9.3.3 Interview with Suleiman Makeme

The song is called- “Nunmbani” which  means home in Swahili. And the lyrics are:

“pole pole, pole pole, just tabasam , twendi nunmbani 
Pole pole, pole pole, just tabasam , naku penda”

9.     Field work


 I would like to share with you five examples from  my research working with and interviewing musicians and teachers on my travels including the knowledge and insights I have gained  through the experience of working on my diverse projects with various ensembles I established, worked with, observed and analyzed. 


1-    Arabic music ensemble in Aarhus Denmark

2-    Arabic ensemble in Jerusalem academy Israel.

3-    Taraab-jazz ensemble (tarajazz) in Zanzibar.

4-    Collaboration with an Andalusian composer from Morocco.

5-    Reflection on my master concert process working with ensemble and musicians in Finland         who stem from different musical backgrounds. 

9.1 Arabic music ensemble in Aarhus Denmark


In the spring semester 2018, I participated in the Arabic ensemble at the Royal Music Academy in Aarhus.


Course information:


Maher Mahmoud form Syria, Oud player and composer. 

Jens Christian Jensen- from Denmark, saxophones player, composer and arranger.



5 from Denmark, 1 from Finland and 1 Israel. 

Instruments- guitar, piano, drums, double bass, Nai /alto sax, 2 singers. (The Nai player is Danish and he had spent one semester in Cairo, Egypt. The Piano player is blind. Playing by ear.)


The information published about this course was very limited, the only thing that I knew before we started the first class was that it’s an Arabic music ensemble. 

As a participant observer, I could tell  that the music style of this ensemble was a combination between Arabic music with Jazz arrangements, chords, solos with chords, and solos on Arabic scales

The repertoire was beautiful. It was a mix of new compositions by the teacher and old traditional Arabic tunes with Maher's new arrangements.



 9.3 Working with the Tarajazz in Zanzibar

 I had the honor of working with the Tarajazz ensemble at the DCMA academy for music in Zanzibar from June through July 2019. The Tarajazz is a group consisting of teachers and students from the Dcma academy, formed by the piano player and teacher Suleiman Makeme. Suleiman is also a composer and has written  songs which combine jazz and taarab music for the ensemble. 

I came with an open mind to study and work with the Tarajazz ensemble. My plan was to listen to them perform and to learn how they combine the taarab and jazz music. I then wanted to add jazz standards with a touch of Arabic maqamat  to their repertoire and on the journey to learn more about Taarab music.

During my time in Zanzibar I worked extensively with the musicians, in groups and one on one, to expand their repertoire in jazz music, work on improvisation, jazz harmony, adding lyrics to the new compositions. I learnt their songs and a considerable amount about the Zanzibari Taarab ancient music. In addition, I participated in a music tour with the band around Zanzibar.

In order to understand my experience with the Tarrajazz ensemble, and how they combine jazz with taarab, it’s important to look first at taarab music and the taarab music history in Zanzibar.


9.3.1 Short History of Taarab in Zanzibar

Taarab music was first introduced to Zanzibar in the period from 1870-1888, when Sultan Barghash ruled  Zanzibar as part of the Omani empire. He picked a talented youth by the name of Mohamed Ibrahim to travel to Egypt in order to learn the taarab music and bring the taarab instruments back with him to Zanzibar, and his assignment was to start an orchestra. Initially, the music was performed only for the sultan and his guests and was sang in the Arabic language, but this was actually the beginning of the foundation of a new music style which would spread all across the Swahili coast. (Kiel, 2012)

Taarab was intended as a mode of entertainment exclusively for royalty and it was forbidden to perform Tarab outside of the palace. However, the musicians who played at the royal orchestra at “Beit el Ajaib”  secretly started to train other musicians. In the year 1905 the first public taarab club was established “Nadi Ilkhwani Safaa” (club of brothers of purity). It was only later between the years 1920-30 that the shift occurred from music just for royalty to music played to the people. One of the big influences who shaped this change is Siti Bint Saad, often referred to by her nickname “Mother of Taraab”, she was the first performer to sing the taarab songs in the Swahili language. (Fargion, 2014)

Later on more ensembles were formed, and Swahili tarab developed using different instruments  including modern bands , with electronic sounds, guitar and piano, shifting to a more modern style with different beats and pop hits. The different styles came and faded away. (Askew, 2002)

 However, the original traditional Swahili taarab songs, with the acoustic instruments, will always remain the most beautiful and unique treasure to the Zanzibar culture and music history. The Dcma music academy in Zanzibar teaches the young generation their old taarab traditions songs and instruments. keeping the music alive within the taarab ensemble. 


