Yusuf Omar and al-Chalghi al-Baghdadi
1972, Baghdad, Iraq.
Maqam Rast: This basic maqam is founded on a mode called rast. Its complex vocal form, which requires a broad texture and perfect mastery of low and high registers tests the skills of the singer. There are only two places in the maqam which are rhythmic. The version sung here is the Rast hindi (Indian). It is the one most often performed today and it differs from the Rast turki (Turkish) by some small melodic movements in the first part. *
First part: - Muqadimma, rhythmic instrumental introduction.
- Tahrir, unmeasured vocal part sung to the word "yar" presenting the rast mode. (1:05)
- Instrumental part on the santur taking up again the tahrir melody. (2:11)
- A poem picking up the tahrir melody. (2:44)
- Improvised piece on the djoze in rast mode. (3:10)
- Improvised piece on the santur in rast mode. (4:14)
- "Mansuri" vocal piece (bayat and saba modes).
- "Ibrahimi" vocal piece (bayat mode).
- Jalsa, a cadenza called "Hijaz shaytani" bringing the first part to an end. It is characterised by a progressive descent towards C which is here extremely abbreviated.
Second part includes three meyana ("middle part" sung in the higher register).
- First meyana, called "Seigah Balaban" (in seigah mode) then return to the rast degree.
- Short instrumental composition dulab in sharqi rast mode on a 4/4 wahda rhythmical formula.
- Second meyana, "Khalili" to the words "nazenine men" (in tchahargah mode). (0:38)
- A piece called "Sharqi Rast" sung to the words "ya lali, ya lali, ya ya ya dayim". (0:52)
- Second dulab in sharqi rast on a 6/4 sengin sama'i rhythm. (1:28)
- Third meyana, "Hijaz Madani" (in hijaz mode) to the words "yademen ya dust". (1:54).
- Vocal piece "Mathnawi" ( several verses in hijaz mode). (2:15)
- Musical section "Mathnawi" (in hijaz mode) (3:19)
- Teslim progressively descending from B flat to C passing through F and concluding the maqam. (4:40)
- Peste, "Marabit" in rast mode. This peste is an old traditional song with a 4/4 wahda rhythm. (5:07)
The poem, in literary language, is a qasida attributed to both Omar Ibn al-Faridh (1181 - 1235) and Baha al-Zuheir (1185 - 1258)
- Peste, "Marabit"
* Commentary by Scheherazade Qassim Hassan
Vocals: Yusuf Omar (d. 1987)
Santur: Abdallah Ali
Djoze: Shaʻubi Ibrahim al-Aʻdhami (d. 1991)
Djoze: Hassan Ali al-Naqib (d. 1986)
Tabla: Abdul Razzaq Majid
Raqq: Kanʻan Mohammed Salih
Daff zinjari: Dhia' Mahmoud Ahmed
Choir: Ali al-Dabbou, Abdul Wahid Zaidan, Falih Jawhar, Abdul Qadir
Yusuf Omar (1918-1986): was one of the greatest Baghdadi professional singers of modern times. Faithful to the art of al-maqam al-‘Iraqi he never allowed himself to give way to pressure from modern music and had little appetite for the light songs that some interpreters used to choose as peste. Born in Baghdad in 1918 in the old district of Jadid Hasan Pasha where the maqam tradition was obvious, he attended Quranic then primary school. He discovered the great singers of former times in the cafes of his neighborhood and also assisted at religious ceremonies in which later on, he took part as a singer.
Finally, he set his mind on listening to Muhammed al-Qubbanchi's 78 rpm records whom he considered all his life as his model, even though the latter represented eventually a modern trend than that adopted by Yusuf Omar. He made his debut in 1948 with radio programmes and by the end of the fifties was appearing on television. He animated several thousands of his evenings in the homes of private individuals in clubs, associations and trade union gatherings. He was also invited overseas by Iraqi immigrants.
