Jan 102014

“Akhasmah Ah” was Nancy Ajram’s breakthrough hit – the song that made the Lebanese singer famous in the Arab world. The song won her the Best Arab Female Singer award at the 2003 Music Video Oscar Awards.

Personally I’m not the biggest Nancy Ajram fan in the world. I think her voice is average and she’s overly made up. But here’s the video – you can decide for yourself.

Nancy Ajram – Akhasmak ah

Here are the song lyrics in Arabic and English:

Arabic Lyrics

English Translation

La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
Akhasmak, aah. I will upset you, yes.
Aseebak, la. I will leave you, no.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you remain my darling that I am
in love with.
Bahibbak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and oh my darling I can’t
forget you in a day.
Dah inta habeebi wi monaya illi dawibni. You are my darling and hope who melted me.
Wi inta illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni. And you definitely are creating many problems
about my love.
In kan a’alaik ba-sook dalaali wi yikh-tor bibaali
aa’anaid hawak.
If it is up to you, I flirt and I’m stubborn
about your love.
Lakain awam bahinni tani wa salhak ya ghaali
we batlob ridhaak.
And soon I sympathize with you and reconcile
oh precious one and I ask your acceptance.
Inta habeebi wa monaya illi dawibni. Wi inta
illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni.
You are my darling and hope who melted me. And
you with your love creating problems for me.
Akhasmak, ah, ah, ah. I will upset you, yes, yes, yes.
Aseebak, la, laaaaah. Leave you, no, nooooooooooooo.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you will remain my darling who
I indeed love.
Bahibak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And I leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and I can not oh darling in
one day forget you.
Bihobbak inta maali heelah wi a’omri fi laiyla
ma ha iba’aid bia’eid. Wil dounya baa’dak mostahilaih.
In your love I do not have any result and my
life in one night – I will not be far away. And life after you
is impossible.
We laylaih, fi laylaih haneeni ye zeed. And night by night my compassion to you increases.
Dah inta habeebi wi monaya illi dawabniWi inta illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni. You are my darling and hope that melted me.
Akhasmak, aah. I will upset you, yes.
Aseebak, la. Leave you, no.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you will remain my darling that
I love.
Bahibak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and I can not forget you in
a day.
Aah. Aah.
Aseebak, la. Leave you, no.
Aah, aah. Aah, aah.
La. No.
Sep 252012

A reader named Ali wrote to us asking,

“Hello, I know an Arab song in the 1990s, I forgot the title. Well, I have listened it in the 1990s, I don’t know if it was released in that period.

All I know the rhythm has something like: “talalalaaa takalaaaa talalaaa laaalaaa” well similar
like that… I don’t know Arabic language so difficult for me to know.

Can you tell me if you know? I know there was violin I think in it or a similar instrument usually forms part in Arabic music.”

– Ali

I don’t know which song he’s thinking of. It could be many Arabic songs, from the description. Does anyone have a clue?

Aug 122012

By Mark D.

How to Choose a Good Quality Oud

So you’re thinking about buying an oud – that’s great! Music can be a beautiful and intensely satisfying pursuit, and the oud is a particularly beautiful instrument.

A good oud will last a lifetime, too. So just as if you were buying a piano, or a car, you’ll want to know the important things to keep in mind when you’re doing your research and getting prepared to make the big decision.

The Oud

The Oud

An oud is a precision-crafted instrument made to exacting standards of quality – or at least, it should be. Good craftsmanship affects every part of the oud and is the prime determinant of how long your oud will continue to give expression to your music.

Check that when the strings are stretched tightly to tune, the neck doesn’t warp or bend. Check that the clearance of the strings above the neck (this clearance is called the action) is high enough to avoid buzzing strings, but low enough to enable quick, precise fingerwork. Do the tuning pegs fit snugly in their holes? Does the soundboard dip in the middle, or have ripples? Are all the joints tightly secure?

You’ll also want to consider the materials used in the construction of your oud. Different types of timber serve different purposes: some are best used in mechanical or cabinet components: ebony and rosewood fingerboards are common, for instance. Other types of wood are better suited to producing sound: spruce is frequently used in the soundboard.

Likewise, consider your choice of strings – an Iraqi oud is not built to handle the pressures of Turkish oud strings, for instance. Are you likely to use non-standard tunings often? Do you like the steel and/or nylon sound, or would you be better to spend a little more for some more traditional silk or gut strings?

There is no right answer to these questions, and you nobody will know which oud is best for you but you. Plan ahead – you’re going to be a much better player by the time you’ve exhausted this oud, if you ever do.

Try as many different instruments as you can! Learn what you like and why, and when you’re ready to make a purchase you’ll have a much better idea of what it is that you’re really looking for – and be better prepared to make a choice that brings you many years of musical education and enjoyment.

Jul 252012

It’s a Wednesday summer afternoon in my home. We’re in the first week of Ramadan. I’m sitting at the dining room table where I have my computer equipment set up, doing my work (I am a writer and web developer and I work from home).

Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum

My daughter Salma is in the kitchen with my mother. They are making cheese rolls with za’tar, for iftaar.

Afterwards I will have Salma sit beside me and work on her lessons. Even though it’s summer, I like for her to spend a few hours each day practicing reading and writing. She just turned six, so she’ll be going to first grade in a few months.

My father is in his office, watching the classic Umm Kulthum video below. The sound of Arabic music echoes through the house. It’s a video of Umm Kulthum in Rabat, Morocco in 1968, singing and improvising. The song itself is called “Howa Saheeh” – “He is right.”

These are the sounds I grew up with.

Sometimes this house is chaotic. Sometimes we argue, or we’re grumpy. But on a day like today, with the smell of food cooking, my daughter enjoying herself, and the classic sounds of Umm Kulthum in the air, it feels like home.

Jul 152012

gebo habibi is track number four from Hind’s latest album, titled as uncreatively as all her previous albums, “2012 Hind”.

Hind (real name Suhair) is a regional star from Bahrain whose work includes traditional sounding Arabic music, as well as Khaliji or Arabian Gulf music. She an attractive woman and can sing well, both of which have helped to propel her to stardom.

Hind’s latest album has 14 tracks. Some are romance songs, some sing the blues, and some are dance tunes. It’s a solid effort and presents traditional-sounding Arabic music with a modern flair.

Hind, who was born in Bahrain in 1979, is divorced and has one child named Abdullah. Her official website is www.hindworld.com.

Here’s the song, gebo habibi by Hind:

Feb 142012

By Mark D.

With a history that goes back thousands of years, the instruments played by Arabic musicians have developed over many generations, and across the different regions of the Arab peninsula, North Africa and Central Asia. Because they have evolved in such a wide variety of cultures, today there is a rich family of Arabic Musical instruments, often very closely related but each unique.

In this article, we will take a brief look at some of the most popular and important.


The Oud

The Oud – the most famous of Arabic music instruments

The oud, sometimes spelled ud, is probably the most famous Arabic musical instrument. It is a stringed instrument, with a timber, pear-shaped bowl as its body, and a short neck that bends back at right angles.

The oud has no frets, so it is ideal for playing the many subtly different pitches used in Arabic music. Like a guitar, it is played horizontally, resting on the knee, and is plucked and strummed with either the fingernails, or with a long thin plectrum called a risha.

Mythology traces the first oud back to Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam (who was the first human in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions).


The ney (or nay), a long, thin flute, is one of the oldest musical instruments anywhere in the world still in use today, dating back to at least around 5,000 years. Because it has developed simultaneously in so many different places over such a long time, many different types of ney exist.

The ney is one of the oldest musical instruments still in use today.

The ney is one of the oldest musical instruments still in use today.

Until recently, neys were made from a length of hollow reed or cane, but modern neys can also be made from plastics and metals. Despite its relatively simple construction, with skilful breath control and deft fingers, the ney can be a very expressive and articulate instrument.


Descended from the Egyptian harp, the qanun (also called kanun; the English word ‘canon’ has the same origin) is first noted in tenth century Iran. At around a metre in length and with more than seventy strings, it is lain across the lap and plucked with two picks, or with the fingernails of both hands. With so many strings, the qanun’s tunings rely on intricate mathematics learned from the pre-Islamic Greeks.


