Vocal Arabesques

Aïcha Redouane

At the end of the 19th C. the countries of the Mashrek underwent an extraordinary cultural revolution known as the Nahda; with Cairo at its nerve centre. A series of new musical talents emerged during this period; they launched the art of the maqám, thus laying the foundations of a considerable national heritage. This is the repertory taken up here by Aïcha Redouane and the al-Adwär Ensemble; they have revived it in the authentic tradition, highlighting the particular beauty of this musical form that was disgraced, alas, in the early thirties, thanks to the modernist trends of the time. From this rich background of taqsim, muwashashah and mawwal, the talented Aïcha Redouane devises improvised vocal and instrumental variations of great beauty, drawing her audience into an atmosphere steeped in magical ecstasy, the essence of the tarab.


Wasla inmaqâm hijâz – 21’01
1- Kathîr an-nifâr/Too Timid – 2’57
2- Ma-htiyâlî yâ rifâqî/What shall I do, Oh my companions? – 3’46
3– Sabah es-sabâh/The Day Breaks – 4’53
4- Allâhu ya‘lamu anna n-nafsa hâlikatun bil ya’si minki/God knows how my soul is dying of despair for you – 9’26

Wasla en maqâm bayyâtî – 24’56
5- Improvisations on the lute and the violin – 1’28
6- Qâtilî bighanj il-kahal/I am delighted by the flirtatiousness of his black eyes – 2’25
7- Fîka kullu mâ arâ hasan/Everything I see in you is beautiful – 1’32
8- Lî habîbun…/I have a lover… – 8’22
9- Arâka ‘asyy ad-dam‘/I can see you fighting your tears – 11’10

Wasla en maqâm hijâz kâr – 24’20
10- Instrumental overture – 3’12
11- Yâ ghazâlan/Oh gazelle – 1’53
12- Tûl el-layâlî/Though the nights – 5’55
13- Allah yisûn dawlet husnak/May God protect your state of excellence – 13’22

Interpreters et instruments

Aïcha Redouane (singing)
Ensemble Al-Adwâr :
– Salah el-Din Mohamed (kanoun)
– Brahim Meziane el-Otman (oud)
– Farhat Bouallagui (kamandja)
– Habib Yammine (riqq)


This disc contains three wasla-s or musical sequences in the hijaz, bayyati and hijaz kar maqam-s. The musical substance of these wasla-s transposes us right to the middle of the golden age of the Nahda (Arab cultural renaissance). It also confirms the aesthetic choice made by Aïcha Redouane and the al-Adwar ensemble which was heralded in their first disc “Egypt”, edited by Ocora-Radio France in 1993. Indeed, the different vocal (muwashshah, qasida, layali-mawwal and dawr) or instrumental (dulab, sama‘i and taqsim/improvisation) forms represent the various musical expressions, be they compound, semi-compound or improvised, and in tempo or not, of the melodic-modal elaboration of a maqam. Through the richness and diversity of its content, this program creates the link between the Egyptian school which cultivated the art of the qasida, the dawr and the mawwal, and the Syrian school of Aleppo, where the muwashshah reached its perfection. By their melodic rhythmic structure, the four muwashshah (track 1, 2, 6 and 7) reflect the aesthetic of the classical school of Aleppo which played a fundamental role in the enrichment of the Nahda musical stylistics. These are characterized by the diversity and the complexity of their rhythmic cycles (9, 12, 16 and 32 time) as well as by the impossibility of reducing their form into fixed diagrams; the latter belief held sway for a long time.