Yusuf Omar was one of those rare singers of al-maqam al-ʻIraqi to know the entire repertory by heart. His death, followed by a war which has dramatically weakened the world of al-maqam al-ʻIraqi, marks the end of an era. Today, no one can predict the future of a tradition completely shattered and deprived of its greatest interpreters.
Abdallah Ali (1929): comes from a family settled in Kadimain, in the suburbs of Baghdad. He studied the santur with Rahmat Allah Safa'i then specialized in the Iraqi maqam. He listened to maqam programmes and tried to reproduce the santur part. In 1955, het met Yusuf Omar and the joza player, Shaoubi Ibrahim. He joined radio to play in the chalghi ensemble. He also embarked on instrument manufacture. Leader of the chalghi radio ensemble, he was also one among a number of musicians who knew how to talk about their work and al-maqam al-‘Iraqi.
Shaoubi Ibrahim (1925-1991): was born in a working-class milieu where maqam was highly popular. He received both lay and religious musical training. In 1950, he entered the Fine Arts Institute where he studied violin with Jamil Bashir. The emigration of Jews to the newly created state of Israel having depleted the number of outstanding Jewish performers in Iraqi ensembles, Shaoubi worked in radio and abandoned the violin for the joza. His talent earned him the knickname of "Prince of the joza" and he was invited to play in some of the most famous chalghi ensembles. From 1971 until his illness prevented him from continuing, Shaoubi taught maqam at the Baghdad Institute of Melodic Studies and his courses were published.
Hassan Ali al-Naqib (1920-c.1986): studied violin at the Fine Arts Institute of Baghdad then the joza with Hajj Hashim al-Rajab. He plays regularly with the radio chalghi ensemble as well as performing at private functions.
Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 28 (1996), pp. 229-231
Le maqam irakien. Tradition de Bagdad. Hommage a Yusuf Omar (1918-1987). Two compact discs (ADD). Collection INEDIT W 260063. Recordings, commentary and photos by Sch6herazade Qassim Hassan. Accompanying notes in French and English (24 pp.) include photos, charts and song texts. Paris: Maison des Cultures du Monde, 1995.
This box of two compact discs contains musical gems of a very special kind: one of the most important urban musical traditions of the Near East is hidden behind the term le maqam irakien ("the Iraqi maqam," Arab. "al-maqam al-ʻiraqi"). Such a production deserves special merit because up to now this musical tradition has only very rarely been made available to the Western public.
In the past, the INEDIT series of the Maison des Cultures du Monde, under the editorship of Cherif Khaznadar, has done seminal work in publishing extensive anthologies on North African and Near Eastern music. The comprehensive edition of all Moroccan nubat on 31 compact discs, for instance, can hardly be matched by any other sound publication of non-Western music (cf. also their anthologies on the Tunisian maʻluf and on the mugam of Azerbaijan, with 6 CDs each). Over and above the desire for documentation that appears to have inspired the editor here, it is conspicuous that in all these cases devoted to the maqam principle, he has focused on musical ("suite-like") chain forms.
As far as the last point is concerned, Le maqam irakien fits in this series perfectly: Due to the set sequence of different musical structural units, al-maqam al-ʻiraqi (pl. al-maqamat al-ʻiraqiyah) can also be seen as a chain form. On the other hand, both compact discs reveal much less documentary ambition than the above-mentioned publications in the INEDIT series because they introduce only a small excerpt of the extensive repertoire of al-maqam al-ʻiraqi. six maqamat are presented out of over 50 that existed half a century ago (p. 16), namely rast, bayat, nawa, hijaz diwan, ʻajam and mansuri. These maqamat al-ʻiraqiyah all belong to the Baghdad tradition (al- maqam al-baghdadi), which corresponds to similar traditions in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in northern Iraq, for which, however, not one sound publication exists in the West. (This is also true for the religious forms of maqam al-ʻiraqi.) Twenty-nine of the Baghdadi maqamat al-ʻiraqiyah are further organized in five so-called fusul (sing. fasl), whereby a fasl determines the sequence of single maqamat during a larger performance unit. With the six above-mentioned maqamat, excerpts from four of the five fusul can also be found on these two CDs.
