Form and Structure of Andalusian Music
The building blocks of Andalusian music are nubahs. Tradition maintains that at its creation Andalusian music contained 24 nubah, one for each hour of the day. However, in Morocco, only 11 of the original 24 survive, and the 11 surviving nubah are occasionally missing fragments. Moroccan nubah are each 6-7 hours long, so they are rarely performed in their entirety.
There is no written music for each nubah, so performers are free to create their own, within the guidelines of the genre. The text of the traditional 11 nubahs was published in 1789 by Mohammed al-Haik, along with the authors and melodies of the poems. Mohammed al-Haik's songbook remains the definitive source on classical Andalusian music in Morocco.
"The impact of the Kunnash of Al-Haik has been extraordinary in Morocco. So much so that the entire repertory, which probably has over 900 individual instrumental and vocal pieces, in Morocco is now only performed in the order that these songs appear in the Kunnash of Al-Haik from the late 18th century. That’s an extraordinary change from what probably preceded the writing of the Kunnash, an oral tradition in which thewould be performed by various different pieces that were chosen by the master musician or of a particular ensemble at the moment of performance or perhaps arranged a little bit ahead of time." - Dwight Reynolds, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, and Chair of Islamic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of California
Each nubah is divided into five sections, called mizan. Each mizan is composed in a specific rhythm, so each nubah has five rhythms. The mizan is then further divided up into movements. Each mizan begins with a slow section, called mouwassa, which then moves into the more lively mahzouz, and finally to the stronger insiraf. Individual songs in each mizan are linked by their common rhythm.
The order of the mizan is as follows:
- al-Basit (6/4)
- al-Qaim wa-nsif (8/4)
- al-Btaïhi (8/4)
- ad-Darij (4/4)
- al-Quoddam (3/4 or 6/8)
At the beginning of each nubah is an arrhythmic introduction, called boughia or mchalia. This introduction sets the mood of the nubah. It is followed by the touchiya, a rhythmic instrumental section that indicates what mizan the singing will begin with. Some nubahs have lost the touchiya, in which case the singing begins directly after the boughia.
The poems sung are strophic, alternating verses and choruses, and are composed in one of two Andalusian genres: mouwachah, written in classical Arabic, and zajal, written in colloquial Arabic. The subject matter of the songs varies widely, ranging from the religious to the romantic. Instrumental breaks are often inserted in between individual songs within the mizan. Sections of instrumental or vocal improvisation can also be used to connect mizans.
"Perhaps the late 19th century marks the moment in which that door to creative additions is closed and people begin thinking of it more as something which is a heritage from the past–a–that has to be preserved and one should change not at all...If you can imagine having all of the symphonies of Western classical music in a particular order, and the idea that wherever you might choose to start that everyone would know exactly where you’re going to go from that point on, because they had already been set in a pre-organized series." - Dwight Reynolds
The modes (toubou') of Andalusian music can be divided into the following three types:
- Gregorian modes, which can be traced to the Gregorian chants sung prior to the Muslim conquest of Spain. The remaining presence of Gregorian modes in Andalusian music is further proof that the music has not evolved much since its early days.
- Pentatonic modes, used primarily by the Berbers in Morocco. These modes have been slightly altered from their Berber usage.
- Artificial modes, created by combining the tetrachords of two different scales, or by highlighting one or two secondary degrees of a scale.