Developed in Andalusia, the muwashshah was conceived to be sung in public. It is written in classical or semi-classical Arabic. Its poetic stanza form breaks with the unity of rhyme and the uniformity of metre of the classical qasida. However, this does not stop a great number of oriental muwashshah-s from keeping the poetic form of the qasida. Their poetry gives greater importance to the themes of love, wine and nature. Musically speaking, muwashshah-s are often fixed compositions, timed on unbalanced or compound cycles. Nevertheless, some of these, such as the muwashshahMa-htiyali ya rifaqi” (track 2) lend themselves well to improvised variations. The wasla starts by a measured instrumental piece: dulab or sama‘i, or by an out-of-time improvisation (taqsim) which is followed by one or two muwashshah-s. Then come the untimed vocal improvisations: a layali, a mawwal (Egyptian dialectal poem) or a qasida mursala (poem in literary Arabic), which conclude on a qasida muwaqqa‘a (timed classical poem) or a dawr in dialectal Egyptian. These different forms are introduced or concluded by instrumental improvisations(taqasim). Recorded live, this new disc displays the capital importance of the relationship between the artist and the audience. In the absence of the latter, it is hard to imagine the quest for the tarab (musical emotion), unless we consider this quest as an individual path of musical asceticism. But there is no such thing here: the exploration of the modal-emotional universe of a maqam is only achieved through communion with the audience which responds to the immediate musical effects. The musical emotion shared by the audience and the artist can only reveal itself at the cost of surpassing and abandoning oneself. With the hope of giving a new inspiration to Nahda music, Aïcha Redouane and the percussionist-musicologist Habib Yammine founded, in 1991, the al-Adwar ensemble (a word which means, at the same time, the rhythmic and melodic cycles, one of the vocal forms of the repertory and, symbolically, the eternal return) by joining with three soloists: Salah el-Din Mohamed, a great specialist of the qanun (plucked zither), Brahim Meziane el-Otmani, the ‘ud player and the violinist Farhat Bouallagui.


Wasla in maqam hijaz – 21’01

1Kathir an-nifar/Too Timid – 2’57
Dulab hijaz and muwashshah
Short instrumental prelude timed with the wasla binary rhythm, the dulab sets the modal sentiment of the maqam in which is played the wasla or the next piece. This muwashshah, whose poet and composer are unknown, is constructed on the sittat ‘ashar rhythm (16 beat) which is the equivalent of 16/2 or 32/4. It is a love poem describing the beloved who is awaiting a union which will not take place. The melismata which highlight the voice of the female soloist who plays the lover are also expressions of the exasperation and impatience caused by the waiting. They are aided by very short words which are not part of the poetic text: ah (oh!), aman (peace), ya la la, leyly ya ‘eyni (my eve, my eye/source).

2Ma-htiyali ya rifaqi/What shall I do, Oh my companions? – 3’46
Once again by an unknown poet and composer, this muwashshah is composed on the aqsaq (9 beat) rhythm. Its complete musical form (AABA or dawr-khana-ghata’) reflects its poetic form. While the dawr and the ghata’ evolve on the same melody, the modal colourings embellish the khana by way of improvisations sung in a responsive manner between the female singer and the chorus (madhhabgiyya) provided by the instrumentalists.

3Sabah es-sabah/The Day Breaks – 4’53
Taqsim qanun, layali-mawwal
This mawwal, which is announced by a taqsim played on the qanun and a layali, is a vocal improvisation accompanied by one of the instruments of the takht, in this case the qanun, the fetish instrument of the female singer. This poem of five verses in Egyptian dialect and often with double meanings, has homophonous rhymes with a free rhymed fourth verse. The poetry evokes a date at sunrise when the young girls (budur-s: full moons) go to the spring in the early morning (badri) to fetch water and where the beloved is the only girl to have arrived late…

4Allahu ya‘lamu anna n-nafsa halikatun bil ya’si minki/God knows how my soul is dying of despair for you – 9’26
Dulab hijaz and qasida muwaqqa‘a
Musically speaking, the qasida muwaqqa‘a, or timed classical poem, is a vocal genre based on the wahda binary rhythm (2 beat).The author of this monorhymed poetry is the 7th century udhrit (platonic) poet Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, nicknamed Majnun Layla (Crazy for Layla). This qasida is constructed on the favourite theme of udhrit or platonic poetry, which is total submission to love until obliteration. In order to pay tribute to the great vocalist, Sheikh Yusuf al-Manyalawi (1850-1911), Aïcha Redouane has tried to remain faithful to the version of the master and the spirit of the maqam hijaz which evokes so well the sentiments of losing oneself in love and of submission to the divine which are stressed in the poem (sabran ‘ala ma qadahu-llah).The qasida is followed by a series of improvisations (taqasim and layali) on the bamb binary rhythm.

