Sounds from Arabia: Arab Music from the Saudi Ensemble

Enjoy a 2012 performance by the Saudi Ensemble at the Freer and Sackler galleries, the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art, Washington, D.C.

The Saudi Ensemble
Khalid Al-Barak, director

Abo Al-Hashmi Khaleafah, nay (flute)
Abdeen Shareef, semsemyah (lyre) and
Mohammad Sultan, ‘ud (lute)
Abdullah Khateri, qanun (plucked zither)
Adel Adbul Dayem, violin
Mosa Al-Rofai, tabla (drum)

Title Track
Fisalam al-Kayala
This traditional melody comes from a love song that expresses sad and wistful feelings upon the departure of a loved one. The maqam (melodic mode) is called bayati, a C-major scale with a half-flat E and a half-sharp F.
Ya Reem
This song dates to the mid-twentieth century and originates from western Saudi Arabia (Jeddah). The maqam (melodic mode) is called bayati, and the title is a woman’s name.
Suwya’at Al ‘aseel
This is an instrumental version of a song whose lyrics speak of memories from a specific time. The music originated in western Saudi Arabia, but it is now played throughout the country.
In coastal areas, this music is played among sailors while fishing or to celebrate their return home.  The title, Gharamak, means “romance.” It features the traditional lyre (semsemyah), one of the world’s oldest musical instruments.
Taqsim on qanun and nay
A taqsim is an unmetered exploration of a particular melodic mode ormaqam, designed to bring out its emotional and artistic essence. Thetaqsim is comparable in form and function to the alap of Indian ragas. It usually serves as an introduction to a rhythmic piece in the same mode.
Irsil salami
The title of this song means “send my greetings.” It originated in the early twentieth century in central Saudi Arabia.
Arus al Rawed
Originating in Mecca and Medina, this tune accompanies women’s dancing at weddings and other celebrations. Its title means “bride of the garden,” and the maqam is called dana.
The Mal’am
Like the song Gharamak (number 4, above), this tune is sung by fishermen. The maqam is called bha’hiri, which literally means “near the sea.” It usually features the lyre.
Taqsim for violin
See notes under track number 5.
Ghali Alathman
This modern tune, from the early 1990s, is heard all over Saudi Arabia.
Originating in Mecca and Tayif, this song of love and passion is heard at a variety of celebratory events. The maqam is called majroor.
Gideemak nideemak
This early twentieth-century song from Hejaz is titled, “The past will always be with you.”
Anu wa al habib
The lyre is featured in this song, whose title means “My beloved and I.” Themaqam is called bha’hiri (near the sea).
Taqsim for ‘ud and qanun 58:55-1:03:45
Methal sibiq
This song comes from city of Sibia in the south of Saudi Arabia. The area is known for its beautiful mountains and vegetation, so the song could be considered one about beauty. The rhythm is known as khutwa.
Watani habib
This is the national song of Saudi Arabia, showcasing Saudis’ love and devotion to their homeland.


Podcast coordination by Michael Wilpers, F|S manager of performing arts. Thanks to Halah Nasser for consulting on the titles and translations of songs, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Joelle Seligson for text editing, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web design, Neil Greentree for photography, and especially the Saudi Ensemble for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer Gallery. This podcast was funded in part through the exhibition Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips, on view at the Sackler Gallery from October 11, 2014, through June 7, 2015. The performance was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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