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Muwashshah (موشح muwaššaḥ literally means "girdled" in Classical Arabic; plural muwāshshaḥāt موشحات or tawāshīḥ تواشيح) is the name for both an Arabic poetic form and a secular musical genre. The poetic form consists of a multi-lined strophic verse poem written in classical Arabic, usually consisting of five stanzas, alternating with a refrain with a running rhyme. It was customary to open with one or two lines which matched the second part of the poem in rhyme and meter; in North Africa poets ignore the strict rules of Arabic meter while the poets in the East follow them. The musical genre of the same name uses muwaššaḥ texts as lyrics, still in classical Arabic. This tradition can take two forms: the waṣla of Aleppo and the Andalusi nubah of the western part of the Arab world.
The poetic form
Examples of muwaššaḥ poetry start to appear as early as the 9th or 10th century. The full sense of the word is thought to come from the Syriac word mušaḥta (ܡܘܫܚܬܐ) meaning "rhythm" or "a psalm verse". The earliest muwaššaḥs in the Levant are thought to have been heavily influenced by the Syriac sacral music even retaining refrains in Syriac. Some relate it the word for a type of double-banded ornamental belt, the wišaḥ. The underlying idea is that, as there is a single rhyme running through the refrain of each stanza, the stanzas are like objects hung from a belt.
The musical genre
Musically, the ensemble consists of oud (lute), kamanja (spike fiddle), qanun (box zither), darabukkah (goblet drum), and daf (tambourine): the players of these instruments often double as a choir. The soloist performs only a few chosen lines of the selected text. In Aleppo multiple maqam rows (scales) and up to three awzān (rhythms) are used and modulation to neighboring maqamat was possible during the B section[clarification needed]. Until modernization it was typical to present a complete waslah, or up to eight successive muwaššaḥ including an instrumental introduction (sama'i or bashraf). It may end with a longa.
- Touma 1996, p. 71.
- http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/syriac/dosearch.php?searchkey=17007&language=id DIffinition of ܡܘܫܚܬܐ in Classical Syriac
- تعريف الموشحات الأندلسية, Al-Lutus Al-Muhajir
- Touma 1996, p. 83.
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- Touma, Habib Hassan (1996). The Music of the Arabs, trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0-931340-88-8.
- Zwartjes, Otto (1997). Love songs from al-Andalus: history, structure, and meaning of the kharja. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10694-4.
- Zwartjes, Otto & Heijkoop, Henk (2004). Muwassah, zajal, kharja: bibliography of eleven centuries of strophic poetry and music from al-Andalus and their influence on East and West. Leiden-Boston: Brill. ISBN 90-04-13822-6.