On the other hand, it should be mentioned that this INEDIT production eclipses that which has been available to a Western audience so far: a record in the OCORA series published in 1972 presented the maqamat sikah and husayni (Irak. Makamat, 1972). One year earlier, a performance of the maqam mansuri appeared in a general collection of maqam performances in Arabian music (Arabian Music: Maqam, 1971: Side B, Track 1).
For Western listeners, two different recordings of maqam mansuri are now available, one from the 1971 record and one from the CDs under review. A musical comparison of both versions affords interesting insights into the question of stable and variable elements of performance - a question that is easier to answer thanks to Habib Hassan Touma's analysis of the performance from 1971 (Touma 1996:60-7).
All available recordings feature the (probably) last great singer (qari') of al-maqam al-'iraqi: the late Yusuf Omar, who was a pupil of the legendary Muhammad al-Qubbanji. The date and location of the recordings, as well as the musicians and the recording director, are all the same for the newly published CDs, as for the OCORA record, which thus seem to be partial publications of one recording project undertaken in the studios of the Bagdad Radio Station in 1972. The accompanying instrumental ensemble, consisting of santur (trapezoidal box zither), jozah (four-stringed spike fiddle), tablah (goblet drum), riqq (frame drum) and daff zinjari (tambourine), belongs to a type of ensemble called chalghi baghdadi. This ensemble traditionally accompanies the maqam singer and, following the actual maqam presentation, joins in with a group of singers for a concluding song (bastah). In the present case chalghi baghdadi and single choral singers of the Iraqi Radio Television Station can be heard. It is probably no coincidence that the recordings were made possible at a time when the governing Baʻth-Party began to value the promotion of the "traditional Iraqi arts" within their (cultural-) political endeavor to create an all-Iraqi identity in an ethnic heterogeneous country (see Baram 1991).
Scheherazade Qassim Hassan, the Iraqi ethnomusicologist who was responsible for the recordings at the Bagdad Radio Station at that time, also wrote the commentary for the present CDs. At times her comments naturally recount a somewhat sentimental retrospective of the musical tradition that once flourished in her country. Indeed, it appears that the maqam al-ʻiraqi is destined to forfeit a great future. There are no present-day singers who are equal to Yusuf Omar (d. 1987) or to Muhammad al-Qubbanjl (d. 1989), and furthermore the two jozah musicians heard in the recordings have passed away in the meantime, namely Sha'ubi Ibrahim (d. 1991) and Hasan 'All al-Nakib (d. ca. 1986), "leaving a great emptiness in the urban music scene" (p. 13). The question is, what has prevented a living continuation of maqam al'iraqi? Hassan mentions the profound economic crisis prevailing since the Gulf War in 1991 that makes it impossible for past patrons and music lovers to organize meetings that are the setting for al-maqam al-ʻiraqi performances. She asserts that "today nothing much remains but cassette recordings circulating among amateurs" (p. 17). However, it should not be overlooked that the tradition of al-maqam al-ʻiraqi, whose instrumentalists (and even some singers) were recruited almost exclusively from the urban Jewish merchants and craftsmen ever since the second half of the 19th century, most likely had already started to decline with the exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1950-51 (see Warkov 1986, Abu-Haidar 1988:130, note 14).
All this emphatically emphasizes the importance of this CD publication as a long overdue sound documentation. What does the accompanying commentary offer the readers? Hassan has discussed al-maqam al-ʻiraqi in many of her previous publications (see among others Hassan 1987, 1989). As one who can be considered today's leading expert on this topic, she rightly laments that al-maqam al-ʻiraqi is largely unknown in the West (p. 13). However, the ensuing expectations that one places in the commentary are not always fulfilled. If the listener happens to perceive directly the intertwining of instrumental preludes, free vocal passages, ritornello- like instrumental pieces and interspersed taqasim, then his or her further expectation of obtaining a deeper insight into the musical structure by means of the analysis of each maqam offered in the commentary is disappointed. At times it is difficult to match the music with the analysis. It is certainly an arduous undertaking to do justice to the complicated structure of an al-maqam al-ʻiraqi performance in the space allowed, as Hassan herself admits (p. 18). However, on the CDs, it would have been technically easy to set indices at the beginning of each new structural section within a track. This would have facilitated the listener's aural orientation wherever the commentary on its own falls short of offering the necessary transparency.
