You are here:   Home  /  Podcast  /  054 – The Sawt in the Arabian Gulf, Durūb al-Nagham

054 – The Sawt in the Arabian Gulf, Durūb al-Nagham



Hamad Khalifa Ya ghossein el Baan

The Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Durūb al-Nagham”. 

Dear listeners,

Welcome to a new episode of “Durūb al-Nagham”.

Today, we will be discussing the awt form that we have read about in the music books of the Abbasid era.

This form has changed since that time and exists today in Yemen as well as in the countries of the Arabian Gulf.

In today’s episode, we will focus on the awt form in the Arabian Gulf, specifically in Kuwait. The discussion will be conducted by Mr. Kamal Kassar and an expert on the subject, Mr. Ahmad al-Salihi.

Ahmad al-Salihi

Ahmad al-Salihi

The awt is:

– a vocal form that includes awt and other types that are not called awt.

– a rhythm. 

Let us first discuss the awt as a rhythm. There are 3 or 4 rhythm types: the 6/4 awt ‘arabī; the 4/4 awt shāmī; the fast 12/8 awt khayālī or khayyālī.

Now concerning the awt as a form: there are other fann –that are not awt– that are only performed in a awt jalsa, such as the istimā‘ and the khitām.

The istimā‘ is the first vocal part in the jalsa (in the past). Within a jalsa, the muṭrib first plunks the ūd and sings a istimā‘ –an ordinary song with no percussion accompaniment. There may be a ūd, a violin, and a qānūn, but no percussions, even though the singing is muwaqqa‘… it is not a mawwāl. After the istimā‘, he sings awt.


Before going to the awt, would you play a istimā‘ for us?


After the istimā‘, he performs the two major forms, i.e. the awt ‘arabī and the awt shāmī that remain, to-date, the two most important forms of the awt.


What is the awt ‘arabī?

Following the rhythm categorization, the awt ‘arabī’s meter is 6/4 while the awt shāmī is a little fast, i.e. 4/4. There are of course many different melodies, and all of them are sung in turn, i.e. when the muṭrib sings awt ‘arabī, he sings awt shāmī at the end of the melody, then shifts to another awt ‘arabī… etc. He inserts one awt khayālī in the middle then goes back to the awt ‘arabī then the shāmī or the other way around. The jalsa ends with a form called the khitām or khatm. Today the khitām is played as a awt khayālī, while it was played in the past to the 3/4 rhythm, particular to this form –recorded and documented. The khitām form is a unique melody supporting different lyrics such as local poems, either nabaṭ, or literary, or Yemeni ḥumaynī, or any other existing poem that can be sung in this form, yet always to one unique melody.


What do you mean by one unique melody?

One same melody. Consequently, the Gulf artist had to be creative, and add variations mostly to the performance and a little to the maqām. The melody is originally to the bayyātī, played either to the ḥusaynī or to the ḥijāz. They performed variations or musical additions, but in the end the melody remained the same. It is supposed to be accompanied by percussions… it is initially.



Is there a unique maqām in the awt’s faṣl?

There is no unique maqām, rhythm, or poem. The only common unique ground is the structuring of the forms, nothing else. There is no common element linking the songs.


Not even the maqām…?

Not even the maqām.

I have mentioned that the awt form includes the awt fann as well as other types: the istimā‘ and the khitām. The khitām of course is not called awt khitām. It is only a khitām not a awt, and the same goes for the istimā‘.


Is the awt itself sung by only one muṭrib within the faṣl?

All the songs are performed solo, but this does not necessarily imply the presence of only one muṭrib in the jalsa. Many can participate in this fann and the same muṭrib is not required to perform all the sections of the faṣl. For example, the khitām marks the end of the jalsa. Nothing can be performed after that. It is as if we were saying: “let’s eat, the performance is over”.


What is the duration of this faṣl in a regular jalsa?

Around 2 to 3 hours.

The traditional faṣl –today’s faṣl is different– starts with a istimā‘ followed by awt ‘arabī and awt shāmī that extend the duration of the faṣl as they are repeated with different melodies and added with awt khayālī. It ends with the khitām or the khatm. This is the structure of the faṣl, yet the number of awt ‘arabī and awt shāmī may vary between 8, 6, or 7. It all depends on the mood of the jalsa

Here is an example of awt ‘arabī.



What did we just listen to?

A awt ‘arabī.


What else do we have?

The awt shāmī.


The 4/4 awt shāmī?




The awt khayālī



So this was the awt’s faṣl that we talked about.

The awt itself includes specific parts: first, the percussions-free istimā‘ in the beginning of the jalsa. Then the khitām that has a specific rhythm –rare today– that ends the jalsa and is of a particular nature. In the past, the awt ‘arabī and the awt shāmī sometimes included two awt. They ended with a section called tawshīḥa or tawshīḥ. Thus, the muṭrib performing a tawshīḥ marked the beginning of the end of the concerned melody. While the awt khayālī does not include any tawshīḥ and is closer to an ordinary song, with the addition of the mirwās. In Kuwait, the tawshīḥa shared –in the past– the same rhythm and maqām with the melody of the original awt: if the awt were to the ḥusaynī maqām, the tawshīḥ was also to the ḥusaynī; if the awt were to the rāst maqām, the tawshīḥ was also to the rāst; and if the awt were to the sīkāh maqām, the tawshīḥ was also to the sīkāh.


So the tawshīḥ comes at the end of the awt…?

Yes, the tawshīḥ is the last section, the last quarter of the awt.

The tawshīḥ is rich: it may either be instrumental, or both instrumental and vocal. It must end with taqsīm that are normally the last part of the awt. Today, the tawshīḥ has become essential, whereas in the past awt ‘arabī or awt shāmī could end without it or without a taqsīm. Today, all awt ‘arabī and awt shāmī include taqsīm and a tawshīḥ.


Could you play a tawshīḥ for us?


As I mentioned earlier, it used to have a unique rhythm and it still does, whereas the maqām is not a unique maqām anymore.


The tawshīḥ is to the same rhythm and maqām of the awt…?

It used to be. But today only the rhythm is the same, while when it comes to the maqām, most performers play a specific tawshīḥa or one of the tawshīḥa’s melodies… one unique melody.

I will mention the melody known until today. If I were singing a awt to the ḥijāz for example…


I played one paragraph of the awt followed by the famous awt shāmī tawshīḥa “Yā Umm ‘Amrūh”.

There is another awt ‘arabī melody.

I will sing a part of the awt


The end of the awt’s part then the tawshīḥ.


The following awt ‘arabī tawshīḥa, like the awt shāmī tawshīḥa we have just listened to, is to the rāst maqām.



What are the instruments required for the performance of a awt?

Two essential instruments are required for the performance of a awt: the ūd and the mirwās (ṭabl dedicated to the performance of the awt).


What does the mirwās look like?

The mirwās is circular and covered with leather on both sides. It is held in one hand and played with the other. In order to play the dum and the tak, the finger’s position on the leather changes, while the other hand controlling the rhythm moves in a specific way to help perform the dum or the tak… Playing the mirwās requires a complex technique, completely untraditional, and that has no equivalent in the entire world. Thus, the awt requires the ūd and the mirwās. Other instruments such as the violin, the nāy and the qānūn can be added. But they are not essential to performing a awt, while there can be no awt without a mirwās.

I just played a awt only with a ūd. Anyone who knows awt will know this was a awt… but these fann can’t be performed like that. They require a mirwās.

So these were the instruments for the performance of a awt. There can be no other percussion instrument besides the mirwās

At a certain point in time that I call the Egyptian phase in the History of Kuwaiti music, i.e. in the 50’s and 60’s, some awt were performed with a mirwās and a riqq –that we call daff. But this does not represent the true jalsa performance. 




Muḥammad Khalīfa with Badr uwayhel on Merwas

Muḥammad Khalīfa with Badr uwayhel on Merwas


Muḥammad Khalīfa

Muḥammad Khalīfa

To end this episode, which recording of awt performed with ūd and mirwās will you play for us?


Let us listen to a recording made on a shellac disc as well as on a plastic disc of muṭrib Muḥammad Khalīfa singing awt “Yā ghuēn el-bān”.


  2014  /  Podcast  /  Last Updated April 2, 2014 by  /  Tags:
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien