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Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer Tunes #7: Ah Ya Zain

Posted by tfaux on Friday, February 28, 2014

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Ah Ya Zain

This month's Uncommonly Strong clawhammer tune is "Ah Ya Zain" ("Aya Zein" or "Ayazein,") an Arabic-style dance number that has become a standard on the American bellydance circuit. American bellydancing blossomed in suburban communities in the 1980s and is now something of a culture industry: it combines exercise class, exotic dancing, feminism, "orientalist" clothing, and marketing into a performance practice that is strongly Middle-eastern in flavor but also uniquely American. Live music at performances is often provided by costumed musicians who play on traditional Arabic and western instruments.

Sometimes credited as an Egyptian folk song, "Ah Ya Zain" was likely composed by the Lebanese-American oud player/bandleader/singer Mohammed el-Bakkar, a popular professional entertainer, and Broadway and recording star in the 1950s. Spiritual precursors to the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, El-Bakkar’s records had titles like The Magic Carpet, Sultan of Bagdad [sic], and Music for a Belly Dancer.

The tune is as twisting and alluring as the dance. For the theoretically-inclined, the melody is in a scale called “double harmonic minor” because it contains two augmented 2nd intervals; also known, at least in the US, simply as the “Arabic scale.” You can find the scale by lowering the 2nd and 6th degrees of a major scale by a half-step each. For example in C: [C,Db,E,F,G,Ab,B,C] or in D: [D,Eb,F#,G,A,Bb,C#,D].

The texture of Arabic music is similar to American old-time in that musicians in an ensemble often play simultaneous variations: the oud player and the flute player might be outlining the same basic melody, but each does a unique variant, not unlike the way banjo and fiddle players approach an old-time tune.

I have posted this in the “beginner” tab section, since it is pretty straightforward, technically. The only difficulty is remembering where in the twisting melody you are, since there are so many similar phrases. In the tab I have included the rhythmic “ditties” in the banjo part, but only written the basic melody in the violin part.

Tab is HERE>

Banjo fiddle recording is HERE>   (Thanks to Robin Kearton, fiddler)

Mohammed El-Bakkar and his Oriental Ensemble HERE>





9 comments on “Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer Tunes #7: Ah Ya Zain”

cornfed Says:
Monday, March 3, 2014 @7:42:34 AM

Wow! Neat stuff.

dhahi Says:
Monday, March 3, 2014 @2:38:38 PM

Love it and learning it! Thanks
ps I also have a '29 Vega Regent.
And I see on eBay an 1890's SS Stewart Orchestra Model One. How much should I pay for this?

tfaux Says:
Monday, March 3, 2014 @3:08:13 PM

Thanks for the kind words gents!
Dave, I'm no pricing expert and wouldn't want to dispense bad advice. Bob Smakiula and Zepp are a couple of knowledgable dealers on the BHO. They might give you some idea, or you could post the question in the Vintage forum.

waterrat Says:
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @5:35:24 AM

Here is another Arabic tune that fits well on a banjo. In fact, the original recording features an instrument that sounds like a fretless banjo with the use of interesting chokes and slides. I believe the CD is from Putumayo. Album title: Arabic Groove; track: Intil Waheeda; Artist: Hisham Abbas

waterrat Says:
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @5:35:54 AM

No, I have not tried to make a tab of the tune.

tfaux Says:
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @12:56:48 PM

Where's the link waterrat?

zevio Says:
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @2:03:56 PM

thanks for expanding the boundaries.. keep em coming tfaux. Are you familiar with Kathy Moore's "where banjo meets world"??

tfaux Says:
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @2:19:36 PM

I am indeed. Thanks Zev.

cornfed Says:
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 @9:40:50 AM


I thought that you might find this to be fun.He really gets in the grove with his bowed membranophone.

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