Al 'Azifoon (The Musicians) Al 'Azifoon performs classical and traditional Arabic music on traditional acoustic instruments.

Classical Arabic Musical from the Golden Era

About the Music of
Al 'Azifoon

This section introduces some of the unique characteristics of Classical Arabic music
and also outlines some of the musical genres typically covered in Al 'Azifoon's repertoire.

Al 'Azifoon is a professional Arabic “Taht” based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The musical term "Taht" in Arabic refers to a group of musicians performing on traditional acoustic instruments.

Traditional acoustic Arabic instruments are the heart of Al 'Azifoon's authentic sound.
These instruments include: oud, qanun, nay, mizmar, microtonal accordion, and vocals, riqq (Arabic tambourine), doumbek (also called: darbuka, dumbek, or tabla), duff, mazhar, and tabla baladi.

Arabic Music

The variety of Al 'Azifoon's musical repertoire mirrors the incredible diversity inherent in Arabic speaking countries. The truth is that no "one, single, homogenous" Arabic culture or single Arabic cultural identity exists. Therefore, people from Arabic speaking countries do not merely define themselves or their culture as "Arabic." In fact, much like people from English-speaking countries, they tend to identify their origin and themselves in much more nuanced terms. An American English-speaker from San Francisco, California might identify himself as a Californian or "San Franciscan". Therefore, a man born in Alexandria, Egypt was probably identify himself as "min eskandariyya" (from Alexandria) rather than saying he was "min masr" (from Egypt.) Similarly, traditional music from Aleppo, Syria is called "Halabiya" (Aleppo is know locally as Halab).

Thus, the term "Arabic music" is a generic label does not communicate the region from which the music originated, the genre, or even the approximate age of the music in question. Nevertheless, the author of this page, Yosifah Rose of the band Al 'Azifoon does hope that this page will raise awareness on the part of non-Arabic speaking listeners as to the diversity, complexity, and rich cultural heritage of Arabic music.

Therefore, Al 'Azifoon strives to respect and communicate to its audiences the rich complexity of Arabic music as well as of classical Arabic theory and practice. Melodies in Arabic music are built upon maqamat (which are closer to the idea of musical modes rathan than the idea of Western musical scales). Maqamat are grouped in "families" and some maqamat are more closely related to each other than others. The more closely related the maqamat, the more likely that they will be found in close proximity to each other in taqasim improvisations and also in different sections of a musical piece. Arabic Maqamat may contain quarter tones (also called microtones), and though this is considered exotic and highly unusual to Western-trained musicians and Western "ears," it is a deeply rooted melodic feature of Arabic music.

The Arabic Musical Congress in Cairo, Egypt in 1932 established scientifically measured fixed pitches for all quarter tones in the most commonly played maqamat of that time. Theoretically, they created "fixed-pitch" quarter tones by dividing the Western scale into even-tempered quarter pitches. However, just as there has never been a single homogenous Arabic culture, in terms of musical practice on non-fixed pitch instruments, there will probably never be one exactly agreed upon quarter tone -- on traditional non-fixed pitch instruments such as the mizmar and nay. This is not simply because of individual performance variation. It has long been established that performance of quarter tones on non-fixed pitch instruments varies slightly from region to region and from country to country. Thus, Saidi folk musicians in Upper Egypt can agree with each other as to how an ideal B1/2b (Bhalf flat) should be played, but they would find considerable disagreement should they discuss this matter with musicians from the Maghreb (North Africa - Morocco, Tunis, Algeria).

Something that is generally agreed upon is that specific maqamat are associated with specific melodic patterns, fills, and motifs; additionally, most maqamat are considered to have inherent emotional qualities, although some more strongly than others. For example, within Arabic-speaking countries, it is generally accepted that maqam Sabah is considered to be the saddest maqam. This means that it is often used for songs of profound loss and unconsolable grief. One such song that Al 'Azifoon performs is a traditional Allepian Qad called Skaba Ya Damou3 El Eini (Tears Pouring Out of My Eyes). This song has had a resurgence in popularity in the past year because it has been adopted as a resistance anthem -- a song of defiance -- yet also a song of profound grief for the many martyred women, children, and family men who were forced to become fighters to defend their families and lost their lives in the on-going civil war in Syria.

