Al-Badr, Ahmed (2012) The Social Context and Textual/Musical Characteristics of the Besta Genre of Southern Iraq. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Despite the extensive research by ethnomusicologists on a number of musical cultures, little attention has been given to Iraqi music. The term besta (literally, happiness) is used by Iraqis to signify the genre, which in formal Arabic is called ʾughniyeh. This thesis examines the besta genre in the community of the villages in Dhi-QAr province in southern Iraq. The aims of the study are: to place the songs of the area in their cultural context, classify the repertoire into different categories, develop an analytical methodology, analyse (recorded) examples of the besta song and archive the songs as rare examples f a somewhat endangered Iraqi genre.

Two approaches were followed in order to achieve these objectives: an ethnographic approach, to study the local community and explore the social context of singing, and an analytical approach, to explore the musical characteristics of the besta songs. The analysis involves study of the songs’ texts and their melodic features.

The results show that traditions are stronger than religious values in what is a completely male-dominated society, one in which women have little cultural role to play. Results of the analysis of the text identified poetic elements of the text such as the darmi as the dominant poetic metre, with parting as the main theme, and anguish and sadness as the central emotions of the texts. The results of the melodic analyses show that the intervallic structure of the songs’ melodies relies on a number of Iraqi and Arabic tetrachords, and that the Beyat tetrachord in particular is the most common among the songs. A number of structural characteristics of the melodies have been identified. Beside other patterns, the Maqsum is the most common accompaniment in the songs. It is hoped that the ethnographic and analytical approach developed in this study will lay the foundations for future studies of Iraqi and Arabic music.

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