Hamam Khairy: Heir to a Deep-rooted Music Heritage
By: Hala Nohra
Published Sunday, July 1, 2012
Beiteddine Festival will break the mold this year by hosting a night of authentic tarab (the word has no exact equivalent in English but is often translated as musical ecstasy or rapture) and traditional Arabic singing in light of the phenomenon of music westernization sweeping Lebanon.
Lovers of muwashahat, qudud halabiya, mawawil and qasa’id ghazaliyah have a date on July 12 with sheikh al-tarab (master of tarab), Hamam Kheiry, in a special concert accompanied by a takht sharqi (Arabic musical ensemble) as part of a group of 25 musicians.
The outstanding Syrian singer who hails from the musical heritage of Aleppo and who had accompanied Adib al-Dayekh (1983) on vocals, grew up surrounded and influenced by the giants of tarab music in Syria like Sabri Moudallal (1918-2006). He is also a student of the famous composer Sheikh Omar Batsh (1885-1950) and the legendary Sabah Fakhri.
The music genres that Khairy performs are transmitted and signed by others but they are not devoid of renewal and modernization as the singer’s website explains. Some believe that the origin of the Arabic muwashah is Andalusian but from a musical perspective, it is considered Aleppan in origin.
The muwashah consists of first and second dawr (turn or cycle), khana (inn, square of a chessboard) which is when the melody changes and the rhythm might change as well and qafla (closing) where there is a repeat of the melody of the dawr, either in whole or in part.
Qudud halabiyah are based on melodies that traverse popular and classical music and usually on zajal (a traditional form of oral poetry delivered in colloquial dialects) that is often in the form of quartets. The qudud include a madh'hab (chorus) and adwar (contains four hemistichs) preceded by instrumental lawazim (refrains).
Aleppo is unique in its many qudud and muwashahat (such as Everything I See in you is Beautiful and Playful Eyes) that were revived by exceptional singers with whom Khairy studied, scooping up from this oral inheritance.
Khairy has a warm and supple voice that he exploits better in traditional songs than in modern ones and he knows how to partially modify Aleppo’s musical heritage without corrupting it. Sometimes, he inflates certain letters, while he sings without stressing his pronunciation at other times and he rarely makes a mistake in this regard.
Khairy succeeds in itrab (arousing powerful emotions in) his listeners generally and his performance is characterized by improvisations that fall within another frame which entails tazwiq (ornamentation), vocal ornamentation and istibdal (substitution), i.e., replacing some tonal phrases.
Khairy is also known for his swift vocal ornamentation, its precision and flow in certain subjects. The more he leans towards a low pitch, the more melodious and smooth his voice sounds while it sounds somewhat dry in some jawabat or the high vocal range even though he excels in it as well.
It is worth noting that singing with a choir creates heterophony (a type of tonal and acoustic variation and overlapping) which is considered one of Arabic music’s unique features and source of beauty. It is engendered only from similar improvisation that creates a slight melodic discrepancy between the performers.
Khairy unwinds you with a performance that you feel is ripened and aged at this time of fast songs before he intoxicates you with the muwashah Qad Hala Shorbu al-Modam (It’s Beautiful to Drink Wine), and he transfigures during many of the qasa’id ghazaliyah (love poems).
He is criticized for sometimes using an electric keyboard which does not fit the tarab music and the traditional genres, especially Aleppan music, that he sings, and that some of his concerts have a somewhat of a commercial feel to them.
Khairy does not only sing the traditional Aleppan songs but also modern Egyptian tarab (such as Umm Kulthum’s Ana Fi Intizarak or I’m Waiting for You) which he excels at performing in his own way.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.