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VI. Unique Pathways (p1)

This page offers a contrast to the rest of the content presented on this site, which displays well-trodden pathways among ajnas. In fact, the overwhelming majority of pathways among ajnas are repeated over and over again, standard enough to be recognized in hundreds of songs, the equivalent of a Blues progression, a Baroque figured bass progression, or a harmonic schema employed in Galant music--in other words, a piece of vocabulary internalized by the experienced practitioner.

The examples here, on the other hand, are unique, and it is no coincidence that all three are by the same composer, the great Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab, widely recognized as one of the most (if not the most) important and influential composers of the 20th century in the Arab world. Abdel-Wahhab's mastery of the traditional, well-known pathways among ajnas is paramount, and like Umm Kulthum, his career spanned from the early to the late 20th century, and he displays a comfort with and knowledge of the changes in the maqamat over the course of the century... in many cases he led and pioneered those changes himself.

Of course an original move can be copied, and when it is, it eventually becomes standard. A creative genius, when popular and widely imitated, can lead a radical change in the language, and the most apt comparison to Abdel-Wahhab is William Shakespeare, who ceaselessly innovated in the English Language and left an indelible mark, with word coinages and original phrases we still identify to this day as his.

But some of Abdel-Wahhab's innovations are so unique as to be inimitable--well, perhaps that's not true, but those on this page have not been imitated, and if a composer or performer were to imitate them it would be immediately recognizable as the imitation of Abdel-Wahhab's true originality. That is not to overpraise Abdel-Wahhab; some musicians find his innovations to be too far outside of the common vocabulary, so that they violate the sense and aesthetic of Tarab. Others may find his innovations exhilarating and revelational. I leave it to your taste and value; nonetheless we cannot deny these are original usages.

First, from the Mawwal Rast "Kull illy Habb Itnasaf" which starts out on well-trodden paths:


end of qanun intro, start of layali








qanun jumps octave at end, anticipating--


extended passage includes resolutions to 5




We saw standard passages in Rast leading to the use of Secondary Saba, which was fairly common in the period Abdel-Wahhab recorded this (the early 1930's).

However, later, an intensification of that Saba leads to a complete transformation in mood and color--to Ajam, on the same tonic as the original Rast:


let the intensification begin!


typical Saba modulation


could start to just call this "Saba 6"


about as distant as possible to go from Rast 1!!


Sikah 4 part of this jins, from #25


finally, proper resolution 6-5


Suddenly transported!



a completely unique modulation from Rast!

This placement of Ajam on the same tonic as Rast in one song or improvisation (or for that matter, even within a suite) is basically non-existent within the Maqam system--and in fact, even here they are not adjacent (e.g. Jins Ajam 1 immediately following Jins Rast 1). There is no "absolute" reason for that--on the contrary, following the apparent logic of modulations, one might incorrectly surmise that it should be easy to make that modulation, since both behave similarly, with a strong tonicization on their 5th scale degrees (see the comparisons using Lissa Fakir). But it just doesn't happen. One could make any number of arguments about the distance or closeness of these ajnas (the third scale degree differs by only a quarter-tone), but the unexpectedness of this juxtaposition is on the most basic level simply the result of its complete absence in the repertory--i.e. it is arbitrary, and if on the contrary it were common, it would in that case feel perfectly ordinary. And Abdel-Wahhab doesn't make this transition in what might seem the easiest way, through a shared Hijaz 5, for example, but through the jins most distant to both maqamat, the secondary Saba 6/8. So the color shift is radical and unique.

After the modulation above, Abdel-Wahhab sings a few more phrases in Ajam, before returning to Rast... And how does he get back? he just does:




not sure if this return really works, but it's genius!

Some will observe that the pathway shown at the very end, from 2nd Ajam down to Rast, is the pathway of Maqam Mahur... in fact that "Egyptian" Version of Maqam Mahur is more of a modern innovation anyway--not really reflective of the true Turkish Mahur... we'll save that discussion for another time. I'm not sure this descent works, I find it unsettling and bizarre, but somehow, there it is. It is certainly not a well-trodden pathway. But taken as a whole, this Mawwal is completely brilliant and original.

Our second example also uses Maqam Rast, but from a later period: the famous song "Fakkaruni" which Abdel-Wahhab composed for Umm Kulthum in the 1960's:



with raised 4 => immediate strong tonicization of 5


So far, these modulations are fairly conventional within Rast--which fluidly moves to Nakriz on the same tonic, especially by mid 20th century. But then, something odd happens, for just a moment, to intensify the tonicization of 5... and then it disappears:


tonicizing 5 from underneath


really only 5-4 with natural 4 (as opposed to half-# or #)

After a repeat of that sequence (#02-#05), we have another move to Nahawand 5, with a Rast 1 that keeps the tonic focus up toward 5:


Strong Ajam feeling on 7


emphasis is still Nahawand 5, though in area of Rast 1


Strong Ajam 7

That emphasis on 5 is strong enough that suddenly, a magic transformation happens:


still emphasizing/tonicizing 5 here


a unique occurrence; the typical jins on 5 tonicizes 8

As it says in the note above, this Jins pathway is unique to this song - Jins Rast basically never tonicizes, in any other repertory, the 5th scale degree above Maqam Rast, as it does in #13. For more discussion of why this is completely unique, see the analysis on the Jins Secondary Rast page.

And then, just as suddenly, it's gone -- and we follow the typical Rast pathway down through Secondary Rast, Nahawand 5, Hijaz 5, down to Rast 1, to end the verse:


flat-7 pulls us back here


dips all the way down to 2 in Rast area


back to typical use, tonicizing 8 (contrast with #13)


really only flat-6 to 5


end of verse 1

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