Further, one would have served non-Arab listeners better by presenting not only a translation of the Arabic text but a transliteration as well, because for Arabic-speaking listeners, the aesthetic quality of al-maqam al-ʻiraqi has much to do with the intertwining of musical and poetical structural units. Thus, listeners would have been able to gain at least some idea of the text usage, for example how "the poems shatter literally under the effect of the succession of different vocal parts and the insertion of instrumental passages between two verses, sometimes even between two parts of the verse" (p. 16). This would have been all the more significant because Yusuf Omar belonged to those singers of al-maqam al-ʻiraqi who seriously advocated a clear presentation of the sung text (p. 16). Here one central element of al-maqam al-ʻiraqi remains closed to the outsider, although at least an impression of the overall text/music phenomenon would have been possible.
But, alas, how often do editorial decisions allow much less text and information than the author wishes to present! We presume that this was the case here and that such restrictive forces have diminished the informative value of the commentary. The overall impression of this CD publication can be nothing other than positive: we are offered musical rarities that are among the most interesting urban music forms that have been generated in the Mashriq. It is not remarkable that some of Yusuf Omar's al-maqam al-ʻiraqi performances are now available on CD; rather, it is astonishing that this has not happened much earlier! In case the archives in Baghdad house more of such excellent musical treasures (and I am sure they do), it would be highly recommended to publish them. For example, what about the old 78 rpm records with vocal performances of Muhammad al-Qubbanji, who was none other than the lifelong musical inspiration for Yusuf Omar, the musician who has been commemorated with the present CDs?
Abu-Haidar, Farida 1988 "The Poetic Content of the Iraqi Maqam." Journal of Arabic Literature 19(2):128-41.
Baram, Amatzia 1991 Culture, History and Ideology in the Formation of Ba'thist Iraq, 1968-89. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Hassan, Scheherazade Qassim
1987 "Le makam irakien: structures et realisations." In L'improvisation dans les musiques de tradition orale. Bernard Lortat-Jacob, et. Ethnomusicologie 4. Paris: SELAF, 143-9.
1989 "Some Islamic Non-Arabic Elements of Influence on the Repertory of al-maqam al-'iraqi in Baghdad." In Maqam-Raga-Zeilenmelodik. Konzeptionen und Prinzipien der Musikproduktion. Arbeitstagung der Study Group ,maqam. beim International Councilfor Traditional Music vom 28. Juni bis 2. Juli 1988 in Berlin. Berlin: n.p., 148-55.
Touma, Habib Hassan
1996 The Music of the Arabs. New expanded edition. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. English translation of Die Musik der Araber. Taschenbucher zur Musikwissenschaft 37. Inter- nationales Institut fur Vergleichende Musikstudien. Wilhelmshaven: Florian Noetzel, 1989.
1986 "Revitalization of Iraqi-Jewish Instrumental Traditions in Israel: The Persistent Centrality of an Outsider Tradition." Asian Music 17(2):9-31.
- Arabian Music: Maqam. Recordings by Habib Hassan Touma, Radio Baghdad and Jacques Cloarec. Commentary by Habib Hassan Touma. UNESCO Collection Musical Sources. Modal Music and Improvisation VI, 3. Philips 6586 006. 1971.
- Iraq. Makamat par I'ensemble al tchalghi al baghdadi et Yusuf Omar (chant). Recordings and commentary by Scheherazade Qassim Hassan. OCORA OCR 79. Reedited in 1985 under the same title in the series Musiques traditionnelles vivantes. III. Musiques d'art (Musiques savantes) as OCORA 588.633. 1972.