That in its own would not seem troubling at first, as the man was just playing his oud as part of an exhibition on Moroccan culture, and not giving a speech.

What troubled me was that I could not really tell whether he was improvising all the time or whether he was playing a classical melody and my ear was just not accustomed to hearing and understanding Moroccan music. What he was playing sounded a bit like this song here (which I found on this site), but without an discernible pauses and with a smaller variety concerning the pitch. But was he playing the exact same sequence of sounds he was playing 30 seconds earlier? I couldn’t tell. So I asked him.

He said that he was actually improvising on classical harmonies (and he played the “scales” for me, which didn’t sound anything like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do at all). He then went on to play some classical melodies which did sound more “melody” like, but I still could not have repeated (by whistling/humming) anything he was playing. He then said that “usually” there would be a singer and probably a taarja player (see the images here). I would have liked to discuss more but then one of the organizers shooed me away, as the guy was supposed to play his oud and not give lessons about music theory.

Even with a bit of explanation, it is still really, really difficult for me to “understand” this music. Just to quote a bit from the Wikipedia article:

“Morocco is home to Andalusian classical music that is found throughout North Africa. It probably evolved under the Moors in Cordoba, and the Persian-born musician Ziryab is usually credited with its invention. Ziryab invented the nuba, a suite which forms the basis of al-âla, the primary form of Andalusian classical music today, along with Gharnati and Malhun.

There used to be twenty-four nuba linked to each hour of the day, but only four nuba have survived in their entirety, and seven in fragmentary form. An entire nuba can last six or seven hours and are divided into five parts called mizan, each with a corresponding rhythm. The rhythms occur in the following order in a complete nuba:

  1. basît (6/4)
  2. qaum wa nusf (8/4)
  3. darj (4/4)
  4. btâyhi (8/4)
  5. quddâm (3/4 or 6/8)

Each mizan begins with instrumental preludes called either tuashia, m’shaliya or bughya, followed by as many as twenty songs (sana’a) in the entire mizan.”

It’s both fascinating and sad how non-universal music is.


Somewhat unrelated: I knew what an aqueduct was, but I had never heard of a “qanat” (or Khettara) before.