The Art of Mawwâl

Bajeddoub & Souiri

This album was recorded live at a concert originally conceived as a dialogue between two major Moroccan singers in the form of improvised mawwâl. The result is not only an album with many examples of brilliant vocal and instrumental improvisation, but is also like a musical journey linking the Andalusian modes of the tubûc(sing. tabc: Maghrebi mode) and the Eastern modes of the maqâmât (sing. maqâm: Eastern mode).
Vocalists Bajeddoub and Souiri give outstanding solo and duo performances, together or in turn, based on extracts from some beautiful Arab poems on the theme of courtly and mystical love.


1Ataytu li-qâdî l-hubbi/I went to see the judge for love – 6’20
2 Amurru calâ d-diyâri/I’m passing through the area – 4’19
3 Dumûcu l-‘ayni tajrî/Tears stream from my eyes – 2’57
4 cÎdû ilayya l-wisâl/Renew your union – 4’37
5 cAynî li-ghayri jamâlikum lâ tandhuru/My eyes gaze only on Your beauty – 3’52
6 Arâdû l-bi’âda/They wanted to go away – 4’02
7 Amurru ‘alâ diyâri Laylâ/I’m going through the region – 5’20
8 Qultu li-Laylâ/I asked Laylâ – 6’22
9 – Badat/She appeared and Yâ ghazâlan/Oh gazelle – 10’5
10 Zâranî tayfu/I had a vision – 3’41
11 Zor man tuhibb/Go and see the one you love – 3’41
12 Jarhu qalbî/The wound in my heart – 7’08
13Lil-jamâli mulkun/The reign of beauty – 2’05
14Alhaju bi-l-ahbâb/I sing the praises and Lâ tahsibû/Don’t think – 4’00
15Mâ l-farq/What a difference there is – 4’34
16Lî habîbun/I have a beloved – 1’41
17 Sanca Yâ shams lcashiya/Oh evening sun and Qudûmu l-habîb/The arrival of the beloved – 3’54

Interpreters and instruments

Mohamed Bajeddoub (singing)
Abderrahim Souiri (singin)
Haroun Teboul flûte (nây)
Abdelgalil Ouaggadi (oud)
Hicham Belghiti (violin and oud)
Salah Sherki El Ghazouani (kanoun)
Mohamed Amine Debbi (târ and direction)


The mawwâl, pronounced muwwâl in Morocco, is a kind of poetry sung in dialectal Arabic, which appears in various forms throughout the Arab world. The vocal performance of this poetry ranges from simple recitation to elaborate operatic-style singing through a wide vocal range.

According to the Arab chroniclers the mawwâl is derived from the old mawâliya, a quatrain form in dialect developed in Baghdad during the 8th century. Legend has it that it was invented by a servant-poetess in the service of the Vizir Ja’far the Barmecid, assassinated together with all the members of his family on the orders of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The latter is said to have forbidden the court poets to compose any rithâ’ (funeral poems in classical Arabic) in memory of the Vizir, although this was common practice at the time. The servant, however, must have defied the Caliph’s ruling, and composed her quatrains in typical form, with the exclamation the end “Wâ mawâliyah!” (Oh, my poor masters!).

The mawwâl then spread gradually across the Arab world; the constant changes it underwent gave rise to specific forms of expression in each of the countries where it is still sung nowadays, according to the different historical, social, cultural and religious context of each. Thus the word mawwâl differs widely according to context, and indicates different poetic and musical forms in various parts of the Arab world.

The simplest form, common throughout the Middle East and the Maghreb, recalls the old medieval quatrain of the mawâliya. The five-line mawwâl known as the acraj (lame), with an AAABA rhyming scheme, is specific to Egypt, where it’s described as ‘green’ when it speaks of fortunate love, and ‘red’ when the theme is that of suffering. In Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and the Lebanon it is the mawwâl baghdâdî (from Baghdad) that predominates, or the seven-line zuhayrî with its AAABBBA rhyming scheme; the Egyptian equivalent is called the nucmânî.

Part of popular and classical tradition alike, the mawwâl is non-measured and is accompanied either by a solo instrument or a group. In the Middle East, it can also have background rhythmic support, but this does not influence the melody of the vocal line; it is there as a framework for the instrumental accompaniment.

