مشاهدة جميع الاصدارات : Unifying Traits of Arab Music

12-10-2005, 10:35
Today, traits contributing to unity in Arab music are numerous. These traits may not be universally applicable, however, and their orientation and detailed features may differ from one community to another. Furthermore, because of common historical backgrounds and geographical and cultural proximity, many non-Arabs -- particularly Turks and Persians -- share many of these traits, a fact that enables scholars to study the Near East as one broad musical area.
One aspect of unity in Arab music is the intimate connection between the music and the Arabic language. This is demonstrated by the emphasis placed upon the vocal idiom and by the often central role played by the poet-singer. Examples are the sha'ir, literally "poet," in Upper Egypt and among the Syrian-Desert Bedouins, and the qawwal, literally "one who says," in the Lebanese tradition of zajal, or sung folk-poetry. This link is also exemplified in the common practice of setting to music various literary forms, including the qasidah and the muwashshah.

Another salient trait is the principal position of Arab melody in Arab music and the absence of complex polyphony, a phenomenon distinguishing music of this part of the world, and a good portion of Asia, from the music of Europe and certain areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, Arab music exhibits refinement and complexity in the melody marked by subtle and intricate ornaments and nuances. Melody in Arab music also incorporates microtonality, namely intervals that do not conform to the half-step and whole-step divisions of traditional Western art music.

The concept of melody is commonly connected with modality, a conceptual organizational framework widely known under the name maqam (plural maqamat). Each of the maqamat is based on a theoretical scale, specific notes of emphasis, and a typical pattern of melodic movement, in many instances beginning around the tonic note of the scale, gradually ascending, and finally descending to the tonic. Although it is the basis for various musical compositions, the maqam scheme may be best illustrated through such nonmetric improvisatory genres as the instrumental solo known in Egypt and the Levant as taqasim, vocal forms such as the layali and the mawwal, and religious genres such as Qur'anic chanting and the Sufi qasidah.
In Egypt and the Levant, theorists divide the octave scale into small microtones comparable to those discussed earlier by al-Farabi and Safi ad-Din. Several types of micro-intervals have been advocated, including the comma division (roughly one-ninth of a whole step), which is found in some Syrian theories. Yet, it is generally conceived that the maqamat are based on a referential octave scale consisting of twenty-four equal quarter-tones. Despite the essentially aural nature of Arab music, Western notation has become fully established, and extra symbols are widely used.

The modal conception and organization of melody is paralleled by a modal treatment of Arab rhythm. In Arab music, metric modes are employed in various metric compositions and are widely known by the name iqa'at (singular iqa'). Influencing the nature of phrasing and the patterns of accentuation of a musical composition, these modes are rendered on percussion instruments within the ensemble, including the tablah (a vase-shaped hand-drum) and the riqq (a small tambourine also called a daff). Each iqa' has a specific name and a pattern of beats ranging in number from two to twenty-four or more.

In Arab music, and in Near Eastern music in general, compound forms predominate. Such forms are based on the assembling together of instrumental and vocal pieces that share the same melodic mode. Within a compound form, the individual pieces may vary in style, improvised or precomposed, featuring a solo singer or chorus, metric or nonmetric. A compound form is usually known by its local generic name and by the name of the melodic mode it belongs to. Examples include an established Iraqi repertoire typical of the cities and known generically by the name maqam. Other examples are the Syrian fasil, the North African nawbah, and the pre-World Word I Egyptian waslah.

Another feature of musical unity in the contemporary Arab world lies in the area of musical instruments. Instruments such as the qanun (a trapazoidal plucked zither), 'ud (a fretless plucked lute), nay (a reed flute) and the Western violin are found in most urban Arab orchestras. Furthermore, certain types of instruments are frequently associated with specific social functions. Bowed instruments often accompany the solo voice. In this case, the singer and the accompanist are typically the same person. The Bedouin sha'ir uses the rababah (a single-string fiddle) to accompany the love song genre known as the 'ataba and the heroic poems known as shruqi or qasid. Similarly, the Egyptian sha'ir uses the rababah (a two-string spike fiddle) to accompany his recitation of the medieval Arab epic known after its hero, Abu Zayd al-Hilali. In folk life, wind instruments are generally played outdoors; for example, the mizmar (a double-reed wind instrument) of Egypt and the tabl baladi (a large double-sided drum) are used at weddings and similarly festive events, mostly for the accompaniment of dance. At Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian weddings, the mijwiz (a type of double clarinert) is an adjunct to the dabkah or line dance.

Aspects of unity are also found in the traditional musical content of Arab social and religious life. Since Islam is the prevalent religion of the Arab world, Qur'anic chanting is the quintessential religious expression, transcending ethnic and national boundaries. This form is nonmetric, solo-performed, and based upon the established rules of tajwid, the Islamic principles of recitation. Of comparable prevalence is the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, which is heard from the minaret at the times of prayer throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Sufi performances of music and dance have been held in private and in public for centuries throughout North Africa and the Levant. Exhibiting considerable unity in song genres and in style of performance, Sufi music has been influenced by, and in turn influenced, the various secular vocal traditions.

Finally, a more recent contributor to musical unity has been the modern electronic media. The rise of wide-scale commercial recording around 1904, the appearance of the musical film in Egypt in 1932, and the establishment of public radio stations in later years promoted the creation of a large pan-Arab audience. Today the word ughniyyah generally refers to a prevalent song category featuring a solo singer and an elaborate orchestra equipped with both Western and traditional Arab instruments. Presented by such celebrities as Egypt's late Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab and the late female singer Um Kulthum, these songs are now enjoyed by a huge audience extending from Morocco to Iraq.

Racy, J.A.