About this Recording
76047-2 - MOROCCO - Rabita Andalusa: Diwan
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Traditionally, the creation of the Andalusian-Maghrebi musical style is attributed to Abu Hassan ‘Ali ibn Nafi (789-857), nicknamed Zyriab (blackbird) due to the color of his skin and the beauty of his harmonious chanting, likened often to the sing-song of birds. While studying in Baghdad under the great Persian master Ishaq Al Mawsili, Zyriab developed his own musical style and built his own lute (‘ud) by adding a fifth string to lutes of the period. Soon he became Caliph Abasside Haroun el Rachid’s favorite musician, but then was forced to leave the country due to the intrigues plotted by his old master, who was jealous of his student’s talent. Zyriab crossed Egypt and the Maghreb, winding up in Cordoue, under the protection of the reigning caliph Omeyyade 'Abderrahman II, who became his protector and friend.


In Cordoue, a cosmopolitan city that is home to the various cross-cultural currents of the Mediterranean (Hispano-Arabic, Jewish, Mozarabe, Christian), Zyriab studied Aristotle’s philosophy and opened his own school of music. Thanks to Zyriab the art of the sawt (chant), a musical and poetic form practiced at the court in Baghdad, spread throughout the Maghreb and Mediterranean Europe and in the process influenced the troubadours and minstrels. Zyriab enriched the sawt with the local styles of zajal (popular poems sung in dialect) and muwashah (free form poem chanted in classic Arabic) and in the process created the nuba (turn, suite), a musical form embedded in the roots of Andalusian-Maghrebi heritage.


Tradition also attributes to Zyriab the creation of the tab’ concept (character, temperament), which correlates the tonal musical scales with emotional temperament and its sentiments. During the Golden Age of Andalusian-Maghrebi music, the repertoire consisted of 24 nawbat, 12 for the major modes and 12 for the minor modes: each minor/major couple is tied to one of the months of the year; each of the 24 nawbat corresponds to an hour of the day or of the night. This complex system came out of a deep knowledge of spiritual associations. Dance and music were also used as a means to alleviate and cure mental disorders.


The thesis promoting the idea that the Andalusian-Maghrebi musical heritage is the product of one sole genius creator is being seriously questioned today. Already in the middle of the XIXth century, Salvador-Daniel was pointing out that within the scales and musical structure of this music existed the diatonic scales and rules of Greek and Roman music, themselves a conduct of the Jewish, Byzantine and Visigoth civilizations. According to the most recent theories, Andalusian-Maghrebi music was also influenced by the “plain chant,” a popular version of the Gregorian chant. For the Moroccan musicologists, the Maghrebi  character of the nuba is present in the maddahin, the religious texts sung by the local tolba (students of the  Qu’ran). The nuba would have then developed between the X and XII century in that region nestled between the south of Spain and the north of Morocco, whose intense cultural mixing spawned, notably, the 430 Canticles of Santa Maria gathered by Alfonso X the Sage (1252 –1284). The musical modes at the roots of the nuba come from the diatonic scales of Greek music and especially from the Pythagorean tradition, while the masharquiya (oriental) influence would be less significant if the intervals below the half-tone were used only as abbellimenti (grace notes) without carrying any structural function.


The process of contamination and musical syncretism pioneered by Zyriab has evolved throughout the centuries, sustained by other masters of the art and musical traditions, such as Al Kindi (IX century) and Ibn Baja (Avempace, d. 1139). This new and original musical culture reached its apex between the XI and XII centuries and began to lose its creative drive with the progressive exodus of Islam from Spain under the pressure of the Reconquista Catolica (fall of Cordoue 1236, Valencia 1238, Siviglia 1248, Granada 1492, definitive expulsion of the moriscos 1609). Consequently, the musicians and schools from Spanish Andalusia were welcomed in Northern Africa, where the tradition of the nuba, though it never reached its original creative impetus, was kept alive within families of musicians under the protection of courts of the Sultans. Nonetheless, the patrimony representing the collective memory of a people (exclusively oral), was saved and enriched thanks to the practices of the            religious brotherhoods, the Jewish community and popular musicians.

During the XVIII century, the Moroccan nuba tradition was codified by the Tetouaneese Mohammed al-Ha’ik, who collected in his work Kunnash the body of eleven nawbat that constitute the basis of Andalusian-Maghrebian musical culture as we know it in Morocco. In the other countries of the Maghreb, a body of twelve nawbat was preserved (Algeria), and another of           thirteen nawbat (Tunisia). Today, the institution of National Conservatories and the growing interest of the public for world music both offer new horizons for the survival of this millenary musical tradition.