As one of the oldest and most common Arabic percussive instruments, the riq often determines the rhythms and dynamics of a performance. It is a small wooden tambourine with pairs of brass cymbals, or sagaat, built into the frame, and a skin (traditionally goat or fish) stretched over it. The frame is often decorated with mother-of-pearl or ivory.

The riq

The riq

Unlike many other types of tambourine, the riq is moved up and down the player’s body, as well as being shaken and drummed, to accentuate the range of sounds that a talented musician can produce.

Jun 152011

By Mark D.

The word ‘maqam’ (the plural is ‘maqamat’) means place or location in Arabic, but the word is also used to describe a set of characteristics about how a piece of music should be played. Important notes, common musical phrases and the way a piece develops over time are all defined by the traditions embedded in the maqam chosen. Like the major and minor modes in Western classical music, for instance, each maqam tends to be associated with a certain mood or feeling.


Maqamat are built of smaller scale segments called ajnas (the singular, ‘jins,’ comes from the same Greek root as the English ‘genus,’ and has much the same meaning). Ajnas are recognisable sequences of three, four or five notes, and a maqam is built by combining a lower and an upper jins.

Sabah Fakhri, a renowned Syrian singer, known for his powerful voice, impeccable execution of Maqamat and harmony, and charismatic performances. Photo by Khalid Al-Masoud, at the Qurain Cultural Festival in Kuwait.

Sabah Fakhri, a renowned Syrian singer, known for his powerful voice, impeccable execution of Maqamat and harmony, and charismatic performances. Photo by Khalid Al-Masoud, at the Qurain Cultural Festival in Kuwait.

Maqamat are classified into families called fasilah according to the lower jins. As such, the most important note in a maqam will be the root note of the lower jins; the second most important, called the dominant note, is the root of the upper jins.

Sometimes the ajnas hinge at a common note, sometimes there is a small tonal gap, and sometimes they even overlap.

Modulation and Melody

As well as these two defining ajnas, a musician may also invoke one of several other compatible ajnas as the melody is developed. This process is called modulation, and it is a vital part of the improvisation that can make Arabic music so famously ecstatic to its audiences.

Melody is especially important in Arabic music, because the nuanced tonal system makes it difficult to utilise the kinds of pleasing harmonies so common in Western music.

Origin of the Maqamat

Maqamat have developed independently in various different parts of the Arabic world over many centuries. They are first mentioned in important fourteenth century writings by al-Sheikh al-Safadi and Abdulqadir al-Maraghi.

Because of this diverse heritage, and because individual notes in Arabic music may be made to sound subtly different depending on the context in which they are played, there is no agreed standard for understanding, or even defining, the maqamat.

As well as this, the challenges of notating pitches that don’t necessarily sound the same each time they are played, have helped ensure that, to this day, learning the intricacies of the maqamat means becoming familiar with a great body of traditional Arabic music.

Feb 232011

By Mark D.

Because the Arabic world embodies such a broad collection of lands, languages and ethnic groups, Arabic sacred music has drawn on many diverse religious cultures, including the Jewish Pizmonim and Bagashot, as well as Coptic Christianity, and the Maronite, Greek and Syriac orthodox Christian orders.

Arabic Music and Islam

While each of the previously mentioned religious traditions has made an important contribution to Arabic religious music, it is fair to say that the dominant force in marking out appropriate ways of expressing the relationship to God has been Islamic worship.

Whirling dervish

The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey were banned for 30 years.

From Sufi invocations of the names of God (part of a series of worship customs known collectively as dhikr, though distinct from Muslim Sunni dhikr, which is performed in silence), to strictly controlled recitations of Qur’anic passages and modern worship songs, the sacred in Arabic music takes many forms and represents a rich tapestry of devotional practices.

Firstly, and vitally, is the role of the human voice in musically interpreting core sacred texts. For many Muslims, as for the Christian Gregorians, the chanting Tibetan Buddhists, aboriginal Australian nations and, indeed, pervading cultures across the globe over millennia, the voice is considered a particularly direct channel for communicating with God.

