Abdo Moussa: Jordan's Leadbelly? - عـبدو مــوسى.

Salam Allah!

The last post was a joy to write, really, and for most (even if it was a bit too 'huge' and cumbersome) of it I knew 'forehand that it'd see a lot of traffic. It also took me alorra time to finish uploading the 15 Abu-Daoud's albums, but that was worth it fareals, because when you see someone being made happy by music you know it's what life's all about: Fun, indeed.

A lot of Sudanese musicians are still laying in total darkness waiting for someone somewhere to present them in a proper way to the world. I took it upon myself as a blogster to do that and more. Gerrit's Ode-To post won't be the last: I still have like 50 Sudanese artists whom I shall present (each in his/her own post, like say Abu-Daoud's master, Zinqar? You're going to get that Gerrit very soon) on the Blogosphere.

Honestly, I wanted to get back to my hibernate-state yesterday, but rethought this 'gain as, "eh, fawk that fer a lark. Les' do anotha post gawd fadamnit." And stayin' with the blues... I wanted to write a post about someone from here where I live... and one Jordanian singer and rababa
player came to my mind: Abdo Moussa.

This singer is considered as Jordan's first and best when he wasn't Jordanian at all: he was a Kurdistani gypsy. Asking anyone about him would render the usual remark complete with a half-cast eye and a smirk: "That... nouri?" Nouri is a gypsy, and these no-land people who roam the Levant and Egypt region took with them their music as they went from one country to another dispersing it around the Arab world.
A caravan wading through the desert.
Righto. Today's post will not be about the nouri Abdo Moussa alone, but shall also feature some other 60's-70's Jordanian (three 'real' old bedouin ones this time) rababa-players; one Syrian, Lebanese, Saudi, and Palestinian singers and rababists as a bonus because these border-sharing and neighbouring countries have the same cultural emblem as Jordan, also Palestinian refugees who came to Jordan in the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel make most of the Jordanian population (around 70%).

(L&R) The city of Petra in southern Jordan. Tourons trekking around (R).

Hop on a camel, or hey guys... les' go walk and see that much-talked about Rose City of Petra, and tell the story of Jordan's number one musician Abdo Moussa on our way there.

Yala? Here we go...

Abdo Moussa (other spellings Abdu Mousa/ 3abdo Musa) -
عبدو /عبده موسى:

Abdo Moussa - عبــدو مــوسـى.
In 1977, Jordan's best poet Haidar Mahmoud, wrote a poem for one individual who left this land of Biblical heritage, turbulent political times, and vast endless deserts. The poem's title was 'Martabat Al-Haqiqa': The Height of Truth. It was a posthumous homage to one singer and musician whom Jordanians loved so much... his songs are still broadcasted on radio and T.V. and people sing or hum them as they do their daily jobs or go about their businesses. This singer is part of Jordan's very soul.
A Jordanian bedoui 70's madhafa
with some  mansaf on the ground:
popular rice, meat and sour milk.
In 1927, and in Irbid (a city in the north of Jordan), as a child he's born but unlike most, his father wasn't there to hold him in his hands and welcome him into this world. Few years before this kid started walking, his mother dies on him, too and leaves him to face this miserable world alone. Later in his life, Abdo Moussa saw himself as a 'lonely' musician among the many because he wasn't an ordinary guy: ever since he was a kid, he moved from one madhafa (guest house where people convene) to another, watching with curiosity and attention other singers and players perform and knew that one day he was going to play better than all of them.
 An early 20ᵗʰ picture of two Syrian rababa players.
An Egyptian rababaist.
His instrument that he chose to master wasn't ordinary itself: the rababa (ربابة, also spelled rabab, ribāb, rebab, robab, rubab, er-rababa, rababah, rabâbâ, arbab, arbabu... etc) is a bedouin, one-stringed luth that few know how to play. It's a simply-built one, but extremely hard when it comes to mastering. The player becomes the instrument itself as his fingers must work the neck in stable time to the movement of the bow which is made along with the sole string on its soundbox from a single horse hair. This incredible instrument's history goes way back to around 3000 B.C., and some scholars place its origins in old Athens, while others claim it as Indian when it's originally Pharaonic.

Jordanian rababa player, 30's.
In the badia, or the desert as it's called in Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula where this instrument is played until this day, it's a taboo to play in front of a huge number of people as if it's a concert sort of to speak. It's also frowned upon when someone practices it in front of others unless they are at the privacy of their homes. This very instrument is men-only: no woman is allowed to even touch it or listen to its music being played. This strict misogynous behaviour has its roots from slave times in Egypt when only slaves were allowed to play it.
A bedouin showing his tools, 40's.
As times changed, so did people's minds, and the desert leaders or shieks saw it unfitting for them that only those who are slaves and not free should play in front of them, and with time, the rababa-player became a chosen free man whom the shiok revere and he gets to pick a sha'ir (شاعر: poet), to sing for him and both were asked to set so close to the leader of the tribe, or in the middle of his tent-house (khaimah or biet al-sha'ar: the house made from goats' hairs) considering this emplacement as the height of honour in bedouin cultures. The guests speak not a word as its sound (screech-like mono-tonal, staccato vibes that resemble a distorted one-string electric guitar slab), wades its way to their hearts and minds soothing the sorrowest of all brows. These moments are called 'jalsat tea'alil': the "doctoring"!

Rababaist from Karak, Jordan 30's.
Moussa was there maybe back in the early 30's, sitting as an uninvited guest waiting at somebody's wedding's incantatory ceremonies, impatiently ogling the players and singers as they prepared the rababa  and stood still as the poets started to sing. But as a kid he wasn't allowed to sit so close to those who play, or sing the poetry that accompanies the rababa's playing. As the poets and singers took a rest, it was said that he stole the rababas and began playing at the very tender age of ten. People were amazed and soon allowed him to sit with them. He became popular and in 1958 at one of those wedding gatherings, a Jordanian Army officer named Haza'a Al-Majali (هزاع المجالي, who became Prime Minister in 1955, was known as a poetry-lover and a devout admirer for bedouin music) happened to be there. He asked Abdo Moussa to sing for him, and was convinced that this young man needed someone to get him into the right path to artistry and stardom that comes from the freedom money allows a poor jobless young man like Moussa and stood behind him.
Haza'a Al-Majali.
The next day, Al-Majali commissioned another officer who's the head of a department at the Ministry of Information in Amman and a well-known poet himself (Wasfi Al-Tal) to take Abdo the next day to Ramallah, Palestine immediately to sing at Radio Jordan there. Before that, he paid for his family to leave to Amman, the capital of Jordan to be closer to the only recording studios that were built on skeleton budgets at Radio & Television Jordan. Wasfi knew that Abdo was a pauper and had no luck at getting a good-paying job, so he offered him one at the radio, and knowing that Abdo was illiterate, he designated a special tutor for him to teach him how to read and write never having been to school as a child.
The 1967 Arab-Israeli War (L), and Palestinian refugees (R) in the Independence War 1948.

Those times were timidly chaotic not just for Moussa, but for everyone. Political assassinations were ten-a-dime, and Communist Egyptian intelligence were trying to topple the U.K.-backed Jordanian monarchy. Also, The Israeli Independence War in 1948 and after that in 1967 (The Six-Days' War) left the entire region at the mercy of a series of wars that still rattle the very foundations of Jordan: a small kingdom that not even the British Empire was interested in invading, but saw it as a 'pathfinder state' for its colonialist ambitions. So many wars have put this country into a formulate that made even normal living standards a thing out of dreams. Even for Moussa, living was very hard although he sang many times as his popularity rose for kings and queens, but at the end he died a very poor man.

