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VII. The Big Picture: Aruh Li Meen

Aruh Li Meen is in my opinion one of the masterpieces of Arabic Music, comparable in masterful symphonic execution to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. The comparison to a symphony is a propos, because the "long song" genre ("ughniyya" in Arabic), developed for Umm Kulthum and other singers in Egypt in the mid-20th century, attained symphonic length (individual songs of 30-50 minutes long) as well as structure (each verse the length of a symphonic movement, and clearly delineated from each other) during this period. Riyad is-Sunbati, one of the greatest composers of this genre, deserves the comparison to Beethoven for his methodical structural development, and "Aruh Li Meen" is arguably his tightest construction, managing to simultaneously: 1. Adhere to the traditional structure of Maqam Rast, 2. Develop that maqam structure gradually over the course of 4 verses, 3. Present both the most conventional and the most unconventional sides of Maqam Rast, 4. Use compelling original melodies that nonetheless completely embody the traditional melodic motions of Rast, and 5. Attain the true heights of "Tarab," - the experience of musical ecstasy that is the aim of traditional Arabic music.

The first verse is completely conventional, starting with a melody that uses the familiar 1 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 pattern, one of the core melodic patterns of Maqam Rast. After dwelling in this first Jins Rast, the melody quickly moves up to the octave using secondary Rast, descends using Nahawand, and concludes back in Jins Rast. Both melodically and maqam-wise, utterly typical, and perfectly executed, both in composition and performance:


long passage in one jins, eventually up to 6




The following instrumental intro to the 2nd verse, which also precedes the first verse (but which I left out of this analysis), covers the typical Nahawand/Hijaz descending alternation on 5 (see the examples from "Ya Shadi il-Alhan" and "Hayrana Leh"), in a beautiful slightly chromatic fashion:


intro to 2nd verse; starts 3-4-5


strong emphasis on 4--feeling like Nakriz 4



just hint of Hijaz (flat 6)

The second verse then follows the "textbook" pathway of rast, emphasizing and developing the most important secondary jins after those already used in the first verse (2nd Rast 5/8 and Nahawand 5): Jins Hijaz 5. This verse taken by itself might be considered "Maqam Suznak," but as part of this larger structure it is within Maqam Rast:


2nd verse--long passage in Rast


prominent Hijaz of 2nd verse => Maqam Suznak



extended passage in Hijaz


use of raised 6 to return to Rast

And now, after that long Hijaz development, the 2nd verse ends with the same verse ending as the first (as will the 3rd and 4th verses):


shared verse ending



After the previous verses' methodical development through the basic sine-qua-non structure of Maqam Rast, the third verse suddenly jumps to the most distant area: Sikah Beladi. The use of Sikah Beladi should be considered a standard, though rare, part of Maqam Rast, because it occurs occasionally elsewhere. However, the use of Sikah Beladi here is very original--dwelling on the 5th scale degree, with a raised 4th, which is not typical of other Sikah Beladi usage within Rast, where it tends to dwell mostly around the root or octave tonic. So compositionally we have a jump from the very conventional (verses 1 - 2) to the almost completely original.


3rd verse; brief start on 1


a unique jins, raised 4 in Sikah Beladi to emphasize 5


3 is where Hijaz occurs in Sikah; this resembles that





like #19, intervals not exactly Hijaz, but similar


The vocals "Yitool Bu3dak" mean: "your distance/absence" ("bu3dak") "is long" ("yitool"), and we could argue that the distant maqam choice serves as a kind of tone-painting of the lyrics; certainly the mood of the maqam here perfectly fits, as does the melody, which dwells and dwells on this distant, moody area:



melody doesn't dip underneath tonic


reaches up to 8 at end


back to instrumental, Sikah-Beladi 8

Notice the return, partway through the previous segment, to the instrumental introduction of this verse, a structural device also used in the fourth verse, and in other compositions of Sunbati:








And now, with a subtle intervallic change, the Sikah Beladi shifts to Hijazkar around 5, bringing slightly more stability, and acting as a bridge to the more conventional areas of Maqam Rast:


making our way back to a stable 5...

And the Bayati brings us back fully to the typical territory of Rast, especially when Suznak / Hijaz 5 is prominent (See "Ghannili Shwayya"):


also includes 3-4-5


The next three segments round out the Suznak treatment, completing the range of typical modulations on the 5th Scale degree of Rast: Bayati, Saba, and Hijaz. Again, the methodical passing through each important area of the Maqam is on display here:


final phrase ambiguous, leading to Saba


strong "tone painting" here--"I cover my tears" etc.


lowered 4 distinguishes this from Hijazkar 5

And finally the verse ending, the same as the previous two verses:


use of raised 6 to return to Rast


shared verse ending



Now, just as methodically, we reach the octave, in this instrumental introduction to the 4th verse. The melody is a typically exultant Rast-octave melody:


4th verse intro

And in the middle of this very typical melody, a completely original move, using the flat-7 to move up rather than down, in a sense bridging the octave rast with the downward tension of the Nahawand, foreshadowing the final descent. This melody, which in fact is unique in arabic music, nonetheless fits perfectly within the context, and simply adds to the exultant feeling of the "Finale" of this grand composition:


unusual usage of flat 7 w/o resolution to Nah. 5



very striking!


