Music is a very diverse and complicated field of study. Diverse in the sense that it is extremely hard to put laws to what works and what doesn’t, there are simply many genres that are developed and built in extremely different ways, therefore no one can really say this is the law and this is how music is done! One might be able to talk about what is generally acceptable in his/her genre of specialty, however that does not mean everyone else should follow the same procedure when performing, composing or rehearsing music, even if they work with the same genre.
Ever since I was a child, music was my dream, it was the only thing I had patience to sit down and do for extended periods of time. Since I was twelve I was sure that I was going to study music once I finished high school. I started learning music at a very young age, I was 4 years old; in the beginning, I started playing the Violin, however the instrument that I really wanted to play was actually the Oud, but the teachers refused to teach me as they thought I was too young for that. I stayed with Violin until I was 7, and that is when Mr. Ahmad al Khatib finally came to teach at the music conservatory in Ramallah, and he was the one who agreed to teach me the oud. I came to Sweden to study with him again, and now I am about to finish my bachelors here.
While studying at the conservatory in Ramallah, I took my instrument very seriously, not because I was told to do so but because I was always interested and curious about Arabic Classical Music, and I was always motivated to getting better, I aimed to become as good of a Oud player as my teacher, and I still have that aim. Through out the years, I studied with many excellent teachers, including Simon Shaheen who is a renowned Oudist, Violinist and composer through out the United States, Europe, and of course the Arab World. Having good musical and instrumental education was a big part of why I remained attached to pursuing a musical career, and did not drift away to do other professions like many of my fellow students eventually did.
When I turned 12, I was invited to attend the rehearsals of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra in the south of Spain, conducted by Maestro Daniel Barenboim, a very renowned and leading conductor and pianist. Before attending these workshops, I had very little interest in Western Classical Music, although that changed after hearing Beethoven’s Eroica for the very first time. I developed an interest in learning the Contrabass, I never saw the Contrabass being played the way the principal bassist of the orchestra played it. I was very small to start learning the Contrabass, so I had to wait until I turned 15 to start learning it. It was also during that time that I started listening to works of Fusion of Arabic Classical music with Western Classical music and Jazz, which motivated me even more to keep learning the Oud and the Contrabass at a very good level. Works like Simon Shaheen’s album called Blue Flame, which was a major hit, and one of the best works of Arabic Music fusions that were ever made. Also Ahmad al Khatib’s album called Karloma, that had many known compositions arranged polyphonically, which is not a very common feature of Arabic Music. Of course there are many other works of Arabic Music Fusion but not all of them are made on a good level.
I have heard so many works of Fusion of Arabic Classical music and many other genres. In the past few years, as I was studying at the World music program here in Gothenburg University, my goal became to do good Fusion music of Arabic Classical, Western Classical, and Jazz music. That is how I decided to make this subject the topic of my thesis.
In this thesis I will deal with the subject of the fusion of Arabic Classical music, particularly with Western Classical music and Jazz. I will try to establish methods of fusing Arabic music, by studying already composed works by other composers, works that I consider to be good, well made, and well performed.
I will approach this subject in many different ways. First I will talk about the instrumentation of the works being studied, the harmonies if there are any, and melodies, in addition I will also deal with the different rhythms in each work and see how these factors contribute to producing a good work of fusion, that contains the character of Arabic music, as well as that of Western Classical music and/or Jazz.
Today many musicians from all over the globe meet and make music together, develop new styles and genres. However does that mean that anything we do is going to be nice good? My answer would be no. I hope that by the end of this research I will be able to identify the good traits that make my chosen works of fusion music good, and perhaps suggest ways to proceed in the future should I decide to compose a work of fusion, I will analyze two pieces composed by Mr. Simon Shaheen, the first is Fantasie for Oud and String Quartet, and the Other is called Blue flame, both can be found in his album “Blue Flame.”
Subject (Part 1):
Let’s start with the Fantasie for Oud and String Quartet. It can be found in the album “Blue Flame” by Simon Shaheen. Or on the Youtube link bellow:
The main melody or theme of this composition is taken from a vocal work composed by one of the great Egyptian singers and composers, Mohammad Abdel Wahab, probably the most important composer in Arabic Classical Music so far. The theme is taken from the song called “Min gheir leh,” which means, “Without asking why.” The theme is taken from the end of the song. The song can be found on Youtube:
To be precise the theme starts on 38:02, here is how the theme looks like:
The theme continues in the song, but this is the part that was extracted from it and used by Simon Shaheen in the Fantasie. However Mr. Shaheen did not follow the theme strictly, instead he created his own extensions to the musical phrases above.
Mr. Shaheen’s version of the theme starts at the 44th second, it looks like this:
So as it is obvious, at the fourth bar of the score above, Mr. Shaheen continues the melody in sequences. Sequences are very common in Arabic classical music, especially in improvisation. So if we take the melody from the fourth bar and break down the sequences:
Sequence 3 (with a slight variation):
Sequence 4 (Same as 3):
So there was the creation of the main theme of the Fantasie. It is also worth looking at what the string quartet do just before the theme starts, at the 36th second, the cello and the viola play the following:
It actually sounds like a melodic groove, on a very common rhythm in Arabic classical music, but also in Cuban music and many other genres, it is not very used in Western Classical music. The rhythm looks like:
So if we take what the viola and cello play along with the percussion:
Of course the viola and cello are not only holding the groove, but they hold a G minor chord, thus having the first element of fusion in the piece, which is using the viola and cello to establish a chord on a certain Arabic rhythm, with the percussion in the background.
Lets see what the first violin and the viola play when the theme starts at the 44th second:
So the first violin is mostly playing thirds with the Oud, and the viola is playing D in the first creating a D major flat 7th chord that later on goes back to G minor in the last bar. Here it is just harmonizing the melody using counterpoint, however, by making the first violin and the viola play the off beats after the Oud, which is playing the main melody, the composer created a rhythmic harmony that sounds great with the melody, thus giving it the Arabic Classical character too.
Going on with the piece comes a variation of the main melody. On the 1:36 minute, the Oud plays a virtuoso variation of the main theme; the first part of the variation is as follows:
At this point the first and second violin play the original melody, while the viola and the cello hold the groove, so to compare what the Oud with the main melody (The first and second violins):
The Oud continues with 16th notes variation to the second part of the melody, also compared with the main melody (Played by the first violin):
Compositions based on variations are common in Western Classical Music. In this case this concept has been used on an Arabic melody, and the fact that it is being played by the Oud gives a new flavor to it.
The variation continues once again to flow in sequences as follows (1:51 of the recording):
Next comes a theme in 3, inspired by the original theme, the Oud plays the following:
Let’s have a look at another use of rhythmical counterpoint. On 3:07 in the recording the viola and the cello play unison while the violins play a rhythmical harmony. The following is what the violins play along with the cello only (since the viola plays the same as the cello):
So it is obvious that the cello is holding a constant groove and the bass tone of the chord at the same time, but the violins complete the chord in a rhythmical fashion creating once again a kind of dance vibe to the groove. It is also good to look at the beat that this particular groove was based on; it is a very common beat that is originally in 6, but can also be used in 3. I have written down the beat in both 6 and 3:
The original beat in 6/8:
The beat in 3/4:
Here, the Oud plays a variation of the theme played at (2:11), and again in sequences (3:16):
Continuing with a very interesting variation to the main theme, the Oud continues in a sextuplet variation, much similar to Western Classical virtuoso style (3:45):
And changing the mode to G Phrygian, as well as taking the time signature back to 4/4, to continue with a variation of the main melody on G Phrygian.
To compare the Phrygian variation (4:12) with the original melody:
The variation continues very similar to the original melody, but of course as said before, in Phrygian. Here comes in the use of counter point, played in the string quartet:
Referring to the score above, starting on the first bar with a C minor chord that goes to G 7th, with absent 3rd on the second bar. On the 3rd bar we have a regular G7th chord, as the third comes in. And on the 4th bar we get C minor. On the 5th bar we are still in C minor, but there is a downwards parallel motion of thirds happening between the Oud and the first violin that leads to a G major chord on the 6th bar. On the 7th bar we get E flat major chord, and on the 8th bar we get a G major chord again. This is just to show that here the use of Western style counterpoint is more dominant that the Arabic character shown previously, meaning it is important to give the Western Classical way its right in the composition.
The piece has much more variations and contrapuntal phrases. As my objective is not to write another counterpoint book I will stop here. I took a number of samples from the piece that have a clear combination of elements from both Arabic classical music, and Western classical music. I tried to isolate these elements by analyzing the rhythm, the melody and the counterpoint as well as the use of the different instruments to handle different tasks to create this work of Fusion.
Subject (Part 2):
Now it is time to take a look at Blue Flame, the Arabic Jazz fusion piece. Here is a direct link so that you can listen to it:
This is a shorter piece to analyze than the first one. A good number of people who have listened to this piece told me that it is very much composed in a Flamenco style. I must say it is true that this composition is very similar to Flamenco, but also it could very much be an Arabic tune, particularly from the Mediterranean.
The Flamenco tradition and the Arabic Classical music are very much similar in many ways. For example the use of the Phrygian mode in both genres is very common and in a very similar way.
Most notably the following phrase and variations based upon it are frequently heard in Flamenco, but also in Arabic Classical Music:
The phrase above is in C Phrygian. Since this Phrygian mode is commonly used in Arabic Classical Music. The other sound would be a mode we call Hijaz in Arabic Classical music, it is very used by foreigners when they want to compose music that indicates Arabic culture. The Hijaz scale from C looks like this:
The piece Blue Flame is mostly in G Phrygian. In the beginning of the piece, the Oud has a very powerful start, while the guitar and the Double Bass answer the Oud’s phrase. Question and Answer is commonly used in Arabic Classical. An instrument plays one part of the melody, and the other instruments answer or play the next part. The beginning of Blue Flame looks like this:
On the 10th second of the piece, the usage of the Ab major chord and the G minor chord give a feeling of Flamenco:
The transition between the Ab major to G major gives the feeling of the Hijaz mode in Arabic music, but at the same time it’s a chord transition which makes this melody sound like a Flamenco melody.
Later on in the piece, on the 18th second, comes a very virtuoso Oud phrase:
This phrase also resembles a Flamenco style of composition, as it is very fast and long, a typical Flamenco way of playing.
The combination with Jazz really starts at the 43rd second, as the Oud, Guitar, and Bass play the melody, while the Flute and the Soprano Saxophone play harmonys to it:
Here the counterpoint parallel motion of the Flute and the Soprano Saxophone acts as a very good bridge to the next phrase, which sounds very Jazzy, at least to me:
The use of chromatics in this melody gives it a Jazzy vibe, for example in the first bar and the forth bar. So the first element here is a slight use of chromatics to the main melody could insert a Jazzy feeling to it without resorting to Jazz harmony yet.
On 1:12, we have a chord progression in the Guitar and Bass along side the melody. First, let’s have a look at the melody that starts on 1:12:
Now the melody with the chord progression applied to it:
The appliance of chords to this melody, which sounds Arabic to my ears, is also a good technique towards Fusion with Jazz. Jazz is a very diverse genre, which could fit almost to all other genres of music, it adapts easily to other genres that is why Fusing Arabic music with Jazz is a bit more natural than with Western Classical Music.
Later on the Soprano Saxophone improvises on the chord progression in a pure jazzy manner, which could mean that sometimes it is important to let go and allow one style to dominate for a while. After the Saxophone plays the solo on the chord progression, the band returns to play the melody alongside the chord progression that leads us to a variation of the main melody (2:41), that is interrupted by short percussion phrases, here is the first variation:
Second variation (2:46):
As for the third variation, it is the one that leads us to change the mod to F minor, as well as the beat to 5 instead of 4:
At this point, the Oud improvises on 5 in an Arabic way; so again, the Fusion character was reduced, as the Oud is improvising in F.
After the Oud improvisation, the percussion improvises and takes us back to the 4 beat, and then we have the same variation as before, which is on 5:30, with a slight change on the third phrase. The third variation (5:45) this time looks like:
Which takes us back to the same theme heard in the beginning of the song (5:49).
This piece of work has many elements of Fusion. First the instrumentation, while the Oud is in a way the main instrument in the piece, it is accompanied by other western instruments and safe to call jazz instruments, such as the soprano saxophone and the upright bass. The other element is the use of good Jazz chord progressions on a main theme, as well as improvisation on these chord progressions, such as the beautiful saxophone improvisation. The other part which is also mutual with the Western Classical methods, and that is the use of variations, and of course, the usage of certain percussion instruments. In this case the percussion instruments used were not particularly Middle Eastern, although I have heard this piece performed by Mr. Shaheen in the United States were he had only one darbuka player with him.
Fusion is not a new phenomenon in music anymore; actually it has emerged a long time ago. However good works of fusion are becoming rare to find. I did this research because I would like to work with fusion music in the future, but also because today many people make fusion, though not all the works done are at a good level. I dealt with the fusion of Arabic Classical Music with Western Classical music and Jazz. I tried to isolate elements of fusion in two works that I consider to be well composed, and successfully represent the fusion character.
After analyzing the Fantasie for Oud and string quartet, I succeeded in identifying a few methods by which fusion of Arabic classical music and Western classical music can be made. The first method is the usage of an Arabic melody, either taken from previous compositions, or your own, since Arabic music is mostly based on heterophony melodies. The second option to proceed is to come up with different variations to the main theme, since in both genres, variations are used, although it is not necessary that one must compose variations all the time. The other part is the usage of percussion and beats from Arabic music; this works great especially if one can write the correct harmonies to be played in certain rhythms. One very important part is that deep knowledge in both genres is required to make good fusion. Respecting the rules of counterpoint and harmony is essential. Fusion doesn’t mean undermining the essence of one genre over the other.
This particular composition was composed for Oud and string quartet. This doesn’t mean that a composer should only compose for Oud and string quartet. This means that a good knowledge in Western orchestration is very important, maybe as important as knowledge in counterpoint, because only then a balanced composition can be achieved.
When doing fusion with Jazz, needless to say of course, profound knowledge and experience in Jazz is required, otherwise the work will not be at its best. It is possible to use Jazz chord progressions to an Arabic melody, however the chords must be studied and chosen carefully. While the usage of chord progressions in the composition was major, to me, the instrumentation in the piece seemed as important, if not more important. The fact that the melodies are often played by the soprano saxophone and the flute alongside the Oud plays a big part in making this work a work of Arabic Jazz fusion. More usage of intermittent chromatic melodies could be one minor method towards achieving an Arabic Jazz fusion. And the last part is improvisation, as both genres heavily use improvisation. Improvisation could be on a chord progression or free, and could be done by any instrument; for example, one could improvise on the Oud, but also follow a certain chord progression. Variations can also be used in Arabic Jazz fusion.
I cannot say what anyone should do or not do when it comes to composing works of fusion. However I can suggest a few methods that I found through examining two works. Although I cannot set a law of how to compose, I can safely say, that profound knowledge in the chosen genres is required and necessary. Without having this profound knowledge, the results will be nothing more than an ordinary attempt. I myself have a long way to go to achieve my goals. I need to study much more Western Classical harmony and counterpoint, orchestration. I also need to study Jazz at a serious level.