Which means- slowly slowly, just smile, you are at home x2 I love you. The group liked this idea, and now the singer has another song to sing with them. Suleiman liked this as well and asked me to put new lyrics to his new composition he was teaching the group. Fortunately, this time I wrote the lyrics in English and taught them to the singer. 

On a few occasions I sang together with the group in their concerts for a few songs including the new taarab song that I learned from them, and the jazz songs we were practicing. Every time while I was improvising I also pushed the singer Regina to improvise with me. In the beginning she didn’t want to and felt uncomfortable, but I told her that we will do it as we did in our one on one class. I improvised and she responded until she got up the courage to continue and improvise a whole solo. And that was so beautiful. She had great ideas and an amazing voice and I felt that finally she had the confidence to explore her inner voice and be heard. 


I learned so much through working with the Tarajazz ensemble. I learned about the taarab history in Zanzibar and old taarab songs, how to combine taarab and jazz, when you hear the  jazz influence and when it forms a whole new style. 

I realized that this was the point and the challenge for the group. They wanted to make a new sound, a mix of taarab and jazz, but they wanted  one sound and not taarab with jazz influences. They worked really hard to achieve this new sound. 


Suleiman formed the tarajazz ensemble, he is the composer and arranger and the piano player in the band.

 Q: How do you combine the two different genres jazz and taarab?

A: Taraab music isn't played with chords, it's one sound, sometimes two voices but with no chords, so sometimes I add chords coming from western music, the combination is the improvisation and the chords. Taksim- an open improvisation, and sometimes the improvisation is over a bass line or a riff, and then I will add one chord to three. It's not like chord changing in the improvisation. We follow songs with chords, but on improvisation we don’t follow the chord change. Not like in jazz, we only follow one, two or three chords and a bass line.


Q:What guides you when you compose songs for the tarajazz?

A: I was born here in Zanzibar, was raised on the taarab music I feel inside the taarab music. I learned jazz at first at the Dcma with different teachers who came from outside, I went to south Africa, studied improvisation, how to teach and study jazz in Dar salam. When I compose, before playing the piano the sound comes to my mind, then I record it, singing it. And then I go on the piano and try to find the melody and the chords. I’m not a singer but I know the sound. The music comes first in my mind. 


Q:How do you make the taarab song jazzy?

A: I think I already talked about it. For example in the song “Ashiki baya”- The melody is with no chords, so I add chords. Then I play it on the piano till I find the right chords, and then finding chords for improvisation. Its very simple to arrange taarab to jazz instead of composing new because the melody is already there. “Arebaba”- Indian song, my feeling goes with the melody, and I have the rhythm, its almost pentatonic scale, Nahawand with the #7 (same like minor harmony), I think of the scale and then chords, I’m listening to the melody, its already there, the melody on the B part feels like swinging so I add the swing feeling there. Feeling the melody and where it wants to go.


Q: How do you work with musicians who are not from a jazz background?

A: Big challenge, I have to teach them chords and modes. In maqam it's easy because they know.  Also in improvisation is a challenge, I’m trying to do my best in teaching.In our country there is a very easy way in teaching, because when they hear they are very good in playing instead of writing. So I play and then they play, and then I’m teaching them the form. And how to improvise on top of that music. Before playing we play the maqam of the song, and then I play the chords and they are trying to improvise on top. And when I play many chords, then I tell them what maqam they could play on those chords. And when I hear different improvisation, I correct them until they do it right.

“For here in Zanzibar this is a new style of sound, because Taarab is not the way I do now. This kind of improvisation and rhythm. So now I can say a new sound is developing here in Zanzibar.”


Interview with the teacher, composer and arranger Maher Mahmoud:


 9.3.2 The Tarajazz ensemble:

Piano- Suleiman Makeme 
Drums- Miraji Hussein 
Double bass- Mahsin Basalama
Saxophone alt- Hassan Mahenge
Violin- Felician Moussa
Singer- Regina Juma


 The Tarajazz band is well known throughout Zanzibar and is on its way to international recognition. The members of the band take their job very seriously and during my time with them they met twice a week for rehearsals. They performed once a week at the Dcma music nights and had additional concerts in different places around Zanzibar island and Tanzania.

I was very fortunate to be embraced and accepted by the group. They were open to learning new music and particularly wanted me to focus and work with them more on the jazz components. Most of the musicians in the group did not come from a jazz background, and this was clear to me from  their singing, phrasing and improvising. I introduced the band to some jazz songs which were linked to different maqams. I thought the group would find it easy to relate to the songs and be able to adapt them into the tarajazz style.

