This date marks the arrival to Cordoba–upon invitation by the Ummeyade Sultan Al Hakam–of the remarkable Iraqi-born musician, Abu Al-Hassan Ali Ibnu Nafi’, also known as Ziryab (784 or 789-857). Ziryab was Ishaq Al Mawsili’s disciple in Baghdad. Fearing for his life from Ishaq’s jealousy, he decided to flee Iraq and find refuge in Al Qayrawane in Tunisia before going to Cordoba in Andalusian Spain, where the reigning Sultan had invited him.
Ziryab and Sultan Al Hakam never actually met, the latter having died before Ziryab arrived to the Iberian Peninsula. It was under Sultan Abdelrahman, Sultan Al Hakam’s son and successor, that Ziryab, in return for a very generous salary and assistance, established his reputation as an excellent singer, performer, and composer.
With the blessing of the Sultan and the local aristocracy, he brought numerous performers and singers from the Levant to Andalusia and established what is now considered as the roots of the Andalusian musical tradition. This music developed in the decades and centuries following the Ummeyade reign in Andalusia.
Famous for his improvements to the ‘Ud (the addition of a fifth string, a heavier-built body, the use of a plectrum made in a different material), and for establishing the first conservatory of music in Moorish Spain, Ziryab is also given credit for codifying the “Nawba” (pl. Nawbat), a multi-movement suite of instrumental and vocal pieces gravitating around a definite mode.
The concept of Nawba developed and broadened extensively when, following the Christian Reconquista led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Muslims and Jews were expelled from Christian Spain, and settled in North Africa, especially in Morocco. Along the way they carried their musical heritage and this genre known as Nawba.
Nowadays, Moroccan music is often referred to as “Al Musiqa Al Andalussiyah”, literally, the Andalusian Music, a misleading confusion that Mohammed Al Fassi, a Moroccan scholar pointed out in an article published in 1962. According to Mohammed Al Fassi, this denomination is inappropriate because it denies to the Moroccans their extensive input. Today’s Moroccan music owes a lot to Moorish people, but is also the product of numerous improvements which are essentially Moroccan. These improvements are found at different levels: rhythmic patterns, poetry, modes…. The Nawba, as known, sung, and recorded today, is the result of centuries of development and enrichment.
However, the time-honored tradition of verbal transmission and teaching resulted in some regretful losses over time.
It was only during the second half of the 18th century (almost 1,000 years after Ziryab) that this music started to be written down and documented. Two extensive works need to be mentioned:
1- The first one was completed in 1799 and was conducted by Mohammed Ibnu L-Hussein El-Hayek, a Moroccan scholar who was the first one to compile songs, lyrics, and instrumental pieces in his treatise “Arrawdatu Al Ghannae Fi Ussuli Lghinae”, literally “The musical promenade in the roots of singing”.
2- The second treatise based partly on the works realized by El-Hayek, was completed in 1886 by Mohammed Ibnu Al-Arabi, Al-Jami’, vizier of Sultan Mulay Al-Hassan the 1st.
These two pioneering works, along with some recent books written by Younes Chami and Mohammed Briouel, are the only known compilations of the eleven Moroccan Nawbat.
Litterally, “Nawba” means “turn”.
According to Dr. Subhi Anwar Rasheed in his reference book “Mujaz Tarikh Al Musiqa Wa Al Ghinae Al-‘Arabi”, published in Baghdad in 2000, the terminology “Nawba” in its literary meaning was first used during the Abbasid Era, more exactly, under the reign of the third Caliph Al-Mahdi Ibn Abi Ja’afar Al-Mansur (Caliph from 775 to 785). The term was used to designate whose turn it was to entertain the Caliph. It was, hence, the poet’s “Nawba”, the dancer’s “Nawba”, the singer’s “Nawba”…etc., meaning the poet’s turn, the dancer’s turn, the singer’s turn…etc.
Under Harun Ar-Rasheed, Caliph Abbasid from 786 to 809, the meaning of the term widened and started to be assigned to the actual program performed by an artist.
It wasn’t a turn anymore, but rather the structure of the repertoire performed.
The structure of the Nawba evolved over time and varied from one place to another.
In Baghdad, the Nawba was comprised, up until the 9th century, of four movements:
A fifth movement, Al-Mustazad, was added by Ibn Al Ghaybi in the 9th century.
According to Al-Maqri (1591-1632) in his treatise “Fi Nafhi At-Tayyeb Min Ghusni Al-Andalussi Ar-Ratib”, the Andalusian Nawba played à la Ziryab was comprised of three different movements, with an increasingly faster tempo:
– An-Nashid, Ad libitum singing
– Al-Bassit, moderate tempo
– Al-Muharrakat Wa Al-Ahjaze, vivid and energetic tempo.
The Eleven Nawbat
Today, the Moroccan “Musiqa Al-Ala”, a recent denomination for the repertoire of Moroccan-Andalusian music, is made of eleven Nawbat. Unfortunately, not all these Nawbat were preserved in their integrity. The seven incomplete Nawbat are referred to as the “Yata-im” (Tr. The orphans).
1- Raml Al-Maya
4- Rasd Ad-dil
7- Ghribt L-Hssin
8- Al-Hijaz L-Kbir
9- Al-Hijaz L-Msharqi
10- Iraq Al-Ajam
The Mizan (pl. Myazen or Mwazen)
Each Nawba is based on Five Myazen (plural of Mizan):
1- Al-Bassit (6 beats : 1+3+2)
2- Al-Qayim Wa Nisf (8 beats : 3+1+4)
3- L-Btayhi (8 beats: 3+3+2)
4- Darj (4 beats)
5- Quddam (3 beats).
Three exceptions are to be considered as far as the use of Myazen in the Nawbat.
Rasd and Al-Hijaz L-Msharqi (Nawbat 6 & 9) are truncated from their second Mizan, Al-Qayim Wa Nisf.
Also, the ‘Ushshaq (Nawba #11) is lacking the fourth Mizan, the Darj.
Nowhere, in the modern or ancient literature, nor in the CD liners, could I find a reason for these absences.
Each Mizan is preceeded by a prelude or “ouverture”, the function of which is to set the mode in which the mizan is performed.
The prelude is comprised of 3 different parts:
– Mshaliya or Bughia: Ad libitum instrumental progression presenting the focal notes in the mode used. Since it is a non-rhythmic piece, its performance by a large number of musicians is challenging and denotes the collective mastery of the piece that these musicians might or might not have.
– Inshad or Baytayn: Solo vocals. Performed by the Munshid (Tr. solo singer), the Inshad, always non-rhythmic, might be discreetly accompanied by one or two instruments playing either a drone on the focal note or going along with the singer’s melody.
– Twishia: A rhythmic and energetic instrumental piece contrasting with the very slow first phase of the Mizan called the Muwassa’.
Once these three parts are performed, the Mizan starts.
The Mizan is always performed in four parts:
1- Muwassa’ (Tr. large)
2- Mahzuz (Tr. elevated)
3- Inshad ou Mawwal (Tr. singing)
4- Inssiraf (Tr. finale).
Poetry in the Nawbat
While most of the time the composers of the melodies are unknown and no credit is given to anybody for their compositions, the authors of the lyrics are quite often famous poets whose repertoire is known and well-documented.
The eleven Nawbat are comprised of different kinds of shi’r (poetry). The two major categories are Zajal and Muwashah:
– Zajal: is a form of poetry in the conversational language with no regard for grammar or syntax. This kind of poetry had first become prevalent and used in Andalusia as a result of the presence of a large number of non-native Arabic speakers living in this Arabic-speaking society.
– Muwashah (pl. Muwashahate): a strophic song that originated in Al-Andalus.
The lyrics in a muwashah are written in classical Arabic (fus’ha) as opposed to colloquial or regional Arabic (‘ammiyyah), and often deal with the subject of love (unrequited love), or wine, used as a metaphor for religious intoxication (common in Sufism).
The structure of the muwashah varies in sophistication. It is performed by a chorus alternating with a soloist who is accompanied by a takht. The muwashah is often composed using a complex rhythmic mode, or iqaa. d- The Tab’ (pl. Tubu’)
Finally, a presentation of the Nawbat would be incomplete without a presentation of the concept of Tab’.
As defined by Louis Soret, the Tab’ is “the melodic mode, which influences the melodies, developments, therapeutic properties, character, and expression of the Nawba, as well as the occasions and hours of the day when it is to be performed”.
A Nawba is often associated with certain traits of the personality.
Let us consider the example of Nawbat Ghribt-l-hssin.
It is commonly admitted among scholars that this Nawba addresses the woman’s feelings and easy tears. The Nawba speaks to the depth of a woman’s love and affection.
One of the explanations, according to Dr. Mohammed Zniber in his 1985 preface to El Haj Abdelkrim Raiss and Mohammed Briouel’s book “Al Musiqa Al Andalussia Al Maghribia, Nawbat Gharibat-l-hssin”, resides in the name itself.
“Gharibat” is an adjective meaning “stranger”, applied to a feminine subject.
“L-hssin” is a slang pronunciation of the first name “Al Hussayn”.
One of the legends related to this Nawba tells the story of a maid serving a Sultan whose name was Al Hussayn. The servant, native of a faraway land (thus, a stranger, a gharibat), was deeply in love with her Sultan. This love is, of course, not possible because of the status of both protagonists. The servant is obliged to leave the country in order for her to forget about her lover and to free herself from her feelings; that is why one of the Tubu’ is named “Al-Ghariba Al Muharrara”, the liberated and freed “Ghariba”.
Moroccan-Andalusian Music recognizes 26 Tubu’ (plural of Tab’) and each Nawba gets its name from its principal Tab’.
The following chart, established by Mohammed Ibnu L-hussein El-Hayek in 1799, shows the different Nawbat and their Tubu’.
— Raml Al-Maya
— Inqilab Ar-Raml
— Rasd Ad-dil
— Iraq Al-‘Arab
— Ghribt L-Hssin
— L-Ghriba Al-Muharrara
— Al-Hijaz L-Kbir
— L-Msharqi Sghir
— Mujannabu Ad-dil
— Al-Hijaz L-Msharqi
— Iraq Al-Ajam
— Raml Ad-dil