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Genres of Secular Art Music Al-maqam al-'iraqi

20 February 2009 - Habib Toma

The maqam al-'iraqi is considered the most noble and perfect form of the maqam. As the name implies, it is native to Iraq; it has been known for approximately four hundred years in Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. The maqam al-'iraqi has been passed on orally through the Iraqi masters of the maqam, who cultivate the form especially in Baghdad. The maqam is performed by a singer (qari') and three instrumentalists playing santur (box zither), juzah (spike fiddle), and tablah or dunbak (goblet drum). Sometimes a fourth instrument, a riqq (tambourine), also joins in. Jalghi baghdadi is the name of this ensemble, al-maqam al-'iraqi the name of the musical genre. At the center of a maqam al-'iraqi is a sung poem written either in one of the sixteen meters of classical Arabic or in Iraqi dialect. In the latter case, the poem is called zuhayri.
A maqam al-`iraqi performance usually begins with the tahrir, comprising one or more vocal passages that either have no text or consist of Arabic, Persian, or Turkish words (akh-khayya, yar yar, aman). The tahrir presents the nucleus of the maqam and establishes its emotional content. Following the introductory passages, the singer and instrumentalists alternately improvise rhythmically free melodic passages through increasingly higher tone levels. In some maqamat, the tahrir is preceded by an instrumental introduction of fixed meter. At times it is completely replaced by a badwah, a vocal introduction in which short and long tones are juxtaposed by the singer in alternately high and low registers.

Jalghi baghdadi ensemble, Iraq. Photo: H. H. Touma.
As a rule, the first tone level to be presented highlights the beginning tone of the chosen maqam row. Then, one by one, the other phases and tone levels of the maqam are realized. The highest tone level marks the climax of the performance and is immediately followed by the taslum, a descending melodic passage that leads directly to the finalis of the maqam row.
Maqamat such as the bayat and husayni are presented without the rhythmic accompaniment of percussion instruments, whereas performances of maqamat such as the ibrahimi and nawa always have rhythmic accompaniment. The patterns played by the goblet drum or frame drum sound continuously from beginning to end, as in the maqam sikah, or are only intermittently heard, as in the maqamat rast and saba. The wazn yugrig whose rhythmic pattern is organized as follows:

accompanies the maqam jabburi with the maqam row:

whereas the wazn wandah with the following pattern:

belongs to the maqam urfah with the maqam row:

There is no correspondence between the free rhythmic-temporal organization of the singer's improvised melodic line and the regular rhythmic organization of the accompaniment.
A complete maqam concert, called a fasl, is composed of a number of maqam realizations whose sequence is fixed. The fasl is named after the first maqam presented. The Arabian repertoire of the maqam al-'iraqi includes five fusul (plural of fasl), namely, bayat, hijaz, rast, nawa, and husayni.
At the end of each individual maqam presentation within a fasl, the ensemble sings a song of fixed meter (bastah) to give the singer a chance to rest before presenting the next maqam. After all the maqamat of a fasl have been presented, the entire ensemble takes a long break before beginning the next fasl.
The performance of a fasl lasts three to four hours. In the past, several fusul were performed in one evening. Al- maqam al-'iraqi music was performed in a more private setting at the local haunts of famous maqam singers during festive events or on a certain evening of the month, sometimes also the night before a holiday. Alcoholic drinks were served during the performance, as long as it didn't take place during Ramadan, the month of fasting. Today the "local haunt" of the maqam singer is in front of a radio microphone or television camera. A great maqam singer is also looked up to as an authority on the subject of the maqam al-'iraqi. His musical talent is evidenced first and foremost through his mastery of the entire maqam al-'iraqi repertoire and secondly in his ability to give an especially distinctive rendition of a maqam or several maqamat.
The musical tradition of the maqam al-'iraqi has been passed down orally by the great masters of the maqam in an unbroken chain of transmission leading up to the present. The oldest maqam singer whose biographical data are known to us is Muller Hasan Babujidji (ca. 1760-1840), who counted the famous Rahmallah Shiltagh (1799-1840) among his students. Shiltagh was of Kurdish or Turkish extraction and was regarded as one of the greatest maqam singers of the nineteenth century. He was instrumental in the development and propagation of the maqam al-'iraqi. After his beloved, an Armenian named Ya'qub, left him and emigrated to Tiflis, he created a new maqam, the maqam tiflis, which is still performed today. Legend has it that Rahmallah Shiltagh died just as he reached the highest phase of the maqam ibrahimi, on the tone jawab rast (C), when an old wound burst open from the exertion.