List of the songs we worked on together:

Nardis, Caravan, Lama bada.
Suleiman’s compositions- Nunmbani, party.
Taraab - Arebaba, Ashikibaya.

In one of the meetings we discussed how to make some of the songs sound more like jazz, and our conclusion was that in order to make a jazz feeling and sound, you need to listen to a lot of jazz music and the legendary musicians. So each time after we played a new jazz song I sent them a link of different jazz musicians playing the same song. In the next rehearsal it always sounded much better. 

I had a number of challenges to overcome when I taught new songs. One problem was that the drummer was holding a swing without a lay back feel. I tried to sing him the feeling that I felt and sent him links of song where the drummer plays this feel. Another issue was that the violin solos were without any connection to the harmony and chords. I later realized that the violist was never expose to harmony theory on his instrument.. The final obstacle was that the singer had never improvised before and isn’t familiar with jazz music, or to jazz singers.

I was asked to work with the singer, to improve the jazz sound and style. This was an enjoyable task because the singer is a professional singer with a great voice. It was challenging because she didn’t possess a laptop or smartphone to hear jazz singers in order to copy the style. I still gave her a list and asked her to find a way to listen as much as she could to jazz singers. I specified the old legends such as Ela Fitzgerald, Sahara Vaughn, Anita o’dey, Billi Holiday and so on…We also worked on singing the root of the song, and did exercises on singing the 3 , 5 and 7 of the chord. And then improvised while listening and getting to know the harmony. This was a process and it took time for her to feel safe in the new style and thinking. 

We also worked on different time signatures and improvising over them and the maqam. At first we sang the maqam of the song then clapped the rhythm and then we improvised in the maqam on the rhythm. It was important for me to teach her to listen to the rhythm so she can have more options as a singer in her phrasing and listening and feel more connected to the band. The same applies to harmonizing, when you sing and know the harmony of the song it opens more possibilities for phrasing, especially when improvising.  

During my time working and performing with the tarajazz I also gave one on one lessons to the violinist in the area of jazz harmony. This was challenging because his English was not great. He is only 19 years old, and plays the violin so beautifully from ear and music notation. He is still young and will have time to learn harmony and English.   With the sax player we met once to go through one of the songs with maqam improvising and the jazz harmony option that worked on that maqam. The sax player was very dedicated and  practiced almost every day on his instrument. He taught himself to play the sax only a few years previously, yet it sounded as if he has been playing the saxophone all his life. He is actually the Oud teacher in the academy. It was very inspiring.

 While attending the rehearsals and performing with the group in Stone town and joining their performances around the island, I noticed that the musicians sometimes felt that the singer isn't jazzy enough, and if they want to do a real jazz number it’s without the singer. I could feel that the singer felt left out, and for many songs she just stood there and never had a solo, and only sang the song with the lyrics.

In one performance in Nungue beach I noticed that they performed a melody that could easily be with lyrics, and this would make the composition more like a song with a catchy line for the audience to sing along. With my poor Swahili I came up with one sentence for lyrics and Regina the singer helped me finish it.



9.4.3 Meeting with the Andalusian composer


I came to Morocco mid April 2019 and met Abdsamad Amara the head of the music conservatory of Essaouira. He is a composer, oud and kanun player. Amara’s music sounds like the old Andalusia music and is in the same traditional structure “Nawba”. 

One morning I joined him for a coffee outside the old city, and on the way he explained to me how he composed. While he walks in the city he composes to himself, hearing in his ears the whole orchestra playing. Every noise in the street inspires him to the rhythm or the sound of the composition, a bird singing and forms the rhythm pulse, a car passing making the melody change direction and so on. It was really inspiring to see how he used his surrounding sounds and his city noise as inspiration. 


Amara composed using my Hebrew lyrics on the same day we met. We sat for 5 hours without any break, he interchanged between playing on his Oud and the Qanoun. 

I explained to him the meaning of the lyrics and wrote them in English letters and he wrote them in Arabic and repeated the sound of the words and composed every sentence with the meaning and feeling of the words. I recorded the parts and he sent me home to notate it.


The next time we met we went over the parts and the rhythms analyzing and finished the composition “simla schora”(black dress).

