Rich, complex, and beautiful — Lamma Bada

Tuning the Oud

Rich, complex, and beautiful — could describe someone to fall in love with. But I’m talking about an Arabic song, sometimes rendered in English as Lamma Bada Yatathanna, an ancient muwashshah, a genre of secular music from Al Andalus, Moorish Spain, which means it’s from some time before 1492 – that’s half a millennium ago!

Have a taste before I say more about Lamma Bada:

That was by Radio Tarifa from their album Rumba Argelina.

Here’s a bit of a very different version. (There are hundreds of versions. This song is very popular.)

That was by the terrific Nubian Oud Player Hamza el Din from his album Eclipse.

Here’s one translation of the words:

When the gossamer nymph appears,
My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction;
When I am enraptured by a glimpse,
My beloved’s beauty is a tender branch caught by the breeze;
Oh my destiny, my perplexity,
No one can comfort me in my misery,
In my lamenting and suffering for love,
But for the one in the beautiful mirage;
My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction,

Source: Hamza EL Din’s album Eclipse.

This song caught my attention, not because of the exotic melody, not because of the lyrics (which I didn’t understand), but because of an extra beat.

In modern notation, Lamma Bada is rendered in 10/8 time. That is, there are ten beats to the bar. Listen to this slowed down version (I hope Radio Tarifa doesn’t mind) and see if you can count those beats. (It starts on 10 — the upbeat — and ends on 9.)

When I heard it for the first time, I wanted to cut it up finer and I counted, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3. (If you’re interested, you might try again counting like that.)

My ear, used to our two-, three-, and four-beat bars, heard an extra beat stuck in the middle there — that 4. When I hummed it I’d often mistakenly turn it into a piece with three three-beat bars. I’ve done a little surgery on the Radio Tarifa version (I really, really hope they don’t mind) to show you what I mean. I’ve butchered it pretty badly, but it comes close to the three-beat version I turned it into.

Of course the song doesn’t have an extra beat. That beat is there as part of samai rhythm, a very popular rhythmic structure for muwashshah, one with ten beats to the bar.

There’s more to samai than those ten beats. The rhythm calls for a specific beat pattern in the accompanying percussion. Thanks to Maqam World — a web site dedicated to helping musicians understand the modal system used in classical Arabic music — I can show you how complex those ten beats are. Here’s a graphic:

In case you’re not used to Western notation: the larger note-looking things actually are notes (in this case without pitch) and the smaller flag-like things are rests — they indicate places where music is NOT played. As for the Ds and Ts at the bottom, my friend Catherine, a ney player, explained them: D stands for dum and T for tekk, the sounds that the frame drums (daffs) and goblet drums(doumbeks) make. A dum is the lower sound toward the middle of the drum and the tekk is the higher pitched sound at the rim.

Here’s a great version of Lama Bada with percussion. I found the Dumms and Tekks a little difficult to pick out because the percussionist is embellishing with other hits. But once the oud starts playing it gets easier to hear DUM — –|tek –|DUM DUM|tek — — |

You’ve worked hard to follow my enthusiasm this far. Now your reward: a couple of embedded YouTube videos of Lamma Bad for you to enjoy.

The first is by Lena Chamamyan, a Syrian singer with a gorgeous voice. It starts out very clearly laying out that samai thaqil, then the music becomes lush, almost Western-sounding. Obviously this wonderful song has been interpreted in every way possible. (Compare this version with the Hamza el Din version above).

Here’s an orchestral version, one from Tel Aviv with the Arab Jewish Ensemble Shesh Besh:

I’m sure you can find more, likely as different from these as an oud is from a guitar. I hope you enjoy them.

About charles thiesen

I live in Dorchester, MA with five housemates and a cat named Chat Cousteau. I write novels and ride a recumbent bike, among other things.
This entry was posted in pulleys + levers, rock to world, what I love and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Rich, complex, and beautiful — Lamma Bada

  1. Matt Mc says:

    I just found this song because of a band I enjoy, Dead Can Dance. I then stumbled upon this post and am sharing it with others. Thank you for helping me learn more about real music.

  2. Pingback: Andalus Arabic Choir

  3. Usha says:


    how wonderful that you have dedicated a posttp this maervellous piece.

    I am a bellydancer and have been longing to make a choreography to this piece, the Radio Tarifa interpretation. After taking a workshop dedicated to muwhasha pieces I have now started it. It’s quite a challenge because of the samai rhythm and the classical style of dancing that accompanies this. Most dancers don’t bother and treat the piece as a bar with 4 counts.

    Now, what I was wondering, the translation you have listed is the one that can be found on the internet. However the lyrics of the version by Radio Tarifa is quite different. I have tried to compare the translation listed above in your post to the Spanish one that doens’t work all the way. My Spanish is so bad, I have tried but can anybody help me out? That would be so wonderful because I like to know what I’m dancing to.

    These are the Spanish lyrics and this is what I’ve come up with (I’m Dutch so I had to translate it back to English…):
    Sueno de un sultan In the dream of the sultan
    Triste su despertar His sadness awakens
    No tenia na ???
    Jardin de rosas y fuentes The rosegarden and the fountains
    Morita danzando esta I danced …?
    Lamma bada tasana My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction
    Aman, aman, aman, aman Surrender

    Thank you and bye bye. Usha.