Wasla in maqam bayyati – 24’56

5– Improvisations on the lute and the violin – 1’28
Taqasim ‘ud and kaman
Two short instrumental improvisations announcing the maqam bayyati.

6Qatili bighanj il-kahal/I am delighted by the flirtatiousness of his black eyes – 2’25
Dulab bayyati
Another muwashshah with an unknown poet and composer, this old melody timed on the warshan rhythm (32 beat) suggests a feeling of well-being and peace, like many of the songs which form the collective memory of the Near East.

7Fika kullu ma ara hasan/Everything I see in you is beautiful – 1’32
Timed on the muwashshah masri rhythm (12 beat), this muwashshah which is highly prized in the Levantine countries, especially in the Syrian tradition, has a complete musical structure (ABBA: dawr-khana-ghata’) just like its poetic form. It illustrates the responsiveness between the female singer and the madhhabgiyya-s who punctuate the end of each vocal phrase in the dawr and the ghata’ with “ya ‘eyni“.

8Li habibun…/I have a lover… – 8’22
Taqsim-layali, qasida mursala
Vocal improvisation on a classical poem.
A taqsim on the qanun and a layali announcing the qasida.
The strophic structure of the poem (AAABB, CCCBB, DDDBB) guides the maqam path in three modal stages of the maqam bayyati. The qasida ends on a taqsim on the kaman, a layali and a taqsim on the ‘ud. The poetic theme is about the veneration of the inaccessible loved one whose beauty gives him unlimited power:

I adore my beloved above all,
He is one of a kind, (…)
He is more perfect than the full moon,
He is more important than the sun,
He is indescribable and incomparable (…)

At the end of the poem, the pain caused by the unique and incomparable lover’s refusal turns into a painful love which cannot even end by death. (Wa-idha dammani ad-darihu faruhi ba’da mawti taruffu fi maghnaka: And when the tomb will embrace me, after my death, my soul will float in your abode.) Aïcha Redouane highlights the different frames of mind described in this poem by filling the resonant space with a rich and varied ornamentation and an original and rare aesthetic taste which permit her to link sustained notes (madda), vibratos (tarjif), trills, gradations (tadrij), glissandos, successive pauses, legati, nasalizations (ghunna) and amplifications (tafkhim) of the voice.

9Araka ‘asyy ad-dam‘/I can see you fighting your tears – 11’10
Dulab bayyati, qasida muwaqqa‘a
Dulab, or short instrumental prelude. The qasida muwaqqa‘a is a form of singing based on a classical monorhyme poem and measured on the wahda (2 beat) binary rhythm. It has no fixed length and is open to the variations which are improvised according to the performer’s inspiration. Written by the Aleppine poet-prince Abu Firas al-Hamadani (932-968), this qasida is one of the most famous classical Arabic poems. It is part of a group of poems (known as the rumiyyat/Byzantines), which were written during the seven years of the poet’s imprisonment. This one is about the complaints of a prince imprisoned by the Rums (Byzantines) and who is the victim of confinement, unquenched love and estrangement, but too proud to cry. However he lets his tears flow in the solitude of the night. Ever since ‘Abdu al-Hamuli(1845-1901), this qasida has been sung by various performers, including ‘Abd al-Hayy Hilmi and Umm Kulthum. Just like the singers of the Nahda, Aïcha Redouane starts and ends the song by dulab al-‘awazel (circle of censors) a melodic leitmotiv which can be transposed on all the maqamat and sung on an Egyptian dialectal verse. It is taken up by the musicians of the takht as a response when the singer concludes a verse on the basic maqam. As the song progresses, the stylistic and vocal touches made by the soloist blend into the theme of the qasida, thus giving it a new but never definitive, profile which attests to an art that is perpetually renewed. The taqasim and layali bamb are the last touches which crown this great moment of emotion.