9.4.5 Arrangement of the song "Simla Shahora"

Amara gave me his permission to do as I pleased with the composition and to arrange it for my own ensemble. And that’s what I did. I arranged it for my final master concert in Helsinki, December 2019. I added harmony and voices, solo parts and rhythmic parts for a 14-musician ensemble. 


I tried to take the melody to a place where I felt at home, where I was comfortable. Surprisingly, it didn’t take me long. Within a few hours I wrote the whole arrangement for the band. I felt as if the melody was leading me through the chords that work with the melody, the second voices and orchestration sounds. The rhythm section parts answer to the melody. I really enjoyed arranging the song and felt excited to hear it.  I also took into consideration who the musicians will be and only arranged the song when I had finalized which instruments and musicians would make up the ensemble. 


My considerations in the orchestration included how to adapt when there are micro tones on the Bayat part.         I gave this part to the instruments and the musicians who can play them and for the remainder of the group they either didn’t play during these times or played chords or lines I wrote especially for them that won't clash with the micro tones. The same applied to the solo parts. I chose where to put the solos and who would play what. I gave the freedom to the soloist to play their own solo. It was fascinating to hear what direction each player took in their solo some continued with the feeling and style of the song and others took it to their own music world, or both.


Because I wrote the arrangement around the melody, the melody is the stronger component.                            The sound produced is very much like an Andalusian song, but because of the harmony richness, rhythmic kicks parts and more it blends with the jazz style and creates, in my opinion, a new style of music.


I will analyze the song “simla schora” with the arrangement and explain how I added chords and the jazz style to the Andalusian composition.

The introduction of this song is an oud solo  (taksim) on the D kurd maqam. Then the whole orchestra joins with a unison melody, I added the chords only on the second time they play the melody so It will blend in smoothly, The melody is on D kurd (similar to Phrygian scale.)  here is the scale and the chords that come out of the scale-

The first class commenced with no introduction and the students did not speak to one another. The instructor gave us songs and we were asked to play them (sight reading). I didn’t know if some of the students knew those songs before or were familiar with the songs and the style. It seemed as if everyone was a bit shy and nervous, but happy for the challenge at the same time. 

In the next sessions the situation improved slowly as the class grew more familiar with the music and felt more comfortable playing and making eye contact. Here I am reminded of an article by Sarah Weiss where this issue is addressed (Weiss, 2014). The article relates to how people from different music backgrounds can learn to appreciate music which sounds foreign to their ears. She speaks about hybrid, music which is a cross or combination of sounds, as a first stage to understanding music different and unfamiliar to us.

I was pleasantly surprised when on the third meeting Maher gave us a song that I knew really well and had arranged myself for my trio just a year ago. This song is called- “Alnaher alkhaled” . I asked the teacher if I could bring the harmony /chords I made in my arrangement. The initial problem was that Maher had already arranged a bass line and the chords didn’t match. However, I was able to rearrange my version with new chords that worked with the melody and the bass line. 

On the fourth rehearsal Maher and Chappe, the instructors, couldn’t attend, but they asked me if I could teach the class the song with the new chords. It was a good experience for me to lead the students during this session. I think it was our first rehearsal when everyone enjoyed themselves and engaged with one another. The students were actually looking at each other over the music and having fun together. We were all surprised at how much we achieved in this session and played through the whole repertoire of songs we learnt in the pervious classes.

It was a nice experience for me to take a “leader” role, even though, in reality, I felt that my leadership was more guiding and helping the group collaborate and form a warm working environment than actually teaching. Each musician contributed and we made decisions together. 

Maher taught us the Makam (scale) for every new tune and he asked us all to sing the makam together before teaching the song.  

Chappe gave us the pages from the Makam book with the scale explanations and the theory. 

We learned- songs with Biyat, Rast, hijaz, nakriz, nhawand, saba maqamat and more.

One of the popular songs was Cheppe's composition and arrangement entitled “Bluesy Gnaouni”. Within the song there is a fast melody part with no lyrics and Cheppe asked us to choose a syllable so the singers can sing together or create our own lyrics. I chose to write Hebrew lyrics to this part. We all enjoyed singing it together and in addition the singers enjoyed learning to sing in a new language. 

Another song was a B part in quarter notes scale , "Alnaher alkhaled". This melody reminded me of an old Jewish Yemenite song (Ayalet Hen). I added the lyrics from the Yemenite poetry to this melody. As the song used the quarters notes scale the other singers asked me to sing it by myself.  


The hard thing for me was to sing the quarter note while others are singing it flat/sharp. As a singer it is very hard to trust yourself and not to pick by ear the different notes you are hearing. 

One example was from a rehearsal for our last concert.