The mawwâl as a form of musical expression is found in both rural and urban settings. The favourite theme is that of love, but a whole range of other subjects may be treated according to the socio-cultural context. It can be descriptive, sentimental, satirical, patriotic, moralistic, laudatory or mystical.

The mawwâl in Morocco – a religious song

The poetic and musical reality of the mawwâl in Morocco is quite different from that in the Middle East, in that it belongs to the inshâd (religious songs) repertoire. An inshâd is performed during samâcrituals (a Sufi ceremony with chanting) as well as in the context of Arabo-Andalusian music. It’s difficult to date its arrival in Morocco with any accuracy – even the specialists there agree on this – but what is certain is that it was introduced into Morocco via the various Sufi brotherhoods, who acted as real crossover points for cultural exchanges between the East and the Maghreb over several hundred years. From these brotherhoods the inshâd and its appendice the mawwâl passed over into Andalusian music, the vectorhere being the munshidîn (sing. munshid – cantor or singer), who became a feature of the musical ensembles playing in this style. This is the case with the two soloists on this album, who both received their vocal and musical training in the tradition of the samâc. Samâcceremonies consist of several suites of measured chants sung collectively. The songs take one of two forms: the tawshîh (an Arabo-Andalusian poem) or the qasîda (a classical poem), with invocations of God, madîh (praises of the Prophet and Sufi saints) and mystical bliss as the principal themes. The suites are punctuated periodically by solo songs known as mawwâl or bîtayn (two lines), a moment where the soloists, part of the group of musammicîn, can give rein to their personal style; sometimes they declaim or chant several lines, or maybe even part of a long poem. According to Moroccan specialists, this principle of improvised singing was introduced into the Andalusian nubaby the munshidîn in these ensembles.

Like the samâc, the Arabo-Andalusian tradition is largely given over to group singing, but has now been organised to include moments of improvised solos that contrast with the measured beat of the group singing; these special interludes enable the munshid to offer both artists and audience moments of particular delight as the nuba progresses.

Several types of inshâd may be performed in the course of a nuba in Andalusian style, and a succinct definition is necessary in order to understand the inshâd’s function.

In Morocco the Andalusian nuba is a vocal and instrumental suite performed by a group. It consists of five melodic and rhythmic movements (mizân) linked by a main musical mode, the tabc (mood, temperament). Each movement is organised around a specific rhythmic pattern and includes a certain number of songs called sanca (a work of art) taken from the repertoire of, Moroccan, Andalusian and Eastern poetry.

The inshâd is not one of the fundamental elements of the Andalusian nuba, but is considered to be an extra, even though some famous inshâd have finally found a permanent place in the structure of certain nubas, as indicated at the end of the 18th century by Al-Hâyek, and again by Alexis Chottin in 1939.

The inshâd, named after the nuba in which it is featured, may be sung at different points during the nuba. Thus the inshâd at-tabc, generally sung after the first or second instrumental overture of the nuba, has the same function as them, and announces the musical mode (tabc) of the suite. The inshâd an-nûba, on the other hand, usually comes after the second instrumental overture, in the middle or even at the end of one of the five movements.

Generally speaking the ideal place for the inshâd is the middle of a movement because its rhythmic function is to link those songs sung at a slow tempo with the faster ones. As for the real mawwâl, it’s often performed in the middle of one of the nuba’s movements, just like the inshâd an-nûba. After both inshâd and/or mawwâl, the orchestra plays a light song known as the taghtiya (cover) before moving into the other chants.

It’s important for the listener to grasp the essential difference between an inshâd and a mawwâl. The former has a fixed length and is conceived around two lines of poetry sung to an established melody, which may also be improvised according to the artistic talent of the munshid. But these restrictions do not apply to the mawwâl, which is a vocal improvisation based on a whole poem or parts of different poems.

