The music of the sedentary population differs greatly from the music of the nomadic Bedouins. Melodies follow the form of the poem and are generally longer, with a wider ambitus; they contain some melismas, ornaments and figurations. People sing their own songs, antiphonally or responsorially, using different ajnās (tetrachords) and ‘uqūd (pentachords). They also use a variety of musical instruments (see §3 below). Occasionally a professional solo poet-singer (zajjāl or qawwāl) provides the audience with a varied repertory of songs and improvised types appropriate to the occasion.
Dabka songs. All villagers and townspeople in Jordan and neighbouring Syria, Lebanon and Palestine perform the dabka dance on joyful occasions. In the dance they stamp the ground, just as their ancient ancestors used to do at springtime to glorify the return of Dummuzi and Inanna, the deities of fertility and love. A male musician stands inside the circle of dancers playing the song tune on the shibbāba (oblique flute), mijwez or yarghūl (types of double clarinet; see §3 below). The dance leader (qawwāl) sings the verses alternately with the dancers, and instrumentalists play some interludes. The main types of dabka are ‘alā dal-ōnā, ‘al-yādī, ya zarīf at-tūl and ‘allā (ex. 4). Women participate in only one variant, habl muadda‘ (‘ornate string’), so-called because each girl holds hands with dancers on either side of her in the dance circle. Melodies are of eight bars in 4/4 metre. Their ambitus is less than an octave; the most common maqām (mode) is Bayātī, and the dance-songs are performed in a lively tempo.
Improvised types. Improvisation is considered to be an important feature of both traditional Arab art music and folk music. In folksinging, improvisation entails the spontaneous invention of new poems relating to the occasion and social setting. Poet-singers usually improvise to stereotyped forms such as ‘atābā, mējānā, mu’annā and mawwāl (see Arab music, §II, 3), whose melodies can be developed, altered, ornamented or slightly changed. Manipulating the melodic formation and poetic structure needs much experience; this is gained orally during a long period of apprenticeship.
Mu’annā is made up of four hemistichs with AABA rhyme scheme. Usually the poet sings ad libitum the first two hemistichs in the same melodic line, then the third one on a lower pitch, preparing for the high pitch of the fourth line, which has a fixed melody in tempo giusto. The following is an example:
(God be with you my friend, God be with you./Sing the rhymes of mu’annā and let us hear you./You, who left your admirers, return to them./Then, my love, I would raise you above all creatures.)
The audience repeats the last line once or twice.
Songs of Bedouin origin. Settled people have close links with the Bedouin nomads, and some are of Bedouin origin themselves. In settled communities Bedouin genres such as hjēnī, fārida and tarwīda are commonly performed. A type also known as sāmer combines the two traditions; it is composed of an improvised part by the poet-singer and a refrain line in tempo giusto sung by the audience: ‘Yā halālī yā mālī; yā rab‘ī ruddū ‘alayya’ (‘My possession, my treasure; I ask my friends to repeat after me’). The first part is of rural origin, the second is Bedouin.
Songs related to the Arab art tradition. Songs within this category originate from neighbouring cities such as Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo and Cairo. Jordanian people change the melodies and words to suit their taste, or adapt the words and give them local tunes (e.g. ‘Al ōf mash‘al). The Zajal form is used in this way. The professional poet-singer (zajjāl) improvises new poems to a fixed melody. The words are in vernacular dialect; rhythms and rhymes very much depend on the melody and its cadences. Transmitted orally, the art of zajal singing requires considerable knowledge and experience.