(K. Brent Tomer),
AS THE bombs rain down, it is hard to think of Aleppo in terms of anything other than bloodshed, terror, and destruction. But the massive collateral damage includes the muwashshah, a courtly song-form to which Syria’s second city has been home for 800 years. The style is known as “Andalusian”, because that is where it originated—Al-Andalus, Moorish Spain. In the 12th century muwashshah-singing spread eastward, putting down roots in north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, with its farthest outpost in Yemen.
Wherever it settled, it took on local colour, but what it reflected was the unique Andalusian mix of Arab, Jewish, Christian and Berber influences. Its first and greatest celebrity was Ali Ibn Nafi, a charismatic black singer from Baghdad nicknamed Ziryab (Blackbird), court musician to the Emir Abd al-Rahman II in Cordoba. It became the fashion for rich patrons to maintain singing slave-girls whose refined artistry earned them rock-star fees and a life of luxury.
Love-poetry is the main subject-matter of muwashshah and it may have influenced the poetry of the…Continue reading