I was singing the B quarter notes part duet with the Oud and at the second time we repeated it with the whole group in unison with no lyrics. It wasn’t good so we  repeated this part a few times and then again I sang it as a duet with the Oud, but this time I didn't sing the quarter notes. My ears went "out of tune' through hearing the different variations. 

This is one of the difficulties of being a non-Arabic music singer and without instruments to correct my pitch.

This happened to me previously, when I was performing with my trio in Israel. The guitarist played the chords and I sang the quarters notes… well I thought that I did, but in fact didn’t. I found it hard to sing quarter notes without an instrument that can imitate/play the quarters notes as well. This might be easy for someone who has sung in this style all their life. but as far as I am concerned, I feel as if the western instruments change something in my ears and intonation. Acapella is much easier for me, but when I have an instrument reference, I invariably find myself copying the closest pitch for the flat or for the quarter notes.

So, in this case it was advantageous for me that the first time I sang the lyrics only with the oud and the second time everyone joined in.  

I have learned a lot from this experience about myself as a vocalist. I learned how to improve my singing and ear for the maqam scales. 


9.1.1 Interviews


Interview with my colleague, the vocalist Susanna Bjorkstrand from Finland:


Q: What is your approach to teaching Arabic music to students who are unfamiliar with this style?

A: the aim is to give them something that they don’t know, most of them play jazz and I think it add new music for them :Quarter notes, the way of phrasing it’s different in the Arabic music. and new melodies, it adds something for them they may use in their own music.


Q: How do you teach this music to a non Arabic ensemble?

A: I teach it more simply. If I teach to someone who knows Arabic music I will do this on a higher level. I start with theory, the scales and rhythm. Maybe some of them know some basics but others know nothing. So I always start simple.


Q: What do you find hard in teaching Arabic music?

A: It’s hard when they don’t have any background. The big part of this music comes from what you have heard before. And if they haven't heard Arabic music before, then it is a challenge for me to build a little music background for them so they can use it later.

And at the same time I need to find a shared point between what they play in jazz for example to what we play now in Arabic music. Like the improvising. I tried to catch this shared point and then to work on them.


Q: What do you most like about this combination, the shared point between jazz and Arabic?

A: a little easy and make it work together. Jazz has been always open to other kinds of music especially world music. I heard a lot of jazz based on some folk music. And also the improvising. This is a basic point in Arabic music and also a basic point in jazz. It’s hard to find a jazz piece without any improvising. It will be much more difficult to combine Arabic and classical music. You cannot change or add a lot to classical music. Only dynamic or feeling. And jazz it’s much more flexible. It’s just different scales and rhythm. And those things can always add to jazz.  


Q: Do you call yourself an Arabic Jazz player?

A: No, I call myself a musician in general. music includes a lot of elements. It’s music and I play a lot of different stylse.

Arabic jazz does not really exist. Jazz can be influenced by Arabic and Arabic can be influenced from jazz. 


Q: In all of the songs in the ensemble you arranged parts for all the instruments, why did you choose not to play it as the traditional way in unison?  

A: there are many reasons. 

1-    Some instruments cannot play the quarter notes in fast melody. Like the electric guitar.

2-    Not to go too far from the instrument players comfort zone, what they are used to play chords and bass line with drums patterns.

it’s good to keep parts from what they play usually so they will feel more comfortable and not completely new to the material.

3-     Nowadays, it’s not like the folk way it’s still Arabic music but more modern and not 100% unison, now the Arabic modern compositions are more open and use the drums and the bass line. In the old folk way the bass will  play the first note of the melody and to my ear it doesn’t sound nice. Unlike jazz, in Arabic music first is the melody. Choosing the chords and base line according to the melody, which will support the melody. 

4-    I like to try new things. And not boring. Sometimes it is nice to give different instruments the priority.  

9.2 Open Arabic ensemble in Jerusalem academy Israel


Observation of the “open music ensemble for Arabic music” by Hagai Bilizky (double bass player, teacher, head of the eastern department at the Jerusalem music academy) 

The Jerusalem academy in Israel. 19/5/2019


This is an ensemble open to any student from the music academy that wishes to join. Therefore, the students come from different musical backgrounds and departments. Some from the classical ,jazz, Arabic, education music department, and more..


The class was full of students with a variety of instruments:

3 Flutes, Nai, Saxophone soprano, and alto, bassoon, trumpet, rik percussion, darbuka, guitar, kanoon, 3 ouds and 4 vocalists.


The teacher Hagai played the oud.

On the board he wrote the names and order of the songs, writing who is the lead, where the remaining instruments answer to the melody, solos parts and in what language is each part. It was really interesting to see and hear them playing. I noted which parts needed to be repeated a few times until it was right. Sometimes the singers didn’t get the rhythm right, but after a few repetitions singing their own part it improved..

On the samai (10/8 composition) the arrangement was such that only the Arabic instruments played the melody with the micro tones, and the rest of the western instruments answered to the melody or played the lines when the melody went down. That’s where there are usually no micro tones . And this technique ensured that there was no clash between the instruments. 

There were a few instances when all the musicians sang the melody, I noticed that this was important, because even though some of the musicians couldn’t play these micro tones on their instrument, they learnt to sing it.

It was really interesting to see that they all enjoyed the challenge of working with this music.  I noticed that although each student stemmed from a different musical background, they all shared an affinity for Arabic music, or a curiosity to play it.


The arrangements were interesting,and enabled each instrument to play the melody in accordance with its musical capacity of each instrument, the call and response used a different range and sound. The rhythms were interesting and a variety of rhythms were used for each song. The songs included a combination between the language’s Hebrew and Arabic. one of the song was called "Dawini Badawak" combining arabic and hebrew. 


There were no notes or sheet music. Hagai taught the songs by ear and set the musicians homework to listen to different recordings. 

The flute players wrote out their own parts by ear and used this as their sheet music.

The order of the songs was crucial so everyone could know who plays what and how many times the various parts repeat. All the information was written on the board.


Just through my observation of the class I learned a lot about how to teach a new song using unfamiliar and different music from the style and type of music the musicians are familiar with. I learned how to deal with micro tones for instruments who cannot play them. How to make the arrangements interesting and find solutions in the arrangement for the rhythmic and micro tones. I noticed how slowly but surely by only playing from ear after a few repetitions the song began to sound better. I also learned that the only thing that the musicians need is the love for the music, and this will motivate them to keep playing and practicing until they succeed. 


9.4 Collaboration with Andalusian composer from Morocco



9.4.1.Andalusia music background:


Música Andalusia is the traditional urban music of the Maghreb, west Arab world. (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) This style of music originated in El Andalus, in medieval Muslim Spain. The music was imported to north Africa by “Andalusian refugees”, Muslims and Jews fleeing the decrees and tyranny of the Christian reconquest of Spain from the 10th to the 15th centuries.


“Andalusian music is divided into various national and regional traditions, united by certain formal characteristics, norms of performance practice, a historical identity and a theoretical and philosophical heritage which distinguish them as a whole from the music of the Arab east, or Mashreq.” (Davis, 1996 page 423)


Classical Andalusian music was born in the 9th century in the Cordoba emirate. It is customary to attribute the beginning of Andalusian music to the Persian musician known as Ziryab (789-857), he left Baghdad after a dispute with his mentor Ashaq al-Mawasili. He emigrated to El Andalus (Muslim Spain) and founded a new conservatory in Cordoba, in the courtyard of the Umayyad caliph Abdel Rahman II. He based his composition on the system of 24 melodic modes or tubu (this is similar to the teva/tabia in Hebrew and Arabic which translates to nature in English). Each tubu was associated with a particular hour of the day, showing different colours and aspects of the human emotion. 


“Ziryab also defined rules for the sequencing of different song types, progressing from slow/heavy rhythms to fast/light ones, thus sowing the seeds of the characteristic large-scale from north African art music, the nawba.” (Davis, 1996 page 423)


The “nawba” is a multi-chapter work (similar to a suite in western music), which has a very complex relationship between the various chapters. Like Maqam in Arabic Oriental music, the nawba is not only the sound scale but the set of rules by which the piece is constructed and performed. 


Classical Andalusian music is a product of the integration of Baghdad's classical Arabic musical tradition with other musical traditions that existed in Spain, notably the Visigothic-Christian tradition and barbaric traditions of North Africa. The culmination of years of mixing and mingling  between these traditions formed the basis for Andalusian music.

The various sufi followers in the Maghreb countries played a very important role in the preservation and development of Andalusian music. They devoted poetry and music in this style  in their spiritual work. Similarly, Jews from the maghreb also adopted Nawba as a central element of liturgical music, especially in the singing of requests(bakashot) in the synagogue. (An invitation to piyut  and Hamichlol, the Jewish encyclopedia)

9.4.4 Analyzing “Simla Shchora” composition


The intro and the base maqam is D Kurd maqam (like Phrygian in the western scales.) the composition starts with a Taksim (a solo improvisation with no time and structure) by the oud player alone. And when the melody starts as written it stays on D kurd maqam. 

Only on letter C  does it change to D kurd with 5b so there are 2 jin of kurds what makes its actually to be D lami (Locrian) but only for a few bars and then go back to natural A notes (the natural 5) and to D kurd maqam.  

On letter D it changes to D Bayat maqam and only goes back to D Kurd on letter F.

On letter G it changes to D saba maqam. And on letter H to D hijazz maqam.

On letter I it goes back to D kurd until the songs ends.

The tonality in the composition is always the same- D. the only thing that changes is the modulation to a different maqam on the same tonality. The interval in between changes and creates a new maqam and new colour. It nice that those modulations occur smoothly leading us to a new melody and part of the song/story.


I Interviewed my colleague, the vocalist Susanna Bjorkstrand from Finland and when I asked Susana ‘Why did you choose to join the Arabic ensemble’? she surprised me with her answer. She said that she had no idea what ensemble it was going to be before she stepped into the room.

Q: Have you heard Arabic music before/been playing?

Susanna:  “well yes, but didn’t do it on purpose, so I wouldn’t say familiar. Before I couldn’t tell the difference between Middle Eastern music and Turkish but now I'm probably better.”


Q: How did you feel about the songs we learned in the ensemble? 

A: “Nice, different tempo, style and scales, hard to do solfes/prima vista but I think it’s fun and I enjoyed it a lot.


Q: How did you practice the songs? And the scales?

A: “playing them through on the piano, for the questers notes hearing the recording from the class, singing them through especially the songs with the lyrics.”


Q: What was your approach in improvising on these songs? 

A:  “Oh.. it felt Scary! So I let you do it. But then once you weren’t there so I had to do it, but said to Maher that I won’t take a solo on quarters notes scale.” 

 Susanna took a solo on “Jypsy Dance”- Nakriz scales- she said that Cheppe helped on the first time and played some of the notes of the scale on his saxophone”. Susana also said that after when she practiced the solos she tried to find minor chords and a familiar way to sing t the new scale.


Q: What did you enjoy in this ensemble?

A: to do something I’m not used to, out of my comfort zone, and enjoyed pretty much singing prima vista , and fast melody.


Q: What did you find hard in this ensemble? 

A: quarter notes, all those fast 16/8  notes melody with no lyrics and those small things you do.. Decorations..  Trills!


Q: What do you think that this course gave you as a musician?

A: a lot actually! I can’t put it into words, it is just so inspiring to get out of your own patterns. In all senses- the scales, lunguses, ensemble , instruments and all this inspired you to create new things in a new way, singing techniques and to do something totally different.

9.4.2 Connecting to Andalusian music 


My initial  meeting with  Andalusian music started in my childhood, I heard the melodies from the Morocco and Sepharadi  Jewish synagogues as well as in Jewish liturgical poems we sang during the Jewish holidays at home. Later on, I was exposed to Andalusian orchestras, and was introduced not only to more Jewish liturgy, but also to Arabic Andalusia folk songs. I had the opportunity to collaborate on a joint project with the Oud player and composer Alaa Zouiten who lives in Berlin, but is originally from Morocco. Alaa’s music combines Arabic music with jazz, Andalusia, Flamenco, and Gnawa. Alaa introduced me to an old Andalusia song and together we formed our own arrangement and added harmony, I kept the old Arabic lyrics but also added my own Hebrew lyrics.

“Li Habibi Ursil Salam”  (to my love I send my greeting.)

we recorded this song in Berlin March 2019.

Alaa Zoutien- Oud, Tal Yadin – Guitar, Richard Muller- Bass,

Ra’fat Muhammed- Percussions, Michal Hoter- Vocal. 


I was curious to learn more about Andalusian music and decided to go to Morocco, to be in a place which is one of the homes for Andalusia music, and where this music is still alive in the streets, homes and concert halls.  


At first I only gave the third chord (3 notes in a chord) to make it blend with the melody. The melody guided me in choosing the right chord, I used the melody long notes for the colour of the chord and put the chord as the melody to the root of the note or as the third.

Only on letter A did I give some of the chord the 4 notes chords and expanded my option even though those notes are not played. I added the swing feeling under the melody, so the chords fall in different pulses and form a kind of answer to the melody.

The first and long notes of the melody still guide me to the chord as the root. I used model interchange, and instead of putting the Vmb5 I put v7 from the major scale and also the Imaj7 at the end, and then back to the Im7. 

Later I noticed that those chords are exactly like the standard Nardis A part. It's strange  that they work exactly in this song. It’s a song that I love, so I might have been influenced unconsciously.


On letter B, I kept the same chords as letter A, with the same rhythm pattern. And even though the melody slightly changes, the chords worked except for some places where the melody could have clashed with the chords. Instead of changing the chords I added tensions. For example, on bar 22 the second note is natural A (la) , on the chord Ebmaj it functions as the b5 or the #11. So I added the #11 in the chord so it will sound good together. Same with bar 23, the first note is Eb (mi bimol) on chord A7 it can be the b5 or the #11, and again I chose the #11 tension sound rather than changing the chord.

At letter C I added long chords that only change when the melody requires it. The maqam changes from d Kurd to d lami  b5. So I gave the chord Fm and when it changes back to natural A, I put back the F major chord. 

On letter D the maqam changes to Btyat, that means that we have micro tones. In order to avoid the clash with the instruments which cannot play the micro tones on their instruments, I added long chords that are close to the tonic and the melody without closed notes to the micro tones.  I only gave the melody to the instruments and musicians who have the capacity to play micro tones and to the remainder I gave the chords or the root. On letter E still in maqam bayat , I gave one long chord the tonic on Dm.


Letter F is back to maqam d kurd, the melody is in unison, I added some chords which go together with the melody change. And I added dynamics to give the melody line a strong meaning because the lyrics are repeated.. 

Letter G is the trumpet solo. I wrote some kicks for the rhythm section and some of the instruments. I asked the trumpet player  to make an open solo on bayat or kurd that will lead to Saba the next maqam. (I knew that the trumpet is familiar with the maqam system and that’s why I was able to add a solo in the song.)

On letter H we are in maqam saba, and I changed the chord with the melody. For chord Dm the note Gb (sol bimol) is the b4 or the #3. I decided to change the chord to major so the changes can be smooth and effective. The same applies with A to Amaj7, I wanted the Gb to be noticed in the chord even though it's not in the melody line, but I wanted the harmony to keep the maqam saba sound.  

On letter I we are in maqam Hijazz. The parallel scale to D Hijaz is G minor harmony, so from that scale I “borrowed” the chords. And the letter J is the same as letter A.

At this point I gave the saxophone player a solo over the “Nardis” chords, so he will feel free to improvise with chords from the jazz world.  And then back to the A as if singing back the melody. 



The combination between the different cultures, Jazz musicians background, Pop, world music, jazzy arrangements for the Arabic music made a blend of something interesting and new. The sound of the Oud and the Nai helped to preserve the Arabic sound the quarter notes were not always heard but the oud played them. 


It was interesting for me to see that even though we came from different music backgrounds and were at different stages in our careers, we all had things to learn and we made considerable progress together. I had the sensation that we are playing old and new music and the blend together is something new. the Arabic music with jazz is a clever blend, sophisticated and interesting. As a musician and as a listener I felt that this blending of the cultures and sounds created something beautiful.


Maher said - Jazz Arabic or Arabic jazz does not exist, each one is a different music style and each can influence the other. But I wonder if this will be the same in a few years from now. This ensemble as well as others around the world, is evidence of attempts to blend the two styles to form different music with new arrangements. This could lead to musicians from this class using some of the elements learned for example scales and rhythms in their own music.  This will be the stages of multicultural and intercultural (Schippers, 2010). Perhaps in a few years the hybrid or transcultural music will become a legitimate style of its  own.  I think that this combination forms a new beautiful interesting style. 

By the end of the semester we learned 7 songs: 

  • Bluesy Gnaouni/chappe Jens
  • Yorgo Longa, 
  • Gypsy Dance/ganem Haddad, 
  • Henayena/Traditional,
  • Gypsy Perfume/Anour Brahem
  • Roaming/Maher Mahmoud
  • Alnaher alkhaled/Abdel Wahab.

“Nunmbani”- Adding the lyircs.

Yorgo Longa/ Arrangment by Maher Mahmoud:

Li Habibi Ursil Salam:

Blusey Gnaouni/ Chappe Jens:

Blusey Gnaouni/ Chappe Jens:

Almaher Alkhled/ Abdel Wahab:


rehearsal with the band:

"simla schora" from a rehearsal in Helsinki 2019

(for the concert version skip to the next page.) 

Dawini Badawak/ Lili Labassi:

“Arebaba Pakistani”:

photos from  Morocco: 

photos from Zanzibar:

DCMA Academy: