Amar Foundation presents: Min Al-Tarikh
Mustafa Said: Dear friends, welcome to a new episode of min At-tarikh in which we continue, together with the great musicologist Frederique Lagrange, our discussion about Sheikh Zakariyya Ahmed. Today, we continue with the trio bayram, Zakariyya and Thuma.
Today’s tune is one of the last, if not the last, tune which was composed in the modal progressive system or what is mentioned in the heritage books as “Talheen Al-Tareeqa”, i.e., composing on a certain progression special for each maqam. The most famous form used with Talheen Al-Tareeqa is the Dawr especially after the mathhab which is the pre-composed head, where there’s an exchange between the pre-composed and the improvised. This needs a lot of explanation, and that requires a long series of episodes. Let’s, then, proceed to today’s tune.
Frederique Lagrange: There’s another song to which I don’t listen so often probably because it’s the best in Om-Kolthoum’s art. I cannot bear it.
M: Neither do I.
F: you feel it so heavy that one may listen to it once or twice a year maximum. It’s not one of these songs that one may play so often as it requires a lot of concentration. It’s a song that we have recently discovered amongst her wealth as we lived for a long time only with its commercial recording. Thanks to the internet, a second version appeared followed by a third. Now, this song, whose title we’ve not yet exposed, has three versions.
M: The first version I heard was not the commercial version, but one of the other versions in which El-Qassabgi starts the recording. This was the first version I heard in Sawt El-Arab Radio as a rare recording.
F: you were very lucky.
M: I captured it on a cassette tape. Since then, I feel the same when I listen to this tune, but for my own reasons that I think you know, I cannot listen to it very often. It takes me into a very silent state, sometimes for days. It’s El-Awwila Fel-Gharam. What is the occasion for it yabou Shona?
F: the occasion for El-Awwila Fel-Gharam? Was there a special occasion for it?
M: It’s said to be an elegy for Sheikh Zakariyya’s son.
F: Oh, really?!
F: Ok, you taught me something. I never knew that it was linked to an event.
M: More than one person said that it was made by Bayram El-Tunsi and Sheikh Zakariyya Ahmed as an elegy for the latter’s son. Before and after this tune, Om-Kolthoum never sang in this broken manner.
F: What is so strange is that we feel this broken state in the three versions.
F: by the way, it’s one of the rare cases in which the commercial version is as good as the other versions if not even the best of them. It only lacks the musical introduction and El-Qassabgi’s oud.[Listen to the intro of El-Awwila Fel-Gharam followed by improvisations by Mohammed El-Qassabgi.].
F: We began to understand the melody of El-Awwila Fel Gharam when we had obtained the alternative versions. It was really difficult to distinguish between Zakariyya’s melody and Om-Kolthoum’s additions. We talked once about that, and I remember that you’ve a very correct viewpoint in this respect, i.e., it’s impossible, not only difficult but impossible, and it’s absurd to search for what belongs to Bayram, to Zakariyya or to Om-Kolthoum in this song El-Awwila Fel-Gharam, because this is the best example of the absolute unity between the three of them.
M: It makes me always silent. I never know what to say about it. That was a year ago exactly, correct.
M: Yes, it was a year exactly. This tune has never been surpassed. One can never understand it. It’s really strange.
F: This tune is one of the landmarks of Arab music. It must be studied in minute details. Each of the movements in the melody is brilliant.
M: Look, even the lyrics: “El-Awwila Fel Gharam bel-hobb Amarouni. Wet-tania bel-imtithal wes-sabr amarouni.” Then, “El-Awwila fel gharam wel-hobb shabakouni benazrit ain.” Then, “Aadit Laheebi”. Look how the words evolve together with the melody: what was done by Sheikh Zakariyya and what was done by Om-Kolthoum! Sometimes man, I have thoughts that Bayram may have even participated in the musical composition, equally, Sheikh Zakariyya may have participated in the lyrics, or the three of them.
F: The three of them made a single being. They milted in a single being inhabited by music. I suggest that we insert a part of the song from the three versions.
M: the same extract from the three versions.
F: It won’t ever be the same extract.
M: I mean the same lyrical part.
F: The Chefte-telli part.
M: “Safir fi Yom ma-waidni”.
F: Yes, “Safir fi Yom ma-waidni”. Let’s compare “Safir fi Yom ma-waidni”.[Listen to the above-mentioned comparison].
F: And also “Hatteit Ala’l-Alb Eedi”. This also needs to be compared in all the versions because each of them has a unique characteristic which doesn’t exist in the others.[Listen to the second comparison].
F: The Bayyati part which is found in one of the alternative versions [it’s played].
M: Wow Wow Wow ya sayyidna. The difference of the progression in the three recordings in the couple of examples mentioned before is a good example of the progressive composition mentioned in the beginning of the episode. We conclude this episode with a full recording of El-Awwila Fel-Gharam from a concert given by Om-Kolthoum in El-Ahli club on the 2nd of November 1950. Until we meet again in a new episode in which we continue talking about Sheikh Zakariyya Ahmed, we leave you with Om-Kolthoum, Sheikh Zakariyya and Bayram El-Tunsi, and the beautiful ensemble El-Qassabgi’s Oud, Ahmed El-Hefnawi, Mohammed Abdu Salih, Ibrahim Afeefi, Sayyid Salim and many others and the gorgeous audience which is part of the performance of the ensemble. Stay well.