Singing in the Iraqi 1947 film:
Aliya Wa A'asim (عالية و عاصم).
Singer Hiyam Youness.
Not musically, no. Ever since he went to Radio Jordan (which was in Ramallah, Palestine and not Amman as it's now), his repertoire kept on growing until it's believed that he has recorded more than 100 songs in total. His music wasn't easy to listen to as most bedouin singing styles come infused with a heavy dose of machoness. So, the radio managers decided to add a dainty, feminine touch by inviting Lebanese singer Hiyam Youness (هيام يونس: she's to get her own separate post right here on the Audiotopia) to sing with him in Amman. This took place in 1966-67 and the first song they both sang as a duo was 'Ya Tier Ya Tayer' - يا طير يا طاير (O'Flying Bird), making it the first time in the history of Jordanian music for a male-female duo to sing together. Before Hiyam, women singers in Jordan didn't even reveal their family names, and wore thick, black glasses to hide their identity as to not bring shame to their families, or a'sheeira. One of those female singers was Salwa Al-Ourduniyah (سلوى الأردنية: not to be mixed with Salwa Al-A'as: a Palestinian singer who's from Jenin, Palestine and sang with her husband Jameel Al-A'as who was one of the best bouzouki players in the Middle-east).
Halim wearing the famous Jordanian
male shemag head-dress.
The lovely Samira Tawfic.
People in Jordan and Palestine loved this new singing style just like people loved Jamaltaroub's duo in Lebanon. Hiyam Youness sang with Abdo Mousssa more songs after that first one became a hit in 1967, like 'Safer Ya Habibi', 'Mareen Ma Ma'ahin Hada', 'Jaddili Ya Umm El-Jadayel' etc... and they went to Egypt to meet with the giants of Arabic music like Wadeh Asafi, Najwa Fouad, Nuzha Youness, and Abdel Halim Hafez (the latter was said to start crying whenever Abdo Moussa sang to the "Dark Nightingale" his sad rababa tunes on a private setting in Cairo, 1966). Abdo became so famous that rumours of him marrying Lebanese singer Samira Tawfic started to get around, too.
Abdo Moussa: Jordan's story-teller.
T.V. stars of popular late 60's serials like Syrian comedian and singer Duraid Llaham (we've mentioned him in the Jamaltaroub post, by the way), invited Moussa to sing in their famous serial 'Sah El-Noum' (صح النوم) which most Arabs knew him from afterwards (another singer who saw fame from this serial was Syrian singer Diab Mach'hor (دياب مشهور), who also sang one of his most famous songs at the same show, namely 'Ya Bourdaien Ya Bourdana'). Earlier, Abdo Moussa became a permanent guest at Jordan T.V.'s show 'Madafhat Al-Hajj Abu-Mahmoud'; a quasi sit-com-like serial which aired in the early 70's and was watched by all Jordanians (Note: you'll get a whole album with 8 tracks from this show as a bonus). He sang there in it, usually telling stories to the audience bearing wisdom from ages-old bedoui traditions in addition to discussing everyday people's worries and needs all the while giving them something in-between to entertain them. It was the modern madhafa caught on celluloid.

Some artists, actors of Jordan T.V.
posing with King of Bahrain, 70's.
The next year (1968) saw him joining the Ferqat Al-Fonoun Al-Sha'abiyah (فرقة الفنون الشعبية) which sang for Jordan T.V. and radio (after it was moved to Amman; the capital). Abdel Halim Hafez took Abdo Moussa along with him in his famous 1967 Albert Hall concert in London. This was a dream come true for Moussa and the epitome of his career in addition to being his first ever live concert. Imagine having your first concert bang-straight at the Albert Hall? That was something, really. Hafez introduced Moussa to the British audience as a rare talent and a chaâbi singer of a great stature.

Salwa Al-A'as - سلوى العاص.
He soon became an International hit after the Albert Hall concert, singing with other female singers who were so interested in Abdo Moussa's fame, and tried to ride on his it such as Salwa Al-A'as (سلوى العاص), Siham Al-Safadi (سهام الصفدي), Siham Shammas (سهام شماس), Ghada Mahmoud (غادة محمود), Dalal Al-Shamali (دلال الشمالي), Souad Tawfic (سعاد توفيق), Samahir (سماهر), Karawan (كروان), Naziq (نــازك), and many more... and, with the Ferqa he was invited by the heads of states around the Arab world  to sing in many Arab countries (Saudi Arabia 'was asked to stay there for lifetime but he refused', Oman, Tunis, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria 'Hafez Al-Assad invited him personally', Bahrain 'he did his last concert there', and Lebanon). He also gave many other concerts in Turkey, Romania, East Germany, Italy, and Britain.
Abdo Moussa: the artist poet.
In 1971, he won the Best Singer and Rababa Player title (at Tunis festival for music), and Jordan's best singer in 1989 which was given to his son Hussein Abdo Moussa as an honourary prize from Jordan's Musicians Commission after his father's death in July 20ᵗʰ, 1977 leaving behind six male sons and three daughters. His grandson is a young violinist (Moayyad Soubhi Abdo Moussa) who plays with Jordan's Philharmonic now as a solo violinist.
A shoulder rababa.
This is such a huge transition from the simple rababa for Moussa'a grandson: the violin itself is believed to come from this tiny, goat-skin, one-stringed instrument that sometimes is played on top of the shoulder just like a basic violin is played. What's more awe-inspiring was that he played at almost the same age that his grandfather started playing music at (nine to ten years old). Another musical genius, or just another violin player? only time will tell. But, one thing for sure the soul of Abdo Moussa still lives within his grandson as it does inside every Jordanian. Moyyad's grandfather didn't have the privilege of a father but he became one for all Jordanians.

