt; Lebanon; Syria.) Arab-Canadians are of both urban and rural origin and include blue- and white-collar workers. The majority have settled in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto.
Because of the diversity of Arab-Canadians' backgrounds, commercialized music - whether pop, or folk, or classical - with its supra-regional appeal, forms the core of most public performances intended for their enjoyment. The musicians for such performances generally include a solo singer accompanied by flud (lute) and darabukkah (drum). Qanun (zither), violin, or nay (flute) are used when available. The usual concert format is an uninterrupted sequence of solo songs of different types. The audience invariably dances the 'dabkah' (a Lebanese folk dance) and claps with the main beat. Such concerts may include non-Arabic dance music provided by a 'Western' band. Frequently, however, there is belly dancing, either by a professional dancer or by individual members of the audience. The belly dance also has become widely practised in Canada outside the Arab community. An important music and dance 'institiution' is the night club where much urban and popular music and belly dance are performed. Instrumentation now includes the electric organ and electric guitar. Most famous among night club performers was the violinist Michel el-Saf (d 1991). In private gatherings (weddings, birthdays, etc) authentic folk singing may take place, with or without instrumental accompaniment, among people from a particular locality who wish to invoke their common heritage. Authentic Arabic classical music generally is included in concerts for Syrian-Canadians as well as in those intended for Canadian audiences. The Classical Arabic Music Quintet of Toronto, renamed the Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble in 1978 and led by George Sawa, is noted for its performances of this repertoire. In Montreal B. Mobayed, J. Sarwa, and G. Sawaya perform on the violin, the qanun, and the flud respectively.
Arab-Canadians come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Among them are Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Greek Orthodox (Byzantine), Greek Catholic, Maronite, Melkite, and other sects. Muslims of Lebanese extraction erected the first mosque in North America in Edmonton in 1938.
The tradition of Qurflanic chanting in the mosque has remained intact under the supervision of trained Imams from the Arab world, who also lead occasional congregational singing. In the Christian churches, chant is performed by both priest and choir, and there is congregational singing of hymns. The sacred music of some churches (eg, Syrian Greek Orthodox) shows a high degree of acculturation in the use of organ, the four-part harmony of the chorale, and the English language. That of some others (eg, the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox Churches) has avoided Western influence largely through the retention of original languages.