An entire generation of maqam singers looked up to Rahmallah Shiltagh, among them Ahmad Zaydan and Muller 'Uthman al-Mawsili. Ahmad Zaydan (1833-1912) also created new maqamat and developed new forms of the tahrir and badwah introductions. A number of twentieth-century maqam singers, including Rashid Qandarji (d. 1945) and 'Abbas Shaykhali, owe their fame and musical ability to him and the school that he founded. Mulla 'Uthman al-Mawsili (1845-1923) demonstrated his exceptional artistry in the rendition of religious song traditions as well. His performances fascinated audiences in Baghdad as well as in Istanbul, in Damascus as well as in Cairo, where the singer, who had in the meantime become blind, was often wont to appear. Included among the great maqam al-'iraqi singers of today are Muhammad Qabbanji (b. 1901-1989), Haj Hashim ar-Rajab (b. 1920), Yusuf 'Umar (1918-1986), Majid Rashid (b. 1915), 'Abbas al-Qassam (b. 1917), and Husayn Ismail (b. 1952).
Analysis of a Maqam al-‘Iraqi Performance in the Maqam Mansuri
The example presented here is performed by the jalghi baghdadi ensemble of the Radio Station in Baghdad . The singer Yusuf ' Umar recites a love poem written in classical Arabic with four five-line stanzas following the rhyme scheme:
aaaaz
bbbbz
ccccz
ddddz
The first line of the poem reads: ya yusufa l-husn, fika assabbu qadima ("Yusuf, thou beautiful! For a long time I have been in love with you."). The drummers enter with the wazn samah, which consists of thirty-six beats, later changing over to the wazn yugrig, with twelve beats.
The mansuri is the second maqam of the fasl ar-rast and is presented immediately after the maqam rast itself. The mansuri maqam row reads as follows:

Following the mansuri are the maqamat hijaz shitani, jab-buri, and khanabat. Whereas the maqam rast has the tone c as its finalis, the next two maqamat, mansuri and hijaz shitani, have their cadence on g, and the maqam khanabat and jabburi lead to the finalis d. The riqq and darabukkah players perform throughout most of the fasl; only a portion of the maqam rast has no rhythmic accompaniment. Whereas the poems for four of the five maqamat are written in classical Arabic, a colloquial zuhayri poem is sung to the maqam hijaz shitani.
This particular maqam rendition of the mansuri lasts fifteen minutes and encompasses eighteen musical structural sections (see the transcription on pages 61-67). The performance begins with an instrumental piece of fixed meter in the wazn samah, which consists of thirty-six beats and is repeated two times. Already in this first section, all seven tones of the maqam row are sounded, and the characteristic structural intervals of the mansuri are immediately accessible to the listener. These intervals include the diminished fourth g-6, the medium second g-a(half-flat) or a(half-flat)-b(flat), the augmented second d'-cflat and not least, the major whole tone f-g. In this opening section, the tone g, the first tone of the maqam row, is strongly accented. At this point in time, the first tone level of the maqam performance has also already been realized on g.
The following musical sections can be distinguished:
1. The performance begins with an instrumental introduction in the wazn samah.

Instrumental melodic passage in the wazn samah.
2. Next, the soloist, the qari' al- maqam, enters with the tahrir section (0' 59''). He utilizes the tonal area above the melodic axis g, g-6, as well as the tonal area below that same axis, g-d.

Tahrir
3. The fixed-meter instrumental opening section is repeated (1' 36'').

4. The first two lines of the first five-line stanza are sung, whereby the singer elaborates upon a selection of the tones that were presented in the tahrir (2' 10'').

First stanza (first and second lines of verse).
5. The fixed-meter instrumental opening section is repeated again (2' 40").