In Morocco simply called al-ala (“instrumental music”), the nuba - a word that designates also the “taking of turns” of the   musical ensembles at the court of the Sultans and military fanfare– is a musical suite based on vocal and instrumental pieces played out according to a determined rhythmic order. In the Moroccan nuba there are five rhythmic movements, five mawazin (plural of mizan, rhythm, literally “balance”): basit (6/4), qaim wa nisf (6/8), btaihy (6/4), qoddam (3/4) and darj (4/4). Every mizan is divided into three harakat (parts, literally “gestures”): muwassa’a (“long,” tempo lento); mhazuz (“between,” whose final parts qantara, “bridge,” tempo moderato); insiraf (“light,” tempo allegretto/mosso). The last two movements, qoddam and darj, play with rhythmic ambiguities and the superimpositions of binary and tertiary rhythms.

The basic form of the sung poetry of the nuba is the san’a, a poem composed by stanzas mostly comprised of two, five or seven verses. The incipit, the first hemistitch, gives the san’a its title. The chant is based on an antiphonal structure, the voices dividing themselves into two alternating choruses. Many san’at are linked to one another and can be interlaced with interventions by the mawal (solo chant, freed from the metric rules, but referred to a fixed scale); the inshad (solo chant with a rhythmic schema, qalab), the taqsim (instrumental solo); and the tuishyat (musical interludes). Mawal and inshad can            introduce grace notes based on micro intervals.


The excerpts presented in this CD by the ensemble Rabita Andalusa originate in the nuba Istihal, created in Fez in the XVIII century by Hajj Allal and Batla, and for this reason are included within the Kunnash of al-Ha’ik as one of the two strictly Moroccan nawbat among the original body of eleven. According to the typical taste of the embroidery, the last section of the nuba played by Rabita Andalusa (track 15) is an insiraf excerpted from the nuba Rasd ed Dhil, the other nuba of Moroccan        origin. The last two pieces (tracks 16 and 17) belong to the repertoire of urban popular music (sha’abi) from the North of Morocco.



Rabita Andalusa is the name given to an ensemble composed of soloists of the Larache Conservatory, the ancient Roman city of Lukhos where, during the golden age of Andalusian-Maghrebi civilization, the sultan Youssef ‘Abdelhaqq El Mérini  (1258-1281) reigned. The goal of this free-wheeling association of musicians is to give life to the Andalusian-Maghrebi         musical repertoire without forgetting its connections to the popular music of Northern Morocco or the practices of religious brotherhoods.


An artistic choice guided by both authenticity and rigor has directed Rabita Andalusa to reduce their formation to the bare essentials: a rhythmic section composed of a tarr and a derbuka; the plucked stringed instruments represented by the ‘ud and qanun; and the bowed stringed instruments represented by the rebab and the kamanja.


Tarr- (played by Adil Amrani) – small tambourine on a circular frame, with five pairs of small cymbals: inserted into the body. It is known in the Arab lands of the Orient as the diff.


Derbuka- (played by Driss Ghani) – drum with one membrane and a goblet size body; hit on the side, it emits a dry high-pitched sound (tàq), hit in the center it emits a low-pitched sound (dùm).


‘Ud- (played by Mustafa Ani) –Arab classical lute (al-‘ud, “wood”), with a short neck inserted on an almond-shaped resonant body made by staves. King of the instruments of the Arab orchestra, the ‘ud reached its present-day form in the VII century. The strings (five double strings and one lone bass string) are plucked with a pick. In Morocco there exists a more ancient lute with four double strings (‘ud ruba’i), with a smaller and narrower body than the classical Arabic lute.


Qanun- (played by Jalloul Majidi) – lap cithara in the shape of a trapezoid with 26 three-stringed choirs (78 strings total), held in tension and tuned with chevilles and plucked with ring-shaped plectrums; the tuning may be varied by means of a mobile bridge. At the base of the trapezoid there are five sounding boards formed by the same number of rectangular parchments. The qanùn (canon) is the instrument of the Arabic music theoretician par excellence.


Rebab- (played by Mohammed Ghani) – ship-shaped vielle with a table made of parchment and neck covered by thin, pierced yellow copper. The two strings, made from goat intestines, are held in tension by pegs and are put into vibration by a highly curved bow. The sound is low, similar to a cello, with a characteristic harsh voice. The rebab is, with the ‘ud, the king of instruments of Maghrebi classical music. Strictly related to the agean lyre, the Arabs, starting in the middle ages, imported the rebab into Occidental Europe. It gave origin to the ribeca of the troubadours and minstrels and to the Spanish rabel.


Kamanja- (played by Ahmed Taoud) – Western violin, introduced in North Africa during the second half of the XIX century, played in a vertical position against the thigh. The alto violin is called the zeìd nakt.

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