Some Islamic traditions consider all music to be forbidden, while others restrict it to the use of certain instruments – and the human voice is the greatest of these. The human voice represents the unadorned expression of the soul in worship of God. As such, a large body of Islamic music is built around lyrical constructions of passages from the Qur’an.

Arabic Music for Private Worship

There is also an important distinction to be made between music that is performed in public, and that reserved for private worship.

Sufic Mevlevi ceremonies – the famous “Whirling Dervishes” – were banned by the Turkish government for thirty years from 1925,  pushing them underground and encouraging the musical and dance traditions to be taught covertly at the expense of the traditional ethical teachings. In fact, the ecstatic dancing of the Mevlevi Sufis was considered a Turkish secular heritage, to be performed only publicly, until as recently as the 1990s.

Today, Sufis, Mevlevi and otherwise, sometimes perform ceremonial songs and other devotional music (and dance) in public, but while the atmosphere at these events might be called pious, the audience is not strictly participating in any formal service.

Conflicting renditions of the Prophet Muhammad’s position on music continue to encourage a varied, and often tense, cultural landscape, and while on the one hand this presents difficulties to establishing any meaningful sense of unity, it is also responsible for one of the world’s most kaleidoscopic artistic cultures.

Nov 162010

By Mark D.

Arabic music, like much of the world’s music, owes much to poetic tradition.

While little is known with certainty about the music of the pre-Islamic period (that is, before about 1,500 years ago), it is generally accepted that it developed from poetry that was recited with deliberate rhythmic meter, and with certain syllables and phrases emphasized by the pitch of the voice. These earliest songs were most likely stories adapted from the local oral traditions.

A Bedouin poetry recital in Egypt. Arabic music has its origins in traditional poetry.

A Bedouin poetry recital in Egypt. Arabic music has its origins in traditional poetry.

Origins of Arabic Music

By the ninth century, the Arabic world had entered what has come to be known as a cultural golden age. Political, economic and philosophical thought flourished, and the relatively stable peace helped to foster many important innovations in the arts as well. Much of the most important Arabic musical thought can be traced back to this period, and it was in this golden age that many of the stylistic qualities that still define Arabic music today were first described.

Despite the surging enlightenment of the times, singing was considered to be too undignified for the great intellectual poets of the era, and so it fell to slave girls to interpret their works in a musical way. Often playing simple instrumental accompaniments, these girls would entertain the wealthy, perform at wedding celebrations and motivate troops on the battlefield.

Although singing was deemed to be beneath the poets, music was highly valued in this time. Musically talented slaves are known to have fetched far higher prices than their less gifted peers, and professional musicians could earn a great deal of money during this period.

Exposure to Western Music

From about the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, sadly, written history about Arabic music in general, and singing in particular, is scarce. The main structures and forms had already been established, and the refinements made since then were been relatively minor. It was not until exposure to the Western world became more common, in the last 200 years, that the styles and techniques of Arabic song underwent any more drastic changes.

From classical through to jazz and, more recently, popular musics including rock and hip hop, the impact of Western vocal styles on Arabic music has been striking. The more mathematically consistent tuning system used in the west made harmonies possible.

As pioneering Arabic musicians began to absorb – and transform – more and more of these new ideas, the musical output of the Arabic world experienced a great groundswell of new and hybridized vocal styles – which continue to develop (and, increasingly, feed back into the West) to this day.

Jan 182009

Mansour Al Rahbani recently passed away at the age of 83, in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut, where he was admitted for pulmonary trouble.

Rahbani was born in the Lebanese coastal town of Antelias in 1925. He, his elder brother Assi, and his brother’s wife Fairuz, produced their first album as a trio in 1955 and eventually became the most famous trio in Arabic music. They performed around the world and also produced three films and eighteen plays!

Mansour Al Rahbani

Mansour Al Rahbani

The trio were considered pioneers of Lebanese folk music and were highly regarded in their homeland and internationally. They were especially beloved by the Lebanese diaspora, and once played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Their work drew from various musical sources and styles, including traditional Arabic music, and Islamic, Byzantine, Christian Maronite and classical Western styles of music.

The two Rahbani brothers came from a background of poverty and destitution, and their dramatic works emphasized socio-political themes, without sacrificing the quality of the music itself.