Wasla in maqam hijaz kar – 24’20

10– Instrumental overture – 3’12
Sama‘i shatt ‘araban
In time to the sama‘i thaqil (10 beat) rhythm, this instrumental overture is the creation of Jamil Beyk al-Tamburi (1871-1925), one of the great masters of Turkish music. He distinguished himself by his performance on the tambur (long-necked lute) and by composing bashraf-s and sama‘i-s, such as this one, which were adapted to Arabic stylistics in the 19th century. A short taqsim on the ‘ud links the sama‘i to the next dulab.

11Ya ghazalan/Oh gazelle – 1’53
Dulab hijaz kar, muwashshah
This muwashshah was composed by Muhammad ‘Uthman (1855-1900) on the nawakht (7 beat) rhythm. Sung on the same melody, the two verses in classical Arabic describe a love which wavers according to the presence and the absence of the loved one.

Oh, gazelle with the kajal painted eyes
My passion for you has taken hold of my heart
You visit me and then you disappear (from my eyes)
Like a star rising and setting.

12Tul el-layali/Through the nights – 5’55
Taqsim qanun-layali-mawwal
The state of feelings described in the previous muwashshah evolves in this mawwal in order to transform itself during lengthy nights into a total lonesomeness which overtakes the lover whose only hope is to meet the loved one in his thoughts (Ya reyt ya ruhi yikun balak ma‘ah bali: If only, oh my soul, your thoughts would be with me). Underlined by the maqam hijaz kar which is favourable to feelings of torment, the languid ethos of the poet is beautifully expressed by the female soloist. In this mawwal she stretches out, with insistence, the sound which creates the impression of slowness that overcomes nights of loneliness (tul el-layali) and estrangement (tul el-bu‘d). A layali bamb links the mawwal to the dawr, the last piece of the wasla.

13-Allah yisun dawlet husnak/May God protect your state of excellence – 13’22
A poem in dialectal Egyptian by Abd ar-Rahman Qara’ah. Following a visit to Istanbul, the singer Abdu al-Hamuli (1845-1901) introduced into Egypt the maqam hijaz kar, a mode in which he conceived the present dawr which has also been performed during the festivities surrounding the inauguration of the Suez Canal. Historically speaking, the dawr was developed in Egypt during the 19th century. Based on a dialectal strophic poem and measured on the wahda sa’ira rhythm (2 beat), it is structured in the form of a theme and variations. It is generally sung at the end of the wasla or the concert, thus marking the peak of musical creativity and tarab. The present version is constituted by the composed madhhab, the principal theme, and several melodic tableaux which illustrate the improvisations made by the soloist during the different modal stages which form the dawr. The poem highlights the psychological state of the lover who is suffering from love and who can only be healed by a reconciliation with the loved one. Mixing fantasy and passion, the singer carries out the musical development of this piece, underlining the compulsive obsession within which the lover imprisons himself by the ceaseless repetition of complaints (Ashki li-min gheyrak hubbak: To who else but you can I complain about my love for you; Ana l-‘alil: I am the one who is stricken with love), the moans and sighs (ahat) which convey a state of delirium. This is upheld by a melodic progression which leads to a tension marking the end of the maqamian path. On the musical level, this tension is resolved by a catharsis in the form of a return to the basic modality and thereby the name of dawr (cycle). On the poetic level the catharsis is achieved by the entreaty of the lover who begs for reconciliation with the loved one (ismah wi-dawini bi-urbak).

Habib Yammine, ethnomusicologist
translated by Mona Khazindar

  • Reference: 321.015
  • Ean: 794 881 618 323
  • Main artist: Aïcha Redouane (عائشة رضوان)
  • Year of recording: 1995
  • Year of publishing: 2000
  • Music style: Wasla
  • Country: Middle East
  • City of recording: Paris
  • Main language: Arabic
  • Composers: Traditional
  • Lyricists : Traditional
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe

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