Arabic Musical Forms (Genres)

The Samai (plural Sama'iyyat) pronunciation

The Samai is a composed genre comprised of four sections (khana, plural khanat), each followed by the refrain (taslim).

The samai composition demonstrates the 10/8 rhythmic mode (called samai thaqil) followed throughout the taslim and the first 3 khanat. The 4th khana, which precedes the last statement of the refrain, is typically composed in a 3/4 or 6/4 rhythm, called Samai Darij. Some contemporary composers display a 5/8, 7/8 or 9/8 rhythm in the 4th khana.

The first three khanat of the Samai consist of 4 to 6 measures. The last (4th) khana varies from 6 to 24 measures.

Generally the first khana in the Samai displays the selected maqam in a stepwise motion. It is usually played in the lower tetrachord (jins) of the maqam. The second khana shows a modulation to a related maqam. In the third khana the melodic range expands and reaches the higher tetrachord of the maqam.

Example: Samai Bayati - Ibrahim Al Aryan (Egypt)

The Tahmila (plural Tahamil) pronunciation

A dance form performed by the takht, which generally follows a simple 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm in moderate tempo.

The tahmila is a 2 part form: the first form is similar to the doulab. It consists of short motives which expose the maqam. The second part incorporates short improvisational solos which alternate with precomposed ensemble refrains in a call and response fashion. Generally the call is an improvised section which is played by the soloist and consists of 2 measures. It is followed by a response of equal length that is played by the ensemble.

With this structure the soloist plays an improvised variation in each call after the takht responds with the same musical phrase played after the first call. These variations could go through modulations related to the given maqam of the Tahmila, or modulations to related maqamat using the different degrees of the original maqam as new tonalities.

The tahmila ends with a repetition of the first opening part.

Example: Tahmilah Suznak - (traditional)

The Muwashah (plural Muwashahat) pronunciation

The Muwashah is a strophic song that originated in Al-Andalus (the medieval Iberian peninsula - present day Spain and Portugal). The melody and the structure of the muwashah vary in sophistication. It is performed by a chorus alternating with a soloist who is accompanied by a takht. The muwashah is often composed using a complex rhythmic mode, or iqaa. The lyrics in a muwashah are written in classical Arabic (fus'ha) as opposed to colloquial or regional Arabic ('ammiyyah), and often deal with the subject of love (unrequited love), or wine used as a metaphor for religious intoxication (common in Sufism).

Example: Imlalil Aqdaaha Sirfan

The Mawwal (plural Mawawil) pronunciation

The Mawwal is a non-metric vocal improvisation on a colloquial poetry text of 4 to 7 lines. It can be sung with an instrumental accompaniment (usually a qanun or oud) or without, and is used as a means to demonstrate the singer's virtuosity. The singer has complete freedom to modulate to different maqamat. During a mawwal the accompanying musicians follow the singer's lead, and summarize each phrase after the singer has performed it (called tarjama, literally translation). The mawwal is often preceded by a doulab or a short taqsim to introduce the maqam.

The Qadd (plural Qudud) pronunciation

The Qadd is a popular song genre that originated in the city of Aleppo, Syria. Qudud are also called Qudud Halabiyyah (from Aleppo). The Qadd is light in character, makes use of refrains, and is simple in structure and melody. Although the text in the qudud deals mostly with love, they were originally composed as religious songs.

The Wasla (plural Waslat) pronunciation

The Wasla (literally "extension") is a multisectional form consisting of several related instrumental and vocal compositions. the wasla ghina'iyyah (vocal suite) could include a combination of any of the above genres. All songs or tunes in the wasla, however, should be in the same maqam.

The Bashraf (plural Basharef) pronunciation

A composed genre comprised of 4 sections (khana, plural khanat), each followed by a refrain (taslim). The name comes from Persian peshrev, which means "that which precedes", because a Bashraf is usually played as an opening composition in a suite (or Fasl in Turkish).

Throughout the composition, the Bashraf follows one rhythmic mode, such as: Dawr al kabir (28/4), Shanbar (24/4), Al-Fakhitah (20/4), Mukhammas (16/4) and darij 93/4).

Generally the 4 khanat and the taslim of a Bashraf consist of 2-3 measures (cycles). the taslim can also consist of one cycle.

The first khana and the taslim display the selected maqam in a stepwise motion. A modulation to a related maqam occurs in the second khana. In the third, the melodic range expands and reaches the higher diwan of the maqam. generally the fourth khana displays the lower diwan of the selected maqam, as a sort of relief.

Example: Bashraf Farahfaza - Ismail Haqqi Bey

The Longa (plural Longas) pronunciation

A lively dance form usually in simple 2/4 meter (called fox). The Longa is a Turkish / Eastern European style that made it into Arabic music. It consists of two to four couplets (khanat) which follow a rondo like-like format with a recurring passage or refrain (taslim). Generally each khana and taslim consists of 8-16 measures, mainly in 2/4, except for the last which occasionally follows the 3/4 Samai Darij meter. Very common maqams for longas are Nahawand, Nikriz, Hijaz-kar and its transpositions.

Example: Longa Farahfaza - Riyadh El Sunbati (Egypt)

The Maqtou'a Mousiqiyya pronunciation

This is an instrumental composition performed by an ensemble large than the traditional takht. In general it incorporates melodic themes and rhythmic patterns found in rural vocal and instrumental folk and dance music. Those themes are developed into new diverse musical sections, with or without repeated refrain.

Orchestration: first, in the sense of melodic distribution between a solo instrument and orchestra. Second in the sense of rhythmic counterpointal figures using heterophony at times; change of rhythm with each new melodic section; melodic complexity in the musical phrases (length, accidentals, leaps, modulation).

Contrary to the Saltanah (reaching musical ecstasy through individual virtuosity) element found in traditional instrumental forms, the Maqtou'a is expressional (ta'biriyyah).

Example: Dhikrayati - Mohammad El Qassabgi (Egypt)

The Qasida (plural Qasa'id) pronunciation

The Qasida (literally a classical Arabic poem) is a song whose text is written in classical Arabic (fus'ha). It is performed by a solo vocalist accompanied by a takht. The qasida is composed to a simple rhythmic mode, or iqaa, usually wahdah. The subject of the lyrics is most often love, but could also be patriotism, death, or other themes.

The Dawr (plural Adwar) pronunciation

The Dawr is a vocal genre sung in colloquial or regional Arabic ('ammiyyah), and was developed in 19th century Egypt. It includes 2 sections, madh'hab (chorus, or refrain) and ghusn (branch, or verse), the latter being characterized by choral responses to the soloist's ornamented improvisation on the syllable "ah". Only simple rhythmic modes are used in the dawr. the dawr usually starts with a doulab.

The Taqsim (plural Taqasim) pronunciation

The Taqsim is an instrumental improvisation, which could be metric or non-metric. The taqsim is usually performed solo, but could also be accompanied by a percussionist or an instrumentalist playing only a drone. the taqsim is an impromptu musical composition where the soloist extemporized a piece using the maqam as a vehicle while abiding by a certain set of rules particular to that maqam. A taqsim usually includes a number of modulations to other related maqamat.

The Doulab (plural Dawalib) pronunciation

The doulab (literally "wheel") An introductory short instrumental composition. The doulab sets the mood of a maqam, and is intended to reveal its special character such as its intervallic structure and the emotions attached to it.


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