The Inspiration Behind Saber's "Arabia": A Musical Ode to the Desert

Saber's composition "Arabia" is deeply inspired by the captivating landscapes of the Arabian desert—the sweeping sands and hidden valleys. Yet, the true muse for this piece is rather unexpected: the camel. Yes, you’ve read that right, inspired by the camel!

These majestic creatures have been not just vital for survival but also central to cultural expressions in the Arabian deserts.

Pianist Saber Bamatraf at University College London explaining the idea behind his music piece

Saber explains about the logic behind his music Arabia during a speech and performance at the University College London - Mind the Gap conference, September 2023

Historically, before the advent of musical instruments, Arabs conveyed their emotions through melodic phrases and rhythms, drawing from their immediate environment and the animals among them. This practice laid the groundwork for what is known in Arabic as "Buḥūr" (Seas), referring to the patterns of rhythmical poetry. Each 'Sea' consists of a specific number of 'taf'ilas' (rhythmic metres) that poets were required to adhere to in their verses. This ancient method of using quantitative metre is fundamental to Arabic classical poetry.

Among these poetic Seas, Saber drew inspiration from the Rajaz Sea (بحر الرجز) for his piece "Arabia." Often represented by the mnemonic pattern 'Mustafʿilun Mustafʿilun Mustafʿilun' (مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ), historians believe this pattern, mimicking the sounds 'tak-tak-tatak,' was influenced by the rhythmic movements of camels.

The connection between a camel and its rider is particularly profound. During long journeys, camels not only provide transport but also companionship, finding solace in the songs of their riders. As evening falls and the song's tempo quickens, so does the camel’s stride, eager to conclude the day’s travel.

Today, riding a camel introduces a distinctive rhythm that compels one to sway, a sensation Saber captures in "Arabia." He channels the essence of the desert experience—a Bedouin rider moving with his camel convoy through the harsh desert, experiencing coffee breaks, battling sandy winds, and pausing for the Azzan (call to prayer) melody.

The main theme of 'Arabia' was initially composed using the traditional 'Mustafʿilun' rhythm, reflecting the authentic sounds of Arabian rhythmic poetry. However, upon release, the piece was adapted to resonate more closely with Western classical music styles, making it more accessible to a global audience while still preserving its original cultural essence.

"Arabia" is not just a musical piece; it is an immersive experience that echoes the timeless spirit of the Arabian deserts and the rhythmic bonds shared by its travellers.

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