Form and Structure of Malhun Music
The poetic form of Malhun is called qasida. Each line of the qasida is divided into two parts (hemistichs). Classical Arab qasidas establish the rhyme and meter in the first stanza and maintain them throughout the entire poem. Andalusian poets altered this structure, creating new strophic rhyme schemes that grouped together lines of different lengths. This poetic form is known as muwashshah. The qasida of Malhun follows the same structure as the muwashshah; it is strophic in form. The rhyme schemes can be simple (four lines following aaab, for example), but can also be more complex and even approach free verse.
"The authors of qasida compose poems in their heads that they then confide to the memory of the of a haffad [hafiz] or rawi who then teaches them to the siah musicians. These [hafiz] also chant accompanied by a violin and the ta'rija, then with the aliyin, who sing classical Andalusian music, having an orchestra formed of lute, two stringed rebab, the long-bodied drum, the tarr, and the violin."- Earle H. Waugh, Memory, Music, and Religion: Morocco's Mystical Chanters
The leading instrument of the Malhun ensemble is the ta'rija, usually played by the lead singer.
"According to legend, the ta'rija was introduced to the Malhun ensemble by Jilali Mtired from the 'other world,' where the great poet-singer entertained the spirits at a wedding party...the lead singer uses it to measure his own singing and to control the rhythm and tempo of the orchestra; and in instrumental interludes or at the end of a song, to add rhythmic energy to the performance, polyrhythmic improvisations are played with a supporting ta'rija." - Philip D. Schulyer, "Malhun: Colloquial Song in Morocco"
An arrhythmic, instrumental introduction, called a taqsim, generally begins each song. Instrumental solos are common in this introduction, and soloistic vocal improvisations less commonly occur as well. The song sometimes then moves into the recitation of a short poem, often written anonymously. This section can be distinguished from the rest of the song by its quick tempo, asymmetrical rhythm (5/8) and antiphonal style.
The main qasida generally begins with a chorus (harba), sung by the lead singer. During this section, the instrumental accompaniment is sparse, with an overwhelming focus on the vocals. The harba is repeated in chorus, and then instrumentally. The solo singer then sings the verses (didka), interspersed by more repetitions of the harba, each time in three sections: solo, chorus, and instrumental.
Throughout the performance, stanzas may be interspersed with short lines of poetry sung antiphonally. The singer may also modulate the melody throughout the qasida. At the end of the qasida, the tempo accelerates into a 5/8 or 6/8 meter, and the harba is repeated several times to end the song. The singer then typically leads an arrhythmic vocal melisma at the end of the performance, to return the melody to the tonic.