Yacoub Abu Ghosh


“Journey was an attempt to allow the music to lead me subconsciously through several emotional expressions, using tools from what I consider to be my musical heritage. Building on the concept of “musical dialect,” I apply the musical epistemologies of our region, which I acquired over the years, to produce contemporary music.”  (Yacoub Abu Ghosh)

For the artist, the sounds capture emotions that are hard to express in words, speaking to a setting where the oral traditions of the maqam musical practice are often passed from teacher to student through live interaction, as opposed to written notation.

"Journey” takes the listeners on a two-part journey, first with the artist’s faithful companion, the bass guitar, and then with the keyboard; an instrument that opens new musical sentences within the emotional horizon that Yacoub Abu Ghosh has been paving.

Although he uses modern instruments like the bass guitar and keyboard, Abu Ghosh works with ancient maqams whose geographic and temporal origins run deep within the modal classical system. Staying true to his argument of developing a personal musical “dialect” rooted in time, memory and practice, Abu Ghosh adds his personal touch to these melodic modes, updating them for a modern listening experience.

Starting from the minor scales (loosely translated as maqam Nahawand), the track creates a premeditated sense of tension that is intertwined with repeated musical passages. The Ajam maqam within the piece adds an air of joy to the journey, and then swiftly shifts into maqam Hijaz to shake the listener’s emotional state. The aural “Journey” then transitions into maqam Bayati creating an expression of longing, only to take yet another turn, this time to maqam Kurd for more melancholy.

The musical wandering between melodic modes and different emotional states demonstrates music’s ability to shift and influence listeners’ moods. It aligns contemporary instrumentation with time-transcending maqams inviting listeners to re-define and question heritage, creating what can be perceived as a time capsule of potential future heritage.

Composer: Yacoub Abu Ghosh
Arrangement: Yacoub Abu Ghosh
Instruments:  bass guitar, synthesizers
Recorded: August 2021
Lyrics:  n/a


Suleimah’s Picnic

Suleimah’s Picnic is a musical piece that merges two works from Levantine folklore: “How Do I Sleep at Night, Suleimah? - شلون أنام الليل يا سليمى” and “What a Beautiful Picnic - يا محلا الفسحة .” Looking through the archives to find the original recordings did not yield any results, yet the artist tapped into what modal/maqam music is best known for: practice through memory.

It wasn’t until the 1932 Cairo Congress of Arabic Music and the arrival of Western recording companies that the debate around notating music fully erupted. Up to that point and still to this day, memory and practice form an integral part of cultural knowledge in West Asia and North Africa.

The two musical pieces combined in this track form an essential part of Abu Ghosh’s musical memory. The artist has strong emotional bonds to both, and chose to recreate them through personal interpretation by using innovative instrumentation; employing the modern electronic synth to present folkloric tunes.

The track starts with “How Do I Sleep at Night, Suleimah?  - شلون أنام الليل يا سليمى” which is a sweet serenade from the early 20th century that most probably originated in southern Syria or northern Jordan. It is played in the Kurd maqam and speaks of a man who yearns for his beloved Sulaimah during sleepless nights. Using bass guitar and an improvised discovery of maqam on the synth, Abu Ghosh then transitions into “What a Beautiful Picnic - يا محلا الفسحة” yet another piece from the north-western parts of the Levant. It is played in the Nahawand maqam and speaks of a seaside picnic under a shimmering moon.

Suleimah’s Picnic leads the listeners through the fluidity and flux of heritage and West Asian cultural identities:

“It is not only we as human beings that constantly adapt and change, but also our culture and music. This ability is an integral part of our survival and the continuity of our culture.”
(Yacoub Abu Ghosh)

Composer: From folk heritage
Arrangement: Yacoub Abu Ghosh
Instruments: Synth, bass guitar
Date of original composition/work: Possibly early 20th century
Recorded: August 2021
Lyrics:  n/a


The Why Behind the Music

Yacoub Abu Ghosh

I have been working as a musician for nearly 25 years. Throughout this time, I worked in many roles, from bass guitar player, to composer and arranger, both independently and in collaboration. This made me hone my own voice, which became easily identifiable and detectable.

To me music is a tool of expression similar to language; it allows me to communicate my emotions and reflect on the evolution of my identity. As living organisms, music and language constantly adapt to eras and events. Growing up in Amman, I absorbed influences that resonate with this place, but I have also been part of a wider musical movement that has been in the making for the past two decades, which demonstrates that we as individuals and communities shape our ever-changing heritage.

This heritage is linked to something that goes beyond musical or aural documents and sources—it connects to our subconscious. That is where I shape my own dialect/idiolect within my natural environment as it transcends geographic borders and institutionalisation. The musical diversity in Amman, from Bedouin music to jazz or rock, all evolved differently but are still part of the same place.

Throughout my work-process for Mirath:Music, I tried to show the vast array of musical dialects that have shaped me and our region, without drawing borders or spelling out definitions. The music shows a sense of belonging to the surrounding environment that forms us. I believe that in the future the whole world will experience belonging to a universal place without prejudice or discrimination. Working on this project enabled me to further develop a wider understanding of my own heritage, while relating to the experiences of other musicians.

Interview with Yacoub Abu Ghosh