Notes & Lyrics


Kareem Roustom  —  Embroidered Verses: Songs on Andalusian Poetry

Translations by Ahmad Al-Mala


Commissioned by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture with the support of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Premiered December 5, 2015 at Bryn Mawr College with the Al-Bustan Takht ensemble, directed by Hanna Khoury, and The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally.


Embroidered Verses is a work that is steeped in tradition but also looks ahead. Tradition is a troublesome word when it comes to music. There is often this sense that there is a ‘purity’ to it. However, even a cursory investigation will show that any tradition is anything but pure. Rather, it is an amalgamation of, what was at some point, current practices that built on past practices and added to them. So,  this is the sense of tradition that I hoped to imbue in my Embroidered Verses. The work is cast in four movements and each is based on a poem that is based on a theme that was common in the muwashshah. The first text is a descriptive text dealing with nature and extolling the beauty of Al-Andalus. The second text is simply a drinking song. However, it is a text that has already been set to music and is a well-known muwashshah by Aleppan composer Omar Al-Batsh, Qum Ya Nadim or Arise oh Drinking Companion. This re-setting of already-set text to new music is also part of the tradition and is a nod to Aleppo’s rich musical heritage. The third text is a love poem composed by a poetess, Umm Al-Kiram, and the final text is a war-themed poem. Each setting tries to give a sense of the text but also pushes it to its emotional limits. The settings also showcase the virtuosic capabilities of the takht (Arabic chamber group composed of oud, qanun, violin, cello, and percussion) and requires the choir to sing intricate harmonies as well as long embellished lines that use quarter tones.

I. Ya ‘ahla ‘andalusen lilāhi darrukumu  /   Oh people of Andalusia, what beauty you have   /     يا أهل أندلس لله دركم

Poet: Ibn Khafāja (1058 - 1138 -9 CE), Alzira

Ya ‘ahla ‘andalusen lilāhi darrukumu

mā’un wa ẓilun wa ‘ashjārun wa ‘anhāru

mā jannatul khuldi ‘illa fī diyārikum

wa law takhyartu hadhā kuntu ‘akhtāru

lā takhtashu ba’dahā an tadkhulu saqaran

fa laysa tudkhalu ba’dal jannati nāru.

Oh, people of Andalusia,

What how blessed you are

Water, shade, trees, and rivers

There is not an everlasting heaven

except in your lands,

and if the choice was mine

this is what I would choose.

So, do not fear going to hell after this,

For there is no entrance to hell

after having been in heaven.

يا أهل أندلس لله دركم

ماء وظل وأشجار وأنهار

ما جنة الخلد إلا في دياركم

ولو تخيرت هذا كنت أختار

لا تختشو بعدها أن تدخلوا سقراً

فليس تدخل بعد الجنة النار

II. Qum yā nadīm  /   Arise oh drinking companion   /     قم يا نديم

Poet: Anonymous

Qum ya nadīm ‘imla wa hīm      dawer aqdāḥī

al-laylu ṭāl wal ḥibbu ‘āl       ‘ilas ṣabāḥi

maḥlal wiṣāl wel ‘ittiṣāl       ma’-’al milāḥi

rākhīl shu’ūr yaḥkil budūr       zahral aqāḥi

Arise, oh drinking companion,

drink your fill and fall in love

pass around my wine goblets

The night has grown long and love speaks so

till the coming of dawn.

How sweet it is to unite and be

with those of beauty

with tranquil feelings telling the moons

of the coming bloom.

قم يا نديم أملا و هيم    دور أقداحي

الليل طال و الحب قال   إلى الصباح

محلا الوصال و الإتصال   مع الملاح

راخي الشعور يحكي البدور   زهر الأقاح

III. Yā ma’shara al-nāsi alā fa’jabū   /   Oh people, stop and wonder   /     يا معشر الناس ألا فاعجبوا

Poetess: Umm Al-Kirām 11th century CE, Almeria

Yā ma’shara al-nāsi alā fa’jabū

mimma janathu law’a tul ḥub bi

lawlā hu lam yanzel bi badri dujā

min ufquhil ‘ulwiyī litturbi

ḥasbī bimen ‘ahwāhu law ‘annahu

fāraqanī tāba‘uhu qalbi

People, can you stop and wonder

at the gains of love’s ardor:

without it,

the moon of the dark

would not descend

from the highest horizons to the Earth

It’s enough for the one I love, that if

he abandons me

my heart will follow him.

يا معشر الناس ألا فاعجبوا

مما جنتـه لوعـة الحـبّ

لولاه لم ينزل ببـدر الدجى

من أفقه العلــوي للتُربِ

حسبي بمن أهواه لو أنــه

فارقني تابعـــه قلبـي

IV. Qul lil’idā  /   Tell the enemy   /      ق للعدى

Poet: Muhamad bin abada al-qazaz 11th century CE, Almeria

Qul lil’idā qul salla seyfeyhi

dīnul hudā min ‘azmi malkeyhi

wa ‘akadā wudda muḥibbeyhi

shamlun nuẓem

ḥablun ‘uqed


lā tanhadem

lahul ‘abad



kullul ‘anām bithāka ya’taddu

fafil kirām kilāhuma fardu

‘innal ḥa mām fi’eykihā tash dū


qul, hal ‘ulem

‘aw hal ‘uhed


kal mu’taṣem

wal mu’taḍded


Tell the enemies, tell them, “he unsheathed his two swords,”

(religion’s guidance is from the will of his two kings),

and he confirmed the love of his supporters.

The union is composed

the rope is tied:

a structure,

(Do not fall!)

Eternity is

its columns.


All the people, take pride in this

Among the generous, these two are one,

and the doves sing in their thickets:

has there been known,

has there been witnessed,

or has there been (anyone)

like Al-Mu’tasim

and Al-Mu’tadid

Two kings!

قل للعدى          قل سلّ سيـْفيْهِ

دين الهدى        من عزم ملْكيْهِ

وأكـــــــدّا       ودّ محبّيْـــــــهِ

شمل نظمْ

حـبل عقدْ


لا تــنهدمْ

لـــه الأبدْ



كلّ الأنـام         بــــــذاك يعتدُّ

ففي الكرام         كــــلاهما فردُ

إن الحـمامْ      في أيكها تشدو

قل هل علمْ

أو هل عهدْ

أو كـــــــانْ




Kinan Abou-afach  —  Of Nights And Solace: Fantasia on Andalusian Muwashshah Poetry

Translated by Ahmad Almallāh


Commissioned by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture with the support of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Premiered December 5, 2015 at Bryn Mawr College with the Al-Bustan Takht ensemble, directed by Hanna Khoury, and The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally.


As is commonly said in Arabic literary tradition, “The poet is entitled to what others are not.”  /    يحق للشاعر ما لا يحق لغيره,


This is not a surprise when we look at the pre-Islamic era (Al-Jahiliyya) in the Arabian Peninsula, where poets were the “rockstars” and tribes used to celebrate having a poet among them, for the power of words that they possess, and the entertainment value that they provide. When looking into the classical poetry from the pre-Islamic era until Islam’s Golden Age, it is fascinating how much passion can be skillfully embedded in a single verse of poetry. The Andalusian era wasn’t an exception, poetry was still a valid art form, and entertainment was definitely needed in the society. That is, among other reasons, why the muwashshah developed and flourished during that era. The same powerful/meaningful words, but in modified rhythmic meters (buhur) and forms are used to make a poem that fits in musical sung form: a hint to the Verse-Chorus form.


Of Nights and Solace: A Fantasy on Andalusian Poetry is a virtual trip to Andalusia, a dive into love, passion, and beauty: love and lament for parting with a beloved one as in the first poem by Ibn Zuhr; love and tearful longing for the Creator, almost reproachful, by Sufi poet/philosopher Ibn Arabi; undeclared love and the difficulty of keeping this love in Ibn Isa Al-Khabbaz’s poem; a beautiful rhythmic poem by Al-Qazzaz, like a word play; and Sahl Bin Malik’s poem which gives a beautiful image about sunrise. It is as if the whole piece is telling a story that begins at sunset and ends at the break of day, featuring multiple characters, progressing from classical muwashshah style to a broken form that still hints to the muwashshah.


Musically speaking, it was hard to imagine this composition without the use of harmony and polyphony. Although harmony is usually not used in traditional Arab music, when quarter-tones are used with the right voicing it creates a very pleasant mass of sound. Polyphony is more forgiving, and the structure of Arabic Maqams (scales) welcomes something that is close to poly-tonality (when using Maqam’s ajnas simultaneously). The piece uses a wide range of harmonic styles, from simple to a complex/thick texture to reflect the mood of the piece, and has a canon-like section that begins and ends the piece along with a fugue in the middle of the piece.

II. Ḥayyī-l wujūh (Greet These Faces)

Poet: Ibn Zuhr al-Hafīd b. 1110-11 CE, Seville

ḥayyī-l wujūha-l milaḥā,

wa ḥayyī nujla-l ‘uyūnī.

hal fī-l hawá min junāḥi?

aw fī nadīmin wa rāḥi?


rāma-n naṣūhu salāḥī.

wa kayfa arjū şalāḥā

bayna-l hawá wa-l mujūni.


yā rāḥilan lam yuwaddi’.

raḥalta bi-l unsi ajmi’.

wa-l ‘ajzu yu’ṭi wa yamna’:



wa akhfū-r ruwāḥā siḥran

wa mā wadda‘ūnī.

Greet these beautiful faces,

Greet these big-wide eyes.

Could there be sin in love?

Could there be sin in wine and its companion?


The one who gives me advice seeks my salvation.

But how can I wish for salvation

when I am in-between my love for love and the love of drinking.


You journeyed away without goodbyes.

You parted away with all.

Helplessness gives and prevents:


My lovers passed,

hiding their passing at dawn

without goodbyes.

III. Forsaken

Poet: Muhyi Ibn al-Arabi b. 1165 CE, Murcia

‘indamā laḥa li’aynī-l muttakā

dhubtu shawqan lilladhī kāna ma’ī.

ayyuha-l baytu-l atīqu-l mushrifu:

jā’aka-l ‘abduḍ-ḍa‘īfu-l musrifu


‘aynuhu bid-dam’i shawqan tadhrifu

ghurbatan minhu wa makran fa-l bukā

laysa maḥmūdan idhā lam yanfa’i


ayyuha-s sāqī-sqinī lā ta’tali

falaqad at‘aba fikrī ‘ādhilī

wa laqad anshadahu mā qīla lī


ayyuha-s sāqī ilayka-l mushtakà

ḍā‘ati-sh shakwà idhā lam tanfa’i

When the resting place came in sight

I dissolved in longing for the one I was with.

I call upon this old abode, looming:

There comes to you a servant weak and wasteful.

His eyes, flowing with the tears of longing.

But how can there be praise for a weeping,

when weeping brings no benefit.


“O you who pours the wine”

Pour me a drink, and do not be weary of me.

My thoughts made him tired,

the one who blames me.


“O you who pours the wine

to you are my complaints”

But complaints are lost when complaints bring no benefit

V. Yā man ‘adā (You Who Left and Passed)

Poet: Abu al-Walid Yūnis bin ‘īsà al-Khabbaz

yā man ‘adā wa ta’addá

law kuntu amliku ṣabrī


katamtu ‘anka-l ladhī bī

fa’nta tadrī wa tadrī


hayhāta katmu-l gharāmi

ṣa’bun ‘alá man yarūmo


wa habka anna malāmī

yudīmuhu man yudīmo.


mādhā ‘ala-l mustahāmi

filḥubbi mimman yalūmo.


nadhartu li-l lāhi ṣiyāma shahrini

wa ‘ashri


lammā arāka habībī

mā bayna ṣadrī wa naḥrī

You who left and passed,

If only I owned my patience


I kept my love from you,

while you pretended not to know, though you know.


Love is impossible to hide

and difficult for those who seek it


Can you consider how the blame

I get for loving you never ends.


Though what has one, lost in love,

done wrong to be blamed.


I swore to god that I would fast

one month

and ten day


Maybe I’ll be granted to see you my love

close to my chest,

in front of my eyes.

VI. Sunrise

Poet: Muḥammad ʿUbāda al-Qazzāz b. 902 CE

badru tamm

shamsu ḍuḥà

ghusnu naqā

misku shamm


mā atamm

mā awḍaḥa

mā awraqā

ma anamm


lā jarama

man lamaḥā

qad ‘ashiqā

qad ḥaram


fa-l wiṣāl

mā qad khalā

min amalin



wa-l khayāl

mā qad ‘alà

min nafasin


a full moon

a morning sun

a straight young branch

a beautiful scent


isn’t full

isn’t clear

didn’t sprout

didn’t waft


it must be

that he who glimpsed,

is in love

and deprived



is what is free

of any past hope


and imagination

is the loudness

of a soft respiration

Poet: Abu al-Hasan Sahl bin Mālik

kuḥlu-d dujà yajrī

min muqlati-l fajri

‘alà-ṣ ṣabāḥ


wa mi’ṣami-n nahri

fī ḥulalin khuḍri

‘alà-l biṭāḥ

The black of night runs

From the eye of dawn

Upon the break of day


Upon the river’s wrist

In garments of green

It runs upon the valleys.

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