What is the Maqam in music?

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Arabic Maqams on the Oud

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 What is the Maqam in music?

Jins, Maqam, Fasil, what does it mean? 

The smallest unit in Arabic theory is the jins (plural ajinas), which is the Arabic interpretation of the Greek tetrachord. The word tetrachord comes from tetra- (four) and chord (group of notes). Arabic ajinas may alternately have three or five tones (trichords and pentachords). Even the same jins can be said to have three, four, or five tones, though this nuance of understanding is left to individual practise without consensus.

Two ajinas can come together to form a maqam (plural maqammat), which corresponds closely to the Greek concept of a mode. In addition to the two central ajinas, a maqam has other ajinas above and below its primary register. Unlike Western classical modes, maqamat are not restricted to an octave, nor need a mode ascend up to its octave. Several maqamat only span a sixth and are considered complete scales.

Maqamat are further grouped into families for classification. A family is a fasil (plural fasilah). Different teachers and theorists group the fasilah differently, but most agreeing on between 7-10 families of maqam. In composition and improvisation, performers may modulate within the fasil, but only rarely modulate outside.

Maqam Nahawand on the Oud - image by the school of oud online    Image of Maqam Rast Do - image by the school of oud online

 

Fasil Associations: Each family evokes particular moods in its listeners. While these moods are generally considered subjective, the moods are considered objective in the roots of the musical culture. Arabic theory developed under the influence of Persian culture, which itself was based in North Indian philosophy. North Indian classical music considers each raga (the rough equivalent of mode or maqam) to be a deity with specific attributes. Each raga is associated with a specific time of day, season or month of the year, forces of nature, and a specific human mood. Rather than the subjective associations of Western music, North Indian music teaches these associations objectively. Arabic music stands in between, admitting subjectivity but also emanating from a distinctly objective tradition.

 

Here are some of the most typical traditional fasil associations in Arabic music:

 

Maqam “Ajem” gives us feelings of  strength, majestic, cheerful; used frequently in national anthems.
Maqam “Rast” gives us feelings of masculine love, pride, power, sound mind; used frequently in religious music.  

Maqam “Nahawand” gives us feelings of  drama, emotional extremes.

Maqam “Nawa Athar” gives us feelings of  mysticism; Nawa Athar is often considered an extension of Fasil Hijaz in its mood. 

Maqam “Bayat” gives us feelings of feminine love, joy, vitality.

Maqam“Kurd” gives us feelings of freedom, romance, gentleness; Kurd is often considered part of Bayyati in its mood.

Maqam “Hijaz” gives us feelings of the desert, solitude, enchantment, mysticism

Maqam “Saba” gives us feelings of sadness, pain

Maqam “Sika” gives us feelings of old days, ancient and religion songs

 

Video Examples of The Maqamat On The Oud 

 

1- A Sense of Victory – Maqam Hijaz Kar Kord 

2- Alexandria – Maqam Hijazz  
3- Mohamed Abd El-wahab Music – Maqam Nahawand 
4- Nozha – Maqam Ajam 
5- Spiritual Egyptian Music – Maqam Hwzam 
6- Naseer Shamma Music – Hijaz Kar