Avaz-e Abu Ata – Persian Music Continued

by Majnuun Music & Dance on January 13, 2014, no comments

In Persian music, we have Dastgah, but we also have what I like to call sub-dastgah. As we have dealt with Dastgah Shur already in this article. It is logical to keep in that vein now and discuss the offshoots of Shur, or the sub-dastgah of Dastgah Shur. We will now deal with Avaz-e Abu Ata. Avaz in Farsi means, “singing”, or “melody”.


Abu Ata is very iconic, and very well developed. By developed I mean it has some variation in the melodies created and you

can do a lot with it. This scale can be heard in all regions of the Middle East and in all musical forms, from spiritual, Quranic chanting, Sufi, Pop, Folk, and Traditional music. That being said, there is actually a lot of phrasal repetition in this Dastgah. You will hear a lot of phrases repeated in a descending manner, sometimes short phrases, sometimes longer phrases. Abu Ata is also referred to as “Dastaan-e Arab”. in Farsi which means “Arabic song”, or “Arabic melody”. It may point to the origin of this Dastgah. The equivalent Maqam for Abu Ata would be Bayati. I think these are the same scale with similar quality, and feelings. However, the traditions have developed very differently and the extensions or modulations to different scales are different and varied in each tradition. In Persian tradition, Abu Ata can also be performed alongside Dastgah-e Shur, Avaz-e Dashti, and Bayat-e Kord.


These are essentially sub-dastgah of Shur, or sub-maqam of Shur, because they are related by having the same fundamental tetrachord encompassed by the interval of notes expressed by D Eqb F G. This scale can be played in multiple keys, for example C: C Dqb Eb F, or G: G Aqb Bb C, and finally A: A Bqb C D. This is also the fundamental tetrachord that is shared with maqam Bayati. It is in the upper range of the scale that usually determines the characterization of each Dastgah. For example, Abu Ata makes frequent use of A natural as a melodic focus, whereas Dashti plays with alternating A natural and A quarter flat quite frequently.


Another interesting thing about Abu Ata is the name of one of its most important gushe. This gushe I am referring to is called Hijaz. For those of you familiar with Arabic music, you know that Hijaz is characterized by a stretched interval similar to a western harmonic minor scale, or this tetrachord: D Eb F# G, or the microtonal version: D Eqb Fq# G, or starting from note G: G Ab B C. The Hijaz of Abu Ata is actually nothing like the Arabic Hijaz. Which is interesting enough because Hijaz is the most well known Arab locality on the planet. Hijaz is the area encompassing the mountain range in Saudi Arabia parallel to the Red Sea that harbors two very important cities: Mecca and Medina. Hijaz in Arabic means “barrier”, probably in reference to the range of mountains. Think about the meaning of Hijaz, but the melody and the note used invokes a similar feeling to the height of mountains or as a barrier. The melody of Hijaz focuses on the perfect 5th, the 5th note of the scale from whatever key being played. For example, if played in D, Hijaz would be focused on A natural. Let’s listen to a few examples:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/129260618″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/129260455″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Listen closely to the next two gushe, Hijaz comes after Sayakhi.

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Yet another interesting thing about Abu Ata and the Radif in general, is that it contains a gushe that sounds remarkably close to the name of an Arabic and Turkish Maqam Bastanikar. In the Radif, it is Baste-negar. I will have to ask some people about the name of this gushe and the maqam. The name is probably very old, and I can find many different meanings to it. The Farsi words translate to something like “bundle” and “picture”. Maybe it means, framed picture…? The meaning of the name has probably been lost, and perhaps this came to be used as a name of a Maqam down through time. In the Radif, the Gushe Baste-negar is found in a few different Dastgah. It is a simple phrase form that sound good in pretty much any scale. So in the Radif, some Gushe represent melodic phraseology, other’s like, Hijaz indicate a certain melody, or modulation that creates a new feeling in the music.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/129261362″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Two more Gushe, the second of which uses a quarter flat 5th, that is.. A quarter flat (if starting in D), whereas most of Abu Ata is performed with a perfect 5th note. Obviously, this Gushe represents a modulation.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/129261640″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Persian Music and Arabic Music

There is another phrase in a gushe called Chahar-pare, which I haven’t recorded. Is quite an oddity, especially when you consider the way modern Persian music is performed today. There is much less modulation in Persian music than in Arabic music, but this is probably mainly in ensemble work, because all instruments in an ensemble cannot make the same modulations in the same manner. In the above-mentioned Gushe, a resolution phrase at the end of a passage modulates from F natural to F sharp, and descends the scale creating a very sudden and quick modulation to this tetrachord: D Eqb F# C. In Arabic music, this tetrachord is known as Maqam Hijaz. In performing Abu Ata, this modulation is completely ignored by modern Persian musicians. One could make the case that Abu Ata in its entirety is very influenced by Arabic music, which would explain the name “Dastaan-e Arab”, and the use of this sudden and fleeting modulation to Maqam Hijaz. But this is only my guess.

I don’t know about you but I find that FASCINATING! I never actually gave much thought about it until actually investigating Arabic music. I think that once I study Turkish music, I will discover even more things about Persian music as well. I have also made a comparison of Arabic Maqam and Persian Dastgah on my other site, OudforGuitarists.

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