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The ataaba is a traditional Arabic musical form sung at weddings or festivals, and sometimes also by people at work. Popular in Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

, Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

, and Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

, it was originally a Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 genre, improvised by a solo poet-singer accompanying himself on the rababa. As part of the Palestinian folk music
Palestinian music
The music of Palestine is one of many regional sub-genres of Arabic music. While it shares much in common with Arabic music, both structurally and instrumentally, there are musical forms and subject matter that are distinctively Palestinian.-Pre-1948:...

 tradition, ataabas are generally performed by a vocal soloist, without instrumental accompaniment, who improvises the melody using folk poetry for the verse.

Sung unmetered in stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s comprising four lines, the last word of the first three lines are homonyms, each with a different meaning, creating a pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

. In urban settings, the ataaba is often paired with a metric choral refrain
A refrain is the line or lines that are repeated in music or in verse; the "chorus" of a song...

 called a mījanā.

The ataaba is also used by rural Palestinian
Palestinian people
The Palestinