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Hebrew Music in Morocco

The Moroccan composers, most of whom were exiled from Spain, were proud to consider themselves part of the Spanish School of the Andalusian Golden Age. The music and the poetic heritage of the Golden Age considered in Morocco as a sublime art, and its music repertoire was the main source for admiration and influence. This solidarity that existed for hundreds of years between Spain and Morocco through permanent cultural exchanges, and the good memories from the era of intellectual and material wealth, led Moroccan composers to adore this significant element of the Jewish music heritage. This fact justifies in a way the title, which I chose for this paper – "Hebrew Music in Morocco."

The music theory of this heritage evolved from the music theory of Arabian music, throughout the course of the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Two tone systems were recognized, a Greek and an Arabian, which differ from each other in the way tetrachords were divided. The Arabian theory illustrates its tone system through the lute– the most used instrument by Arabian musicians since pre–Islamic times. It is known that Arabian music theory derived directly from the musical practice of the lute, which had led to divergence from Greek theory.

The Arabian tone system includes more than seventy modes, or maqam rows, which are based on heptatonic scales constructing intervals from augmented, major, medium, and minor second intervals. This system was carefully searched and written not before the nineteenth century, when the twenty–four tones within one octave were established as the basic vocabulary of Arabian musicians. The origins of the maqams varied from Persia (Iran), Azarbijan (Armenia), Turkey, Iraq, and Buchara (Russia). Many Moroccan musical instruments came from this area too, including the ud, santur, and kannoon.

Each maqam genre has approximately twenty other sub–modes, which use similar characteristics of the main tone row. There are four most common maqam. The first one is the chijaz, the most common one. In the key of G, the chijaz's notes will spell: G, A, 1/4Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G. The next maqam is the rust, and it is considered a major–scale maqam. Rust in the key of G will spell: G, A, 1/4Bb, C, D, 1/4Eb, F, G. The third maqam is bayati, and in the key of G it will spell: G, A, 1/4 Bb, C, E, F, G. The last common maqam is the sabach, which also has a minor–scale sound. In the key of A it will spell: A, B, C#, D, E, F, G. There are about twenty–eight different basic maqam with twenty other sub–modes, and for each sub–mode there are few versions.

The next important components in Moroccan music are the distinctive rhythmic patterns and meters. The two main Moroccan rhythmic patterns are the malfuf and the tcheeftateli. The most common one is the malfuf, which means rapped–around, or return. In other words, it functions like the Baroque repeated bass line, the basso ostinato. In the malfuf, is the rhythmic pattern that keeps repeating itself again. The first beat is always accented with a low bass sound on the darbuka (Dumbek). In the tcheeftateli pattern, the accent is on the second and the fourth beat, just like in jazz. The meters in Moroccan music are varied, and the most common ones are: 12/8, 11/8, 9/8, 8/8, 7/8, 6/8, 5/4, 4/4, 3/4.

The music in Morocco and the tradition of Andalusian music was maintained, both in and outside of the synagogue. During prayers it is possible to find both general– Sepharadic secular tunes and Jewish–Portuguese melodies. Also, you could hear psalmodists alongside the Chazan, adding the beauty of their voices to the hymns, imaginatively and in good taste. He would sing a section concluding with the name of the man, groom, or bar–mitzvah boy being called up to the Torah reading. Talented psalmodists present the Bakashot (Requests), a summary of the Nouba, the most highly developed kind of Andalusian music, the climax of Andalusian art.

The Nouba is a suite of songs and instrumental sections, arranged according to a strict order of expression, with a vocal improvisations of the Inshad and Mawal (Arabic scales) kind.

The orchestra which takes part in the Nouba (Weekdays) includes usually an ud (Five–strings lute instrument), a kamanza (A kind of violin), tara (Framed drum) and darbuka (Clay or metal drum with stretched animal skin ). The orchestra that appears on weekdays at family celebrations also includes women, who take part in the dance, singing the Shicha. The woman singer usually adds harmony to the orchestra, accenting her singing with body movements, or belly dancing. Another institution in which women were the main participants is the Mekaneot, the women–mourners: chanting doleful verses at family mourning and sad occasions.

One example of Hebrew Moroccan chant, which was sung in the synagogue is Yigdal shem ha–el, which means "God’s name will grow." This particular song is part of a rare recording, the only recording of the Chazan Rabbi David Bouzaglo, which was made in 1957 in Casablanca. Until then, Rabbi David Bouzaglo refused to be recorded because of religious reasons.

The song was written by an anonymous composer. The genre is Piyyut (Religious song) which functions as requests for Sabbath evening of the Bible's section –– Va Yera. Its meter is eleven syllables. In other words, since there is not an actual meteric sign in this particular song, the poet divides each line into the same number of syllables. For example, in the first line there are eleven syllables, therefore the meter is eleven counts. This technique creates the rhythm and the meter of these chants. Its Arabic genre is Nouba (Suite), known as group of songs. The maqam mode/scale is al–higaz–al–mashraqi . Characteristic for the modes of this genre is the descending sequence of seconds (Minor–augmented–minor), leading to the final tone. The maqam row of the hijaz constitutes the mode of this genre: G, A, 1/4Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G, F, E, D, C#, Bb, A, G, F#, Eb, D.

The first verse has a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic languages: Hebrew: Yig–dal shem ha–el be–fi kol ha–ye–tzur Meter: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 . This meter repeats in all lines, and its meaning is "God's name will grow in every creature." Arabic: Sar kal–bi wal–eis an–di li–man na–mor , which means, "My heart got lost and I have no one to lean on."€Hebrew: Ye–chi–da–ti lo ma–tzah la kan d–ror , which means, "My only one did not find nest of freedom."€Arabic: Ke–rav–ti naph–shi wal–eis ta–tik tach–mal, which means, "My soul got closer but it fell to carry the burden of life. "Arabic: Kif nog–fal kal–bi nach–u–so yit–pa–tel, which means, "My heart suddenly awaken, and I felt it crawling inside."

The loyalty of the Jewish–Moroccan composer to the Andalusian music can be shown also in the converting technique of Hebrew text with the original Arabic text. The meter of the Hebrew language fits perfectly the meter of the Arabic, and even imitates its connection syllables: Ya–la–lan, and Na–na–na. Moreover, they harmonized with each other, and their melodic lines are parallel. However, their contents and the subjects they deal with are totally different. The Jewish poet writes secular songs about praise, desire, and wine. His thematic materials are based on the conflicts of the belief, the prayer, the praise of God, the exile, and the redemption.

This double–text song successfully displays the fusion of the Andalusian music with the Hebrew poetry. The above example contains alternating rhymes in Hebrew and in Arabic, which are equal in their number of syllables. In Hebrew, the poet praises the power of God and reveals the confusions of his suffering soul. On the other hand, the Arabic poet hints on his hopeless love, and on his distant lover.

Having analyzed Hebrew Moroccan Chant, I have attempted to prove that the Hebrew Jewish tunes as we know it did not originate on Palestinian soil, but were indeed those brought over from the other major Mediterranean centers. Also it showed me how Arabian–Moroccan life and music were basically the most significant influences on Hebrew music in Morocco and in other Jewish communities throughout the World. As an Israeli–Moroccan–Jewish composer, I feel obligated to study my ancestor's heritage in order to find my identity as a person, and as a composer.


Yoel Ben-Simhon 2004 Sultana Music - iBox Powered