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What is Maqam al Iraqi and the Performances Revolving Around It

posted on: Feb 12, 2020

What is Maqam al Iraqi and the Performances Revolving Around It

By: Ala Abed-Rabbo/Arab America Contributing Writer

Maqam al Iraqi

Iraqi Maqam is a type of Arab maqam music found in Iraq that is around four-hundred years old. The collection of instruments used in this kind of music, called Al-Chalghi al-Baghdadi, includes a qari’ (vocalist), tabla, santur, jawza, or dunbug/dumbeg, and occasionally, riqq and naqqarat.

Moreover, the emphasis is on the poem resonated in classical Arabic or an Iraqi dialect (then known as zuhayri). A comprehensive maqam concert is recognized as fasl (plural fusoul) and is dubbed after the first Maqam: Bayat, Rast, Hijaz, Nawa, or Husayni.

Also, the Maqam is the traditional singing folklore of Iraq and one of the most sophisticated of the many maqam rituals found throughout the Muslim and Arab and World.

In Iraq, such type of music refers to highly structured, semi-spontaneous, masterpieces that take years of systematic study under a master to learn thoroughly. Repeatedly rhythmically free and contemplative, they are sung to Classical Arabic and conversational Iraqi poetry and are supported by light-hearted, musical songs, known as pestaat.

History of Maqam al Iraqi

Maqam is primarily used in Iraqi cities, such as Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Basra. Throughout history, the Iraqi maqam range draws upon musical types of the many populations in Iraq, such as the Bedouins, rural Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, Persians, Turks, and other people that have had broad contact with the country.

Also, up until the 20th century, the Maqam was omnipresent in the urban regions of present-day Iraq; its piece of music heard in a variety of settings. For instance, in religious contexts, maqam tunes were used to call people for prayer, celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammed or another Holy person, as well as in Qur’ anic recitation.

Maqam was also performed in the houses of athletes (zurkhanes) to motivate the contributors doing physical activity. Street retailers would also sing such music to advertise their products. Rituals often influenced which sorts of sellers would sing specific phrases.

Proper maqam concerts took place in secluded homes during celebrations and in gahawi (coffeehouses), which were the main venues for the performances.

In Baghdad, numerous coffee places focused on Maqam. Such locations include Gahwat Shaabander, Gahwat al-Qaysariya, and Gahwat ‘Azzawi. These places operated both as performing sites as well as organizations where the Maqam was broadcasted.

Professionals, amateurs, and learners, known cooperatively as “ushshaaq al-maqam,” (lovers of the Maqam), would sit for hours, theorizing about the inner meanings of its melody.

The Maqam Performances

A Qari or Al Qurra were known as the leading performer(s) as they recited during maqams. The term qari’, which is the equivalence used for a Qur’an reciter, is to highlight the religious nature of the maqam and to raise such a reputation higher than of others, lighter vocal varieties, which were not conducted in such regard.

Moreover, the qurra’ were typically craftsmen or vendors that come from the lower levels of Baghdadi society, for whom they did not sing full-time. Most did not have proper schooling, and some were even uneducated, yet they were wizards of a highly intelligent, intricate vocal form, which could be achieved only after years of meticulous and intense work.

Also, such a population acquire an in-depth understanding of Arabic poetry, from which they would select lines to perform to a maqam. When singing a maqam, the qari’ would enter a state of deep sacred excitement, which would circulate to the listeners in the room, who would often share manifestations of delight and joy, participating in interaction and exchange of sentiment with the musicians.

During a performance, a four-piece ensemble accompanied by the reciter, known as a chalghi Baghdadi, contained of a jowza (a four-stringed point-fiddle that has a coconut shell resonator), a santur (a box-zither with brace cords, played with wooden sticks), a dumbug (goblet-shaped drum), a riqq (tambourine), and naqqarat (two small kettle drums played with sticks).

The Iraqi Maqam Melody and Structure

What is Maqam al Iraqi and the Performances Revolving Around It
Iraqi Maqam

The Baghdadi maqam arrangement involves around 100 pieces of music, each of which has a distinctive name, and to which often attributes to some other element; an association with a geographic territory, a community, an ancient event, or person, or other facets of Iraqi society.

These melodies are presented in a musically free and semi-makeshift approach, with enough room for understanding, embellishment, and change, such that every concert is exclusive. Each vocalist is supposed to create a personal approach to singing these tunes.

Each song in a maqam piece serves as one of six fundamental factors that make up its’ form. These pieces are the Tahrir, which is the introductory melody/main theme that is repeated throughout the maqam; qita’ and awsal (wusla), or subordinate melodies, which establish the building blocks of the composition.

Also, the meyana, (climax,) is regularly a qita‘a or a wusla sung in the high record; a tiny cadence known as a Jelsa, which go before the meyana; a qarar, or a lineage into the lower register; and the teslim, which is the last, concluding cadence that gestures the end of the maqam and the coming pesteh (distinct later).

Maqams start with a Tahrir and finish with a teslim and include one or more among the rest of the structural pieces. Some maqamat follow a preset cycle of melodies that each performer is following, although others have a relatively free form.

“In practice, maqams are not performed in all chromatic keys, and are more rigid to transpose than scales in Western music, primarily because of the technical limitations of Arabic instruments.” 


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