Hassan Haffar

© Florence Strauss

Haffar: In Arabic, the name of this hymnodist from Aleppo in northern Syria means, ‘he who digs deep’, and is a reference to the mystic tradition. He does indeed dig deep: into hearts and minds and our earthly existence. He invites us to experience inner vision, emotional catharsis and the exaltation of passion.

Muezzin at the Great Mosque in Aleppo, Hassan Haffar was born in the city in 1943. A true craftsman, he was singled out for the quality, precision and strength of his voice. He was the pupil of the hymnodists Bakrî Kurdî, Sabrî Mudallal and cAbd Al-Ra’ûf Hallaq. The influence of Bakrî Kurdî, the composer of numerous sacred and secular works, on an entire generation of Syrian hymnodists is unquestionable, thanks to his instantly recognisable style. Hassan Haffar assisted him for many years and was totally immersed in his works and in the practices of the mystic brotherhoods (mawlawiyya). His training was thus entirely traditional: he learned the different kinds of calls to prayer, recital, psalmody and Koranic cantillation. He possesses an in-depth knowledge of classical music modes and rhythm. Through his displays of the arts of modulation and transposition, he has become an acknowledged master in the improvisation of classical poetry (qasâ’id) and also in call and response choral pieces (tawâshîh). Highly appreciative of the popular repertory, he is also interested in Bedouin song.

Accompanied by a chorus made up of his pupils, he entrances the listener with the rich fullness of his lower register and the precision of his upper register. His brilliant range and vocal power do not, however, exclude a rare subtlety and an exquisite refinement in performance. His energy is the simple expression of his inner passion and the basis of his charismatic personality. Conveying his emotions to his audience, he can sing for entire nights. While possessing a vast knowledge of thousands of classical lyrics, he is also capable of improvising whenever required. 

Hassan Haffar rarely leaves the ancient city of Aleppo, cradle of civilisations. He did however agree to accompany his master, Moudallal, to Paris for a week in 1975, to perform at the Festival d’Automne (Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord), in 1995, at the Auditorium des Halles and in 1999 at the Café de la Danse.

When he performs profane love songs to demonstrate the tolerance, tenderness and artistic heritage of Islam, he shows us another side to the Arab world and the musical tradition of Aleppo. Aestheticism thus meets faith in a union that respects all differences.

Bernard Moussali
Translated by Reena Khandpur

Available album : The Aleppo Suites