Religious chanting schools meet in Idlib
Enab Baladi – Anas al-Khouli
As soon as Mohammad Nasab recites the songs and melodies that describe the cities and towns of Syria and its people, the tears of the displaced listeners flow with nostalgia for their homes and their beautiful days.
Then the head of the Nour al-Huda band changes the tempo to Islamic religious praises, then moves to songs specific to the Syrian revolution, and when the enthusiasm intensifies, he sings songs of joy to begin the wedding celebration.
Nasab told Enab Baladi that he learned this art from his father, one of the most prominent singers in the Bab al-Sebaa district in the central city of Homs, central Syria, since he was seven years old.
He mastered chanting at the age of 14, worked in the chorus for one year, and then continued his singing career.
After the Syrian revolution of 2011, circumstances changed, and Nasab was forcibly displaced from the city of Homs to Idlib, northwestern Syria. He worked in trade and then returned to chanting after attending a wedding in the city.
The reactions during the ceremony to Nasab’s chanting prompted him to establish his own group, he told Enab Baladi.
The band consisted of only three members at the beginning, before its number increased to nine, and it presents other styles of singing that are favored by the residents of Damascus, Aleppo, and Idlib.
Religious singing groups usually consist of the leader of the group, who trains its members in singing and maqamat, and his deputy, in addition to the chorus, percussionist, and instrumentalists.
The “Dolab al-Sheikhani” is the most important feature distinguishing the Homsi form from the rest of the Syrian forms of religious chanting. It consists of light clicks on the drum, the pace of which increases and accelerates enthusiastically, with which singing and chanting begin.
During the 20th century, dozens of religious singers were known in Syria, who gained wide fame, and the name of some of them was associated with the month of Ramadan, such as Tawfiq al-Munajjid, Hamza Shakkur, Suleiman Daoud and Mohammad al-Hakim.
Despite the increasing demand for religious singing groups in Idlib, these teams face difficulties related to the lack of equipment and financial income.
According to Nasab, the band needs equipment and musical instruments to make its production perfect, including drums, which cost $1,200, and sound equipment, which costs $700, in addition to photography equipment and the band’s uniform.
On the other hand, the band charges a maximum of $100 for one concert and sometimes even performs some songs for free, which does not make singing a source of livelihood, he added.
Idlib brings together different singing schools
The Syrian people have different tastes towards music and singing, according to the customs and traditions of each region in reviving parties, from authentic rapture and singing to fast chanting and dancing.
Omar al-Hussein, of the old neighborhoods of Aleppo, started singing in the circles of religious remembrance, then he mastered the maqamat and the arts of singing, to sing at weddings and parties in the popular neighborhoods of Aleppo before he was displaced to Idlib.
Al-Hussein spoke to Enab Baladi about the tastes of the Syrian people, saying that the Halabi Tarab (mirth) singing is authentic and it is one of the oldest and most ancient Syrian mirth arts.
It varies between the “Sabawi” Mawwal, the singing of the poem, the Andalusian Muwashah, and the triple “Ataba.”
Aleppo is also famous for the Maqamat al-Saba, al-Bayat, and al-Ajam, and these maqamat are suitable for authentic Arab dances, as the people of Aleppo love slow singing.
Al-Hussein begins with a Mawwal singing, then the popular “the sword and shield” dance begins, and when the enthusiasm intensifies, the band moves on to the “Qawsar” or Sharqi (oriental) dance, which is one of the ancient dances that is unique to the people of Idlib, while the people of Homs and Damascus prefer the fast rhythm, the maqamat of al-Nahawand and al-Rasd.
According to al-Hussein, religious chanting is divided into the muwashah, which is a Mawwal that is not recited, followed by the “dawr,” which is a higher pitch and requires some perfection in the upper pitches.
The third is “Qudud,” which is considered the highest degree and requires mastery of the pronunciation, the position, and the singing of the poem’s words so that they merge together.
Al-Hussein’s band, which bears the name “al-Madinah al-Munawwarah,” started with Aleppo singing, and after adapting to the circumstances, it began to master other singing arts to meet the different tastes in the city, which received displaced people from several Syrian cities, within what was known as the security “settlement agreements.”
The band consists of five singers and the tambourine player, which is a large tambourine instrument with a muffled and loud sound. The band also includes the percussionist and the chorus.
How did revolution affect religious chanting?
The meeting of Syrians from different provinces in the northwest led to a multiplicity of tastes in listening to singing, which prompted singers to learn the different arts of singing after they were limited to the taste that suited their local environment.
On the other hand, the giants of Syrian art who were displaced outside Syria or killed by the Syrian regime are absent from the scene.
Vocalist (Munshid) Omar al-Hussein said in his interview with Enab Baladi that the circumstances of the (war) brought singers together in northern Syria from different provinces and environments and that the diversity of tastes in society in northern Syria made singers adapt and learn different singing styles.
He pointed out that each muwashah has its own maqam and the necessity of singing according to the request or the atmosphere of the celebration.
For his part, Mohammad Nasab said that northern Syria suffers from the absence of masters of the art of singing because of their displacement outside Syria or their arrest or killing by the regime for their support for the revolution.
He pointed to the spread of singing groups by people who “do not master the art and do not master its minimum controls, and without any knowledge or mastery of the maqamat.”
According to Nasab, the Syrian Artists Syndicate previously supervised the singers, and after mastering the singing, the singer is tested by professional teachers, and in the event of failure, the person is not allowed to establish a singing band.
The Syrian vocalist also had to obtain a license from the Ministry of Endowments in order to be able to sing in public places.
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