Moayyad Soubhi Abdo Moussa.
His Music:
Abdo Moussa's music is not really Jordanian: he recorded his first songs in Iraq, where he went there to sing and play his rababa before coming back to Jordan. Actually, a huge number of his songs were taken from Al-Mawrouth Al-Iraqi, or inherited  traditional Iraqi music. Some even think that he was an Iraqi, actually but he wasn't. His family came from Sahl Houran (سهل حوران) in southern Syria before he was born, and he paid tribute to his original homeland in a song which bears the same name (Houran, you can find it in the 'Best of' comp). This vast land known as the earliest cradle of music gave birth to so many music styles and countless genres and will always be considered the birthplace of all Levantine Arabi music.
Singing live on Jordan T.V. in '72.
His last ever song that he sang was named 'Ya Dash'ar' (يا دشر), meaning people who are without any homes, out there in the desert without any guidance, pretty much like those gypsies were in the starts of the last century, and himself at the early beginnings of his career, and then again like these rioting Arab youth we see everywhere in the Arab world today. And, enormous numbers of Palestinian refugees made so by wars and more wars. Maybe his origins were of a gypsy creed and caused a lot of his fellow country people to consider him a low-caste in Jordan, but he really surpassed this bias (today, a lot of Jordanian singers are originally gypsies like Nahwand) and became a star in Jordan's sky.

Abdo Moussa singing on Jordan T.V..
Lastly, that poem that Haidar Mahmoud wrote as his obituary in 1977 was so just: Abdo Moussa reached the Height of all Truths: his sonorous voice immortalized him forever. His music still lives on and on, his humble origins were forgotten by his exceptional talent, and he was outlived by his sound. That's the only truth left on earth. The sound that stays alive, and makes us all living human beings even when we're gone.

The artist's portrait and a rababa.

The Musicians:

Eid Bindan.
Besides uploading Abdo's 'Best of' album comp featuring his famous songs (some are as old as 1947), you're gettin' another mini-album with some of his poetry sung sans any accompanying band. From Jordan comes three more artists that are worth a listen: 70's singer Eghab Al-A'ajrami (عقاب العجرمي), obscure Jordanian 60's bedouin singer Eid Bindan (عيد بندان), and contemporary Jordanian poet and singer-player Shbiekan M'Aieli Al-Ghayath (شبيكان معيلي الغياث).

Eghab Al-A'ajrami.
Saudi Arabia gets a small tribute with one bedouin singer's mini-album Nassir Assihani (ناصر السيحاني), plus a bonus comp of Jordanian and Saudi Arabian rababa-players and poets with an opening track by Moussa from the famous bedouin T.V. series 'Wadha We Ibn-A'ajlan' (وضحة وابن عجلان) which was very popular in the late 70's (not found on Abdo Moussa's Best of comp). And, a handful of zagal (story-telling) from Palestine, with chaâbi mawal singer Mhareb Deeb (محارب ديب). His are taken from his album 'Mghtaribeen' (مغتربين - Expatriates).

Mhareb Deeb.
From Syria, row-inducing Abu-Harba & His Band's (أبو حربة و فرقته) sole album 'Sahra with' from the early 60's can also be downloaded (a very rare album). Mahdi Za'arour (مهدي زعرور) comes with his wonderful rababa and a'taba from Lebanon with Ana Fi Sahra (أنا في صحراء - I'm In A Desert).
Mehdi Zaarour (مهدي زعرور).
Abu-Harba (أبــو حـربـة).
Well, runnin' the full gamut here, as usual, with ten albums... this is just another glimpse into one, ageless music from the Middle-east that never got its deserving fame. Those people weren't as much famous as they were free; made so by their music.

Take a hint o'western and westernized people of the world. It's the 'height' of truth... the way people were supposed to live but never did. Let's hope fer the best. And, yeah download all albums and hear for yourself the sounds so raw and obscure in these links below. Go... be free.

Happy listening!

Abdo's people: dancing Syrian gypsies in the 40's.

Video Linx:
-Abdo Moussa Videos.



Old, late 19ᵗʰ century stereoscope picture of a rababa player.

-The Rababa:

In the empty desert, the acoustics are perfect. Usually, desert-dwellers like bedouins and nomads didn't use 'loud' musical instruments because these wisened-by-life people respect their surroundings.
The rababa as an instrument has a high-pitch frequency rate (450-600 Hz.) and comes with a square, hollow soundbox that's usually covered with a gazelle's skin called the 'heart' or galb (قلب), tightened around the frame made from desert wood. The piece that holds the strings at the end of the neck, or ragabah is called tara (طارة) yielding from its top a single string.
Jordanian rababa player, 50's.