  4. Moi aussi je cherche le meme film que toi lamiss79
    ,depuis que je l’ais vue mercredi mais impossible de le
    trouver c’est chiant. Enough Said 2013 regarder par Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener.

  5. Mike Evans says:

    I was introduced to this song by an Astisn, TX band called Vana Mazi. I loved their rendition, and I am enjoying learning its history. Thanks for sharing!

  6. NicoleC says:

    Hi Ravishd,
    How would you describe the form and the texture of this song ?

    • ravishd says:

      Actually, I wouldn’t. I think the song speaks (sings?) for itself and description is unnecessary. I’m a writer, by profession, so this feels like a failure and a cop out, but there you have it.

      Thanks for your comment, though.

  7. Pingback: Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” | She's Got Hips

  8. Iyad says:

    Hi ravishd
    I’m an Arab who plays the guitar instead of Oud but this song moved something in me and I’m learning the Oud now
    U should check out Sayyed Darwish he has a 14/12 time maybe u know him already.

  9. Pingback: True Track 9: “Lama Bada Yatathana” by Lena Chamamyan | True Music. Period

  10. mindy says:

    This is SUCH an amazing song.I had made it my mission, tonight, to research the lyrics/meaning/history, so your site has been super. On Youtube I have been clicking to replay the Radio Tarifa version over and over again, while I focus on the lyrics and the driving beat. Fascinating. So far, however, I have felt no such affinity for any of the other versions I have heard so far, Fairuz included. For me, that lead singer for Radio Tarifa- was born with this song in his blood! What a soul. Even though I read that it is part of a secular tradition of music, I have to say that the mesmerizing way that Radio Tarifa does it- feels (to a non-Sufi) like Sufi dancing/twirling, the Sufi medium for connecting with the higher power. (Maybe if I keep listening to it, it will make a believer out of me!) Thx much for the work of putting this on your blog.

    usha, the radio tarifa lyrics and translation into english- can be found through google. what you have is pretty close . I think ‘no tenia na’ means ‘he didn’t have anything’

  11. Donna Salem says:

    I have been trying to figure out this rhythm pattern all day and it has been explained to me in the past. In fact a colleague and I actually sang the beginning acapello in 1981 as part of the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group performance featuring Nadia Gamal at Town Hall in NYC. Today I downloaded a rendition on itunes by two musicians (Amir Chehade and Elias Sarkis, recently passed on) I had the pleasure of working with years ago so I thought I would try to choreograph to it. I like to phrase my music before undertaking a choreography (a habit acquired through formal music and dance study at the university levels of academia). After listening to it, I couldn’t catch that it started on 10 and the Doum tek pattern confused me. After reading this article, I get it! Thank you so very much for breaking down this time signature! My hands hurt from clapping on beats 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8! I am so happy I found your page and I thing it is quite noble of you to share your knowledge!


    • ravishd says:

      Donna, sorry I missed this message. Thank you so much for letting me know this. It makes me happy, as you can imagine.

    • I am a Canadian, not Arabian or Persian, but used to odd rhythms, I perform this song weekly on harp, and I know it is 10/4, but for my brain to understand it and break it down I wrote it in a score like this 3/4 time – 4/4 time then 3/4 time that’s the phrase and it adds up to 10, makes so much sense, if you want a copy email me Also does anyone have the words? but not written in Persian, I can’t read that, but in English lettering?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for all the detail! I am working on this song, love to so much! I love Lena Chamamyan’s version best. I love the jazz ornamentation she adds, and the detour vocally on the B section, and her voice is just scrumptious!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I would like to try and find the actual lyrics to the song for language class, not just the translation. Where can i find it?

  14. MoFrancesco says:

    Reblogged this on francescovalentedotnet and commented:
    Lamma Bada

  15. malkd says:

    Happy to have found your blog. I’m learning to play this wonderful song on the flute.

  16. Omar says:

    The Paris phylharmonic, with a hundreds male and female voices, has taken this song to a new unprecedented level.


  17. Omar says:

    لينا شماميان – لما بدا يتثنى

    لما بدا يتثنى لما بدا يتثنى
    حبي جماله فتنا
    أمر ما بلحظة أسرنا
    حسن ثنى حينما
    وعدي ويا حيرتي وعدي ويا حيرتي
    من لي رحيم شكوتي
    في الحب من لوعتي
    إلا مليك الجمال
    أمان أمان أمان أمان

  18. Pingback: Example 3 Research, Part 1: Finger Cymbals and Middle Eastern Rhythm – Canvas Shaped of Silence

  19. Ahmed Algebaby says:

    it is Egyptian totally nothing called amman in arabic andalus this song written by mohammed el masloub who is egyptian man in ottomany egypt

  20. Pingback: Must-Know Bellydance Song: "Lamma Bada Yatathanna" - Mahin's Bellydance Quickies

  21. Pingback: Alas My Love, You Do Me Wrong | Austro-Athenian Empire

  22. Heiko Arntz says:

    Thanks so much. I would very much learn more arabic songs thus: with notes and text. I listen to lot a lot arabic music on Youtube, but in general I even don’t no the title of the pieces. Do you now any site or published book with arabic songs? Thanks again and best wishes from Germany – Heiko

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