Happy Spring! I hope that everyone is enjoying the gorgeous weather on this vernal equinox. March 20 is a special date for me, because it was on this day in 2002 that I arrived to Baghdad to begin studying the Iraqi Maqam (it was also the vernal equinox, which occurred during my one-hour flight from Amman). I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing 15 of my relatives waiting for me at the airport as tears streamed down my face. The passport control people made fun of me and told me to quit crying, but it was too emotional, this homecoming to a home that I barely knew (my only other visit was nine years prior). I arrived speaking only a few words in Arabic, and having some idea of Arabic music but knowing nothing about the Iraqi Maqam. I had intended to stay for three weeks, but it took that long just to make the rounds to every relative’s house for lunch. Once I did start studying the maqam and learning to speak Arabic, I was completely enthralled and couldn’t tear myself away. I ended up staying in Iraq for three months, and returning for another three months later that year. With the threat of war looming, I left Iraq at the end of 2002, and the following March 20 marked the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the ensuing violence and strife that has plagued every Iraqi family since. My thoughts and prayers go to all the victims of this war. May things again become stable and peaceful in the wonderful, magical place that is Iraq.
As far as our class…last Sunday was very productive. We continued with Maqam Mansuri, this time managing to get through the entire maqam, which is no small matter! Mansuri has one of the longest, and complex forms in the Iraqi Maqam repertoire and goes through the modes of Saba, Bayat (on G and D), Rast, and Hijaz—don’t ask me why I chose to subject the students to this difficult maqam at the second class! Well, I did have my reasons, and fortunately, everyone was game and did a great job following all that was going on.
In addition to learning to sing the vocal melodies, we also addressed the rhythmic sections that occur in the ensemble between vocal passages, and the mutheltha at the end where the vocalist joins the rhythm played by the ensemble—this phrase has no parallels in the rest of the Maqam repertoire. Speaking of rhythm, the class had a much easier time dealing with the poetry and linking it to the melody when we tapped out the poetic meter while singing. Arabic poetry is organized into 16 meters, comprised of long and short syllables. Since the vocal parts are rhythmically free, finding the pulse and meter within the words provides a way of organizing/dividing up the melody. At the end of the class, we learned Win Ya Galub (“Weep, my heart”) which is in maqam Hijaz over the 6/4 rhythm, sengeen samaii.
Preview to Class #4 – Maqam Awj
Next class, we will move on to one of my favorites, Maqam Awj. This maqam has a much easier form than Mansuri, and a highly spiritual quality. It is particularly special to me as it was one of the first maqamat I that I learned on my trip to Baghdad. I recall sitting on the rooftop late at nights after everyone went to sleep, surrounded by palm trees and quiet streets, gazing at the stars while listening to Nadhum Al-Ghazali’s recording of this maqam.
Awj is in the Segah family, usually with B half-flat as its tonic. Unlike Mansuri and Rast, which have fixed structures, Awj has an open form, meaning that the performer determines the form according to his/her own taste, drawing from a pool of six different qita’ (secondary melodies). The intonation varies considerably throughout, but this the basic pitch set of Maqam Awj:
Here’s a recording of Maqam Awj by Yusuf Omar:
For this week’s pesteh (folk song) we will learn to sing Lefendi, an energetic song in the highly-infectious 10/16 rhythm known as Jourjina. Jourjina is by far the most common rhythm in Iraqi music, and is found in Turkey, Armenia, and parts of Iran, but not in any other Arab countries. I have seen many a percussionist crash and burn on this rhythm, which is second nature to Iraqis. I will make sure that every student leaves class able to play and sing along to Jourjina:
Sound like fun? Come join us! Registration information is available here. If you have not attended any classes but are intending to come this week, please let me know, and I will send you one of the information packets with detailed information on Awj.
Many thanks, and I hope to see you soon!