The style of playing on the neck, is called a'afeg (عفق) which means in bedouin-speak: violent stabs given in straight finger presses on the sole string made from a braided horse's hair (name: s'bieb - سبيب). The topmost piece on the neck's end is called al-faras (الفرس, or horse in Arabic), and the lowermost piece's called al-gazal (الغزال). In Jordan, the bow used to create the sound is called as'uwagh (السويق: the driver), or sometimes e-thrab (الذراب), and is made from pomegranate, or bamboo wood. Before playing, a player must soak the string with gum-juice (liban لبان), to give it this ultra-screech it makes when passed over being so dry.
A bedouin holding his rababah.

The music is called samri (سامري), and most poets sit next or close to one another (if not side by side) as they sing their poems with apparent seriousness. Other back singers might also accompany them facing each other (only two sitting face-to-face) as the player and the poet sing through and through, sometimes repeating a few lines here and there. Samri music is serious, but at the same time, it's a way to alleviate the harshness and hardships a bedouin has to face in the desert. The word itself means, 'to make smile', 'entertain'. Its earliest origins are said to be from Iraq way before writing was even invented. This sung poetry style was a way to tell a story before people knew how to write, and in order to make them memorize these stories, they had to put them into a singable tune. Simple. Yet, very clever.
A gathering of bedouin friends and guests over coffee.

Another famous singing style is the h'gini (هجيني, hijn: camels). It's what nomads sing as they travel the open deserts on their camels' backs making their trips (and those of fellow travelers) a bit more entertaining. Other styles are: mashoub (مسحوب, drawn: a rababa-specific singing, the playing is generally called jarr - جر drawn), raza'a (رزعة: improvised), beda'a (بدعة: short poetry sung using one couplet), al-muweili (المويلي: slaves used to sing this one), and sheroughi - شروقي/ شروجي. All these styles are based on kasid (قصيد: poetry), sung in different 'scales' or mwazeen (موازين).
A woman preparing a camel for a ride, Saudi Arabia, 30's.


-The Bedouin:

Usually, in a bedouin's house (called shigh, شق, or the fissure/hole because they're humbled by nature and don't like big houses), the rababa finds itself hung on the biggest pole that holds up the whole tent, or wassit (واسط: the middle one). Arab bedouins welcome their guests with sour coffee, boiled over small coals gathered from desert plants and wood. The guest should drink his small finjan (فنجان), or cup as not drinking it would be a sign of the guest having something behind his visit (e.g. asking a girl's hand, having some trouble with other tribes, having done something terrible that might shame them).

Home owners preparing coffee, Jordan 40's.

Women do not show their selves to men sitting in the shigh. They hide instead in a nearby small place called al-m'haram (المحرم: the forbidden). Women can feed the horses and bring water to the guests' camels. But, other than that, they just cook, take care of the kids and the houses. Food in the Arabian desert is one of the healthiest diets in the world. They eat dates and goat's milk and yoghourt. When it's winter, the women gather wood and fetch water from the springs that bedouins usually settle near to feed and water their herds.
A group of camels somewhere taken in the Saudi desert.

Bedouin people are closer to nature's elements more than any other culture in the world: the extreme weather patterns of the desert (very hot in daytime, and extremely cold in the night), have enabled these people to develop super-senses, healthy disease-free bodies, and amazing music.
Generosity for a bedouin is the basis of his life: they can part away so easily with earthly possessions if they were asked by a needy passerby, even can protect other strangers and lose their lives for them. It's the very anti-western life these nomads lead.
Syrian bedouins with their kids, late 1800's.


Extra Reads:
-Jordanian Styles of Bedouin Singing.

See ya, 'gain with another post.




Doug Young said...

Really really really adore your info and music. You open up a world... and the music you post!!!!
Anyways, u hav a fan

walkingtrees said...

have only looked at this post as this is my first visit here. love what you got going on, thank you for this!

Anonymous said...

هلا هلا مشكور
منمون عليك انا
يا خوي زمان كنت داور على البوم ابو حرب و فرقته و اخيرا الاقيه عند موقعتك
قاعد تتكلم انقليزي زي امريكي
رجال بس خليني اسالك انت عربي ولا امريكي
شلون تعلمت انقليزي كذا؟؟

Hammer said...

مرحبا بيك أخي. أتشرف.

الإنكليزية هي أسهل لغة على الإطلاق, و تعلمتها منذ الصغر حيث كان أخي الأكبر يتحدث بها أيضا بطلاقة. لا أعرف من أي دولة عربية أنت, لكن حدسي يقول لي أنك من السعودية.

أهلا بك على كل حال, و سعيد بأنك هنا و حصلت على مبتغاك أخي الكريم...