6. The singer develops a tone level on c and emphasizes the tonal area c'-g. It is within this tonal area that the remaining three lines of the first stanza of poetry are presented-beginning in the maqam bayat and ending in the maqam mansuri. In the mansuri section, a tone level on g' later comes to the fore and the singer focuses on the tonal area c6'-g (3' 09").

The first word of the third line of verse, third, fourth, and fifth lines of verse.
7. The spike fiddle, juzah, begins with a melodic passage that prepares a tone level on c' and then musically establishes the maqam mansuri (3' 54''). The singer presents the entire second stanza of poetry on the tone level g and, in so doing, emphasizes the structural interval f-g, the tonal area c'-g and the tone level c'. At the same time he shifts from the maqam bayati to the maqam mansuri. Thus, here too, the stanza of poetry ends in the maqam mansuri. This same process was previously observed in the sixth section.

Second stanza: [1] Ay and first word of first line of verse. [2] First through fifth lines of verse.
8. The fixed-meter instrumental opening section is repeated again (6' 21").

9. The entire third stanza of the poem is sung (6' 45''). In its tonal range, its tone-level structures, and its tonal-spatial emphasis, this section is similar to section seven.

Third stanza: [1] First and second lines of verse. [2] Third line of verse. [3] Fourth and fifth lines of verse.
10. The tone levels built on g and c' are presented anew. At the same time, the first four lines of the fourth stanza of poetry are sung (7' 46").

Fourth stanza: [1] Ay. [2] First and second lines of verse. [3] Third and fourth lines of verse aman. [4] Bidadim.
11. An instrumental intermezzo is performed (9' 28") to rhythmic accompaniment in the wazn yugrig (twelve beats). This is a fixed-meter melodic passage that stands in certain contrast to the succeeding free-meter section. The tone levels d and d-g are emphasized.


Instrumental melodic passage in the wazn yugrig.
12. The fourth stanza of poetry is sung again. In this twelfth section, the maqam performance reaches its first climax (9' 55''). This phase, designated as sayhah, is the first to be presented in a high register. The singer develops a tone level on g' as well as the tonal areas g'-d' and a'-g'. This is in fact the highest tone level of the maqam mansuri altogether. At this point, lines four and five of the fourth stanza of poetry are presented.

First sayhah (mayanah): [1] Ay way. [2] Fourth line of verse. [3] Fifth line of verse of the fourth stanza.
13. The ensemble strikes up the so-called mathnawi, a fixed-meter instrumental piece that presents the tone level c' in the tonal region of f- 6'-d'-b- a (11' 03").

Mathnawi (instrumental intermezzo).
14. The tone material of the mathnawi section is developed further-here, however, in non-metered form. The fourth stanza of poetry is presented as a whole (11' 23'').

Fourth stanza: [1] First through fifth lines of verse. [2] Aman bidadim.
15. A repeat of the head from section eleven in the wazn yugrig follows (12'25'').

Head of the instrumental intermezzo in the wazn yugrig.
16. This passage is immediately succeeded by the second musical climax of the maqam performance, the second mayanah (sayhah) phase in the upper register (12'33"). The text sung is the same that was heard together with the first mayanah phase, namely the fourth and fifth lines of stanza four. Whereas that one ended on g in the maqam mansuri, this one concludes with the words amdn, aman on d'.

Second sayhah (mayanah): Fourth and fifth lines of verse of the fourth stanza.
17. The wazn yugrig returns with a vocal passage in which the tonal area d'-g is developed (13' 16''). At this point, the singer resorts to Persian words that do not belong to the actual poem. In place of the Persian jurdam jun babi ("My soul"), however, the Arabian ma tadrun and maftun ("Don't you see how enchanted I am") can also appear. The musicians call this section mathlath or mathlathah (triangle).

Mathlath.
18. The closing section presents the third and last mayanah (sayhah) on g'(14'04''). The performance of the maqam man-sun finally concludes with a descending melodic line c(flat)'-b(flat)-a(half-flat)-g, the so-called taslim (taslum), which ends on the maqam's finalis, g.

Final sayhah (mayanah) and taslim (taslurn).
Viewed as a whole, the maqam mansuri can be reduced to the following melodic framework:

 

Iraqi Music Heritage Project