In spite of opposition from the more conservative element of the public who have not easily accepted the mawwâl’s place in the nuba, part of the public as well as certain munshidîn in Morocco absolutely love it. The phenomenon has reached such proportions over the last thirty years that its place in the nuba is now undisputed. Such changes indicate a tendency to free the nuba from the modal and rhythmic rules governing its traditional structure, if only for the duration of an improvisation, by using modal and aesthetic criteria not usually applied to this style. The mawwâl becomes a real solo performance where the soloist can show off his talents and vocal prowess, as well as his mastery of the art of variation and modal improvisation. He’s no longer held to the main mode of the nuba and the modulations fixed in any modes derived from the original ones. This new aesthetic requires complete mastery of the oriental maqâmât (modes) and its typical 3/4 intervals, with the special melodic approach this implies.

To resume, we might say the mawwâl is a kind of musical pause that takes us right outside the usual landscape of the Andalusian-style nuba into oriental territory, rather like a decorative pattern from the Middle East placed on a typical Maghrebi building.

The recordings

The mawwâl is presented here as an independent vocal art quite outside the traditional framework of the Andalusian nuba. The emphasis is on the individual style of each singer as well as the accompanying instrumentalists, for this art for solo vocalist also requires interventions on the part of certain solo instruments who will back the singer during his improvisations and open a two-way conversation with him.

The mawwâl comprises a series of musical sequences, ending with the final sanca (measured songs), of which there may even be several; these are performed by the group and are taken from the repertoire of Andalusian nubas, a reminder that the overall traditional framework for the mawwâl is the nuba, and that in all classical and popular Arab traditions, improvised poems are always brought to their close by rhythmic chants. This progression from free to fixed form, and from non-measured to measured, is of course highly logical.

Over and above the specific musical traditions belonging to the Maghreb and other parts of the East evoked by this album, and highlighted by the art of the soloists and musicians, this recording also provides striking evidence of the links between the Maghreb and the East and some of the points they share in common.

The indexation is artificial but has been inserted to enable the listener to return to his favourite mawwâl more easily, though we suggest listening straight through the first time, so as to get a true idea of the real concert.

1- Ataytu li-qâdî l-hubbi/I went to see the judge for love – 6’20
A qânûn prelude opens the concert. It includes a measured piece accompanied by the târ (Andalusian tambourine) and a taqsîm followed by a layâlî and a mawwâl with qânûn and nây accompaniment.
I went to see the judge for love and said: Those who are dear to me are turning their back on me, claiming I’m pretentious (the plaintiff) in love.
But I have witnesses to testify to my ardour and my suffering; they’ll prove my cause is totally honourable.

2 – Amurru calâ d-diyâri/I’m passing through the area – 4’19
An introductory taqsîm on the lute, with the mawwâl again accompanied by the lute, the qânûn and the nây.

I’m passing through the area for no apparent reason, maybe I’ll see you, maybe I won’t, or maybe I’ll see someone who’ll see you.
And after separating us as it has, life will reunite us, my heart will bloom like a flower, my gaze will settle on you.

3- Dumûcu l-cayni tajrî/Tears stream from my eyes – 2’57
Introduction and accompaniment for this mawwâl provided by the qânûn

Tears are streaming down from eyes, which cannot close for slumber until they’ve seen you.
If I had two hearts I’d live with one and leave the other in its fervent love for you
And if I was asked: What do you want of God?
I’d reply: Blessings from the Merciful One, then from you.

4- cÎdû ilayya l-wisâl/Renew your union – 4’37
Taqsîm and accompaniment on the qânûn in the first part of this mawwâl, then on the lute in the second part.

Come, be united once more with me, for my desire for you is new,
Strengthen the link between us, draw closer, for closeness between lovers means joy and celebration.

5- cAynî li-ghayri jamâlikum lâ tandhuru/My eyes gaze only on Your beauty – 3’52
Nây and qânûn take it in turns to accompany this mawwâl.
This is a mystic poem.

My eyes gaze only on Your beauty
Only one person crosses my mind, it is You
I told my heart to be patient where You were concerned, and it replied: But I have no patience, how can I be patient?…

We are two but in truth we are but One
Tis I the more lowly being and You the greater of the two.

6- Arâdû l-bicâda/They wanted to go away – 4’02
Taqsîm on the nây, then the qânûn.
Two lines followed by a sanca (a measured Andalusian song) in binary rhythm as the conclusion.