And the vocals begin, repetitively dwelling on the octave. Here is the truly ecstatic passage of the whole song: the words repeat the opening of the first verse, "Aruh li meen" ("who can I go to" "to seek solace from you"), the repetition simply doesn't let go, and that combines with the usage of the Maqam. Although this secondary Rast has been used briefly before (in the verse endings of the previous three verses), here it is given its own development, giving us the pinnacle of the Maqam. The melody is almost identical to the opening melody of the song, transposed up a 5th, just as the words are the same--it brings us back to that unanswered question, whom can I go to? The more the repetition, the more the ecstasy...


(tonicizing 8 from below)



emphasis on 3, not tonicized yet




emphasis on 3


Using the same device as the third verse, a return to the instrumental introduction of this verse--brilliantly overlapping Umm Kulthum's vocal extension on the word "nidaya" ("my call"--the sentence is "And who will hear my caaaaaaaaall"):








The melody that starts at the end of the previous segment and concludes with the following descent to the root, again on the word "Nidaya" ("my call"), is to me the conclusion of the song. The rest is "Finale." There is something so ultimate, and final about this last phrase:


very conclusive phrase! pointing to the end

Nahawand becomes the last jins to receive an extended treatment, and you can hear the downward pull of it; again, the methodical mastery of Riyad is-Sunbati at work, saving this Nahawand treatment for the very end--a "Coda" if you will--only after the heights of ecstasy have been reached with the Secondary Rast push up to the octave:


first extended emphasis on Nahawand



Okay, so in fact there is one more Jins that gets an extended treatment in this coda, Sikah--which is the last remaining jins within the typical structure of Maqam Rast (See also "Ghannili Shwayya"). The connection to the Nahawand, using Musta3ar, can also be seen in "Kull illy Habb itnasaf" and in "Sihtu Wajdan."



Raised 4 (2 relative to Sikah tonic) distinguishes from Sikah


emphasis on 4



Again, some might call this "Nakriz 4"






(again, emphasis on 4)



And now the real conclusion, "See my tears running, but you don't care."


strong flat-7



alternate parse of #81-2; descent within Rast from flat-7

And the verse ending, to wrap it all up:


shared verse ending



So this song methodically illustrates the whole big structure of Maqam Rast, going through all of its major areas (by 1958, Jins Secondary Saba 6/8, as in "Ijma3 Shufna," "Fein Ya Gameel Wa3dak," etc., has fallen mostly out of use in Maqam Rast), giving each a unique melodic treatment, often with evocative tone painting. On paper, this is a perfect textbook example of Maqam Rast, yet within it there is a tremendously passionate expression.

The motion within the Maqam also illustrates a typical principle of maqam composition: most of the motion will be conventional, but there will always be one unique or unconventional move. This could equally well be a compositional principle of Western music, or music universally--the rare use of the surprising passage so the listener isn't bored by the extended use of the conventional (which must needs form the meat of music, so the listener will not be confused or annoyed). Here those passages distant-from-the-conventional are: 1. the use of Sikah Beladi in the third verse, and on top of that the doubly unconventional emphasis on 5 within Sikah Beladi, and 2. the use of the flat-7 in the introduction to the 4th verse, so brief as to possibly go unnoticed, except to provide a spicy taste.

And, as stated before, this song encapsulates the spirit of Tarab, but compositionally, rather than simply through improvisation. In typical, older, Tarab repertory, it is the performer's prerogative to choose where to repeat, when to go back to previous sections, how long to delay moving to a new section. In this composition, those elements are built into the structure of the composition, both through the instrumental returns in the beginnings of the 3rd and 4th verses (a technique that, as already stated, Sunbati carried into other compositions), as well as in the careful and masterful placement of the Secondary-Rast development, which forms the meat of the 4th verse, and serves as the climax of the whole composition, coming as a satisfying return after the darkness and distance of the 3rd verse. The careful plotting of jins development in the composition as a whole serves the Tarab aesthetic brilliantly. The use of Hijaz in the second verse is another good example of this, as well as the dwelling on Nahawand in the 4th verse in what I've called the "coda."

It's not that Umm Kulthum isn't given room to improvise and produce Tarab through her own spontaneous choices. In fact, I've edited this recording to cut some of the repetitions, so as to make the analysis not quite as long. In the source recording, both the first and second verses are repeated in their entirety, with different variations and internal repetitions each time; in the third and fourth verses the instrumental return actually comes twice before the transition to the second half of the verse--in both cases I edited it down to only one return--and Umm Kulthum has plenty of time to vary and intensify. In fact we could say that Sunbati has provided the most appropriate compositional vehicle not only for Umm Kulthum's individual artistry, but for the Tarab genre as a whole.

Something about 1958... Umm Kulthum, at 60, was at the top of her form; Sunbati had fully blossomed as a composer, and their compositional relationship had already been around for 25 years. The mood in Egypt was optimistic and triumphal, just a few years after the successful revolution and the ascension of Nasser. Something about 1958--because in that same year Sunbati also composed for Umm Kulthum "Awidti 3einy," a triumph in Maqam Kurd maybe even grander than "Aruh Li Meen"--a "Beethoven's 9th" to Aruh Li Meen's "Beethoven's 5th." For me as a listener, I have heard nothing that surpasses these two songs.

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