Arabic Rhythms (Iqaat)

In Western musical tradition, a good strong rhythm serves to help keep a song's tempo steady and moving forward. In Arabic, tradition rhythms called "Iqaat" (plural, singular = iqa) are rhythmic patterns that do much more than simply keep the melody players on tempo. Iqaat can illict deep emotional responses because some Iqaat are used for very specific cultural purposes, such as the Zaffa rhythm, which is used only for wedding processional music. An iqa called debka is a 6/4 rhythm used for folkloric line dances known as debke in the Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon). Debke is a celebratory dance which is performed at family celebrations such as weddings, feast days and other such celebrations. Since the advent of electronic drum machines and keyboards, hip young Lebanese pop stars have recorded new edgier "debke" with hiphop and stylized street break dancers dancing to sexy electronic 6/4 debke drum machine beats. However, the deep cultural love for debke music often makes these songs emotionally appealing even to older generations because debke rhythm quite simply reminds them of happy times and debke rhythms feels like "home."

In addition to special cultural associations, Arabic Iqaat tend to be much more complex than most Western rhythms in terms of meter. Certain genres of Arabic music, such as traditional samii, as well as Arabic art music such as the music composed by Mohammed Abdel Waha and Baligh Hamdi, contain distinctly different sections, each set to a different Maqam and different Iqa. Some Iqa follow simple meters with the down beat exactly on the pulse, much like Western music (i.e. 4/4 = maqsum and baladi; and, 2/4 = ayoub). In contrast, other Iqa require a swinging pulse with syncopation and polyrhythmic performance, such as Khaliji 2/4 rhythms (there are hundreds). Finally, some traditional Arabic Iqa follow odd, long complex meters that would give many Western musicians cause for concern, such as Masmoudi Kebir (8/4), Samai Thaqil (10/8), Dawr Hindi (7/8), Wazn Al 'Awis (11/4), Khlas (6/8), Moroccan 6 (peppy and polyrhythmic), and Samaah (36/4...yes, that is not a typo...thirty six!) Sadly, many of the oldest complex Arabic Iqaat have fallen into disuse in many Arabic countries, especially those which tend to favor radio and TV video-friendly pop productions such as in Egypt and Lebanon. In contrast, Arabic musicians in the Maghreb (Morocco and Tunisia) still maintain the traditional turath (heritage) repertoire from Al Andalus (Islamic Spain). In contrast, Turkish musicians and composers seem to still be actively working with their maqamat as well as their odd-metered Iqaat.

In honor of the rich maqamat and iqaat traditions of Arabic Music, Al 'Azifoon's repertoire includes songs from these specific geographic regions and genres, and we continue to study and add more on an on-going basis:
  • Al Andalus - Maghreb: The music of North Africa - including Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia;
  • Arabic art music from the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema (including artists such as Shiekh Saieed Darwish, Zakariya Ahmad, Om Kalthoum, Mohammed Abdul Wahab; Farid Al-Atrashe; Abdel Halim Hafez; Faiza Ahmed; Warda; Mohammed Al Azzabi, and more);
  • Belly dance/Raqs Sharqi standards (music composed by great artists such as Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Balieg Hamdi; Daoud Hosni, Riyad Al Sunbati, and more);
  • Folkloric Saidi Music from Upper Egypt;
  • Khaliji Gulf music (Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE);
  • Levant Debke, folkloric, and popular songs from the Levant (including Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, by such artists as Fairuz, Samira Tawfik, Sabah, and others);
  • Muwashahat (poetic structure associated with Al Andalus-Islamic Spain and the great oud master Ziryab, circa 800 A.D.);
  • Qaddud from Allepo (traditional Syrian pieces, revived by “living legend” Sabah Fakhri);
  • Zaffat - Wedding Processionals;
  • As well as some music by artists such as Amr Diab and more.
View our complete repertoire on our SONG LIST page, which includes MP3 samples of our live performances and other recordings, as well as links to video performances.

Email Yosifah Rose for more information about booking Al 'Azifoon

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