Maqam in Iraq is all compositions learned through years of disciplined study under a master. They are highly structured, semi-improvised compositions, often rhythmically free and meditative, they are used with classical Arabic and colloquial Iraqi poetry.

As for the beginning of the Maqam tradition in Iraq, it is totally unknown and many stories are said to be true regarding this aspect. Sometimes it is said that the tradition came to Iraq with the Ottomans (16th century); sometimes it is believed to be dated to the Abbasid period (8th–13th century); and very often it is trusted to belong to a much more distant past, i.e. the Babylonians or the Sumerians. In its beginning in Iraq the Maqam melodies were used only in urban centers, during religious meetings, for example, during sports encounters to energize athletes, or on streets by vendors to bring the attention of the public.

Coffeehouses were the primary venues for the formal Maqam concerts, and several coffeehouses in Baghdad specialized in Maqam were the favorite places where, during the day, all sorts of aficionados sat for hours sharing ideas concerning the deep meanings of a melody, the beauty of a particular composition, or arguing which singer gave a remarkable performance and who was mediocre. In short, every evening, a Maqam concert took place and lasted about nine hours. Apart from that, formal Maqam took place in private homes during celebrations.

In those days the reciter was the central performer. Usually, a craftsman or a merchant, who loved to sing part-time. Most of these reciters were illiterate and some of them did not even have a formal education and yet they were skilled performers of Maqam, a complex vocal form, and a highly intellectual singing tradition, which needed years of disciplined work to be perfected. In addition to this, they also had a huge knowledge of Arabic poetry, which they used now and then in their Maqam singing. Poetry Maqam is part of each other in Baghdadi culture.

The Maqam band was usually composed of the reciter as a central persona was accompanied by five instrument players (Joza, Santur, Dumbug, Riqqand a naqqarat).

In the Baghdadi Maqam system, there are more than 100 melodies, performed in a semi-improvised manner with enough space for improvisation. Even if the singing sounds very often rhythmically free, many maqamat contain nonetheless a rhythm which is performed by the accompanying instruments which constitute a pattern of drums, be it sustained, low-pitched, or stroked, and teks that can be either short, high-pitched, or also stroked. Let’s not forget the part of the silences and its important fixed number of beats in the Maqam partition. All these various components converge and diverge, very often, spontaneously, to create a polyrhythmic effect.

Whenever the Maqam is performed, a rhythmic instrumental arrangement precedes it, then one or more rhythmic humorous songs that tackle, generally, life and lots of different aspects of the Iraqi society. This lighthearted dimension of the Maqam counterbalances its introspective nature.



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