The waṣla is the base supporting the performance of Arabic Classical Music. It constitutes a part of a musical concert. Thus we would have: a waṣla followed by an intermission, then another waṣla, or such. The waṣla reached its modern form during the second half of the 19th century. In his book “Al-mūsīqī al-sharqī” (The Oriental Musician) published in 1904, Muḥammad Kāmil al-Khula’ī defines it in page 89 as follows:
“It starts with the bashrāwāt –a Turkish form– because they constitute its origin, followed by the muwashshaḥāt –because they are derived from it, even though they are old. After the muwashshaḥāt, the singer chants a qaṣīda or a mawwāl accompanied by an instrument like a ‘ūd or a qānūn. This is called the taqsīm. During this period, the Egyptians were passionate listeners of simple adwār for their easy lyrics, understandable meanings, and light performance. They used to chant along with the mughannnī the first part of the dawr called the madhhab, then, if the mughannnī had a nice voice, he would sing the dawr alone or with a little help from a partner. If not, then he would seek the assistance of one, two, or three other singers according to his wish. The conclusion consists in repeating the madhhab followed by the dawārij (plural of dārij) then by a short break. This is called the first chapter or the first waṣla. They would resume singing following the previous pattern up to the third waṣla. At the end of the concert, either the singer would chant a qaṣīda alone, or they would perform a lāzima to accompany him while he chants verses equal to their lāzima in terms of measure.”
We can deduct from the previous text that the waṣla’s structure during the Arabic Music Nahḍa –second half of the 19th century– was made of three inter-related stages.
According to Nidā’ Abū Murād, their inter-relation was built as follows:
Stage 1: The thesis. A pre-composed form or more, where the fixed elements exceed the improvisations. These allowed improvisations abide by metric measures, i.e. the variations do not go beyond the notes of the melody that is pre-composed to the samā‘ī bashraf, or dūlāb. The singing performance consists in the performance of the muwashshaḥ –this preparatory stage introduces to the performers as well as to the listeners the “maqām” thesis that will be worked on throughout the waṣla.
It is the leisurely and light aspect of the whole work.
Stage 2: The antithesis. The thesis is turned upside down. Improvisations take the lead, and metric rhythm supersedes kinetic cyclic rhythm. It contains fālita (free) and muwaqqa‘a (measured) taqāsīm, and qaṣīda mursala or mawwāl as to the singing performance. It is known as the salṭana stage of the highest levels of interaction among the performers, as well as between them and the listeners.
It is the strict and rigid aspect of the whole work.
Stage 3: The synthesis. This stage combines thesis and antithesis, fixed elements and improvisation, in a dialogue among the performers. It includes the taḥmīla and the dārij, as well as the dawr and the qaṣīda to the waḥda as to the singing performance.
This stage combines the leisurely and light aspect with the strict and rigid aspect with improvised melodic variations added to the fixed elements, as well as new improvised tunes through interference and dialogue as in the taḥmīla or the henk in the dawr.
When recording saw the light, the longest continuous duration possible of a recording did not exceed 5 minutes at best, while the waṣla’s performance exceeded 30 minutes. Thus there were three possible solutions: to divide the waṣla, to compress it, or both.
Let us now listen to a compressed waṣla recorded by “Sama‘ al-Mulūk” –daughter company of German Beka Record Company. This Arabic brand name was exclusively created by Beka to record the performances of the most famous early 20th century muṭrib Sheikh Yūsuf al-Manyalāwī referred to by record companies as the “Caruso of Arabs”. That is why he deserved a brand name exclusively designed for him by Beka: “Sama‘ al-Mulūk” (The Music of Kings).
This waṣla was recorded in 1905 on three 27cm record sides, order # 1243, 1244, and 1245.
The waṣla starts with a dūlāb, a short instrumental introduction to the ḥijāz kār maqām that is the maqām of the waṣla. It is followed by the first dawr only of muwashshaḥ “Isqinī al-rāḥ” composed by Muḥammad Afandī ‘Uthmān and whose writer is unknown,. Sheikh Yūsuf then skips the taqsīm, the layālī, and the mawwāl, and jumps directly to dawr “Allāh yṣūn dawlit ḥusnak” written by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Qurrā‘a –a Sheikh at the Azhar mosque at the time–, composed by ‘Abduh Afandī al-Ḥāmūlī. He concludes with muwashshaḥ dārij “Afẓīhi ẓabyan ibtasam”, whose writer and composer are unknown.
Sheikh Yūsuf al-Manyalāwī is accompanied by Takht Muḥammad Afandī Al-‘Aqqād (qānūn), probably Aḥmad Afandī al-Laythī (‘ūd), and ‘Alī Afandī ‘Abduh Ṣāliḥ (nāy).
Let us now listen to Sheikh Abū al-‘Ilā Muḥammad singing the following compressed waṣla recorded by Gramophone a little less than ten years after the previous one on four 25cm record sides, order # G.C.-15-12731, G.C.-15-12732, 14-12633, 14-12634, matrix # 2612 Y, 2613 Y, 2614 Y, 2615 Y.
This waṣla is not introduced by an instrumental passage as a waṣla usually is. The instrumental introduction is limited to one measure to the 10-pulse samā‘ī thaqīl. It hints at the bayyātī maqām that is the maqām of the muwashshaḥ following it, and of course the maqām of the whole waṣla. After that, the biṭāna chants the first dawr of muwashshaḥ “Imlā lī el-aqdāḥ” composed by Abū Khalīl al-Qabbānī, followed by a layālī taqsīm between Sheikh Abū al-‘Ilā’s voice and Muḥammad Afandī Al-‘Aqqād’s qānūn, then by mawwāl “ēh el-‘amal fī fu’ādī”. Sheikh Abū al-‘Ilā then skips the dawr and jumps to a qaṣīda to the waḥda rhythmic cycle titled “Yā malīḥ al-ḥulā”.
The Sheikh is accompanied by Muḥammad Al-‘Aqqād (qānūn), Sāmī al-Shawwā (kamān), and Ibrāhīm al-Qabbānī (‘ūd).
Thank you for listening.
We promise to present to you an uncompressed waṣla recorded at the Egyptian National Radio in our next episode about the waṣla.
This episode was brought to you by Muṣṭafa Sa‘īd.