They wanted to go away, I went closer
Amazing, amazing amazing, they said
And tears rolled down my cheeks,
Sad, sad, sad, they said
And I called out across the streets: Oh my exile!
Stranger, stranger, stranger, they said…

Tracks 7 to 11 cover an introductory taqsîm on the qânûn, then a solo layâlî, the prelude to the first mawwâl. This is followed by a sequence of 5 mawwâl sung alternately by one or other of the two soloists. These mawwâl are separated by interludes or improvised taqsîm in the form of instrumental solos on the qânûn, violin and nây.

7- Amurru calâ diyâri Laylâ/I’m going through the region – 5’20

I’m going through Laylâ’s region, dispensing kisses here and there, on this wall and that.
It’s not love for the region that inspires my heart, but love for one who lives there…

8- Qultu li-Laylâ/I asked Laylâ – 6’22

What’s the cure for insomnia? I asked Laylâ
And she replied: A meeting with me at dawn…
How short our meetings are! said I
But such brevity is delicious… she replied.

9- Badat/She appeared followed by Yâ ghazâlan/Oh gazelle – 10’57

When she appeared I thought it was the full moon,
But her gaze pierced me like arrows
Oh creature of the slim waist, said I, you have slain me! have you no fear of God?

Oh how lovely you are, gazelle, and you’re protected!
Who authorized my death in this way?
You never neglected me in the past
Until you were taught the art of abandon, and found it to your liking.

10- Zâranî tayfu/I had a vision – 3’41

I had a vision in my dreams
Who sent you here ? I asked.
And the answer came back: The one you love
The one you waste away for through your love.
Passion puts a man of breeding to the test, I said
But for those truly in love, dying is easy.

11- Zor man tuhibb/Go and see the one you love – 3’41

Go and see the one you love, let jealous tongues wag,
Those eaten up with envy can’t be of any use in matters of love.
And if there’s only one true love left in your life,
Go tell it out loud and live by him.

The end of this sequence is marked by a layâlî in duo.

The sequence of tracks 12 to 17 is made up of a succession of five mawwâl sung by each of the two soloists in turn. These five mawwâl are followed by two sanca (measured Andalusian songs) taken from the 5th movement (quddâm) of the Moroccannuba al-Mâya.

12- Jarhu qalbî/The wound in my heart – 7’08

The wound love caused in my heart will not heal
How could it heal when there’s nothing but smouldering ashes at its centre?

13- Lil-jamâli mulkun/The reign of beauty – 2’05

The reign of beauty brings him victory,
How could one in love disobey the beloved’s orders?
If I die, dig me a grave, even a tiny one, but it must be near that of my beloved,
And write a poem in with my tears: May God in His mercy receive one in love who died through waiting and waiting…

14- Alhaju bi-l-ahbâb/I sing the praises of friends followed by Lâ tahsibû/Don’t think… – 4’00

Don’t think I’m dancing for joy amongst you;
A wounded bird will hop around with pain.

15- Mâ l-farq/What a difference there is! – 4’34

What a difference there is between the kiss given on meeting, and that given at the moment of separation!
The kiss given on meeting is that of life; the kiss of separation spells death.
And between the two, the pleasure of our embrace…

16- Lî habîbun/I have a beloved – 1’41

I have a beloved and the beloved has a beloved, who also has a beloved.
I confided all my secrets to the doctor and realised the doctor has a beloved too.

17- Sanca Yâ shams lcashiya/Oh evening sun followed by Qudûmu l-habîb/The arrival of the beloved – 3’54

Oh evening sun, slow down your pace, don’t disappear, in God’s name, have mercy.
You revived my passion when you rekindled desire in my heart.

The arrival of the beloved marks the zenith of joy,
And the cup of love fills us with bliss;
Welcome to he who honours us with his presence,
The prince of elegance and perfection crowned with beauty.

  • Reference : 321.072
  • Ean : 794 881 795 628
  • Main artist : Bajeddoub & Souiri (محمد باجدوب/عبد الرحيم الصويري)
  • Year of recording : 2007
  • Year of publishing : 2007
  • Music style : Mawwâl
  • Country : Maroc
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language : Arabic
  • Composers : Musique traditionnelle
  • Lyricists : Musique traditionnelle
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe

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