This is a piece I heard recently and decided to transcribe. It has a really beautiful and fascinating rhythmic structure, a fact pointed out on Facebook by Faisal Zedan. Faisal is a master percussionist from Syria with a deep knowledge of Arabic rhythms, particularly the older more complex cycles used with Muwashshahat.

This song has alternating sections in 24 and 47 beats! And it turns out it's even more interesting than that sounds.

24 has a bunch of interesting properties due to the large number of ways it can be divided (one of the main reasons we ended up with 24 hours in a day). It can be divided by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 12. So you could have several ways of grouping a meter in 24. For example:

6 groups of 4

4 groups of 6

3 groups of 8

8 groups of 3

etc.

However, the composer of this piece chose none of these. Instead, this is the structure:

5 + 5 + 4 + 7 + 3

The introduction and refrain (sung by the men) is in this cycle. But it gets even more interesting when the women enter! It starts out with the same grouping of 24 but is followed by a new grouping in 23, for a total cycle of 47 beats.

23 is also interesting, in that it is a prime number and can't be divided evenly. However, it has numerous possible groupings. Such as:

10 + 3 + 10 (I used this one for my composition 23 Suznak)

6 + 6 + 3 + 4 + 4

3 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 3

And many other possibilities.

For this piece, it is arranged as:

5 + 4 + 4 + 7 + 3

So it is very similar to the 24 grouping, with the second 5 replaced by a 4.

In a strange way, this is actually a bit like the shifting meter approach that oud-jazz fusion pioneer Rabih Abou-Khalil uses — which I find as surprising as anyone. The effect is quite different, the regularity of this cycle creates stability (Abou-Khalil tends to use the shifting rhythms to create a feeling of unpredictability).

It's unusual to hear this much rhythmic variation within a cycle in Arabic music from the post-war period — the emphasis there tends to be on a relative handful of popular rhythms in 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. It's a beautiful example of a different approach within the older tradition.

Let me know if you know of any other songs with similar complex rhythmic structures!

The version above is written out showing the 24 and 23 beat cycles. Below is a version where the subdivisions are written out at every change (as would be typical in Western music).

This post is mainly about the rhythm, but the maqam seems to be Ajam Ashiran, with a modulation to Hijaz on 5 (arguably Saba Zamzam on 3). For now, you can listen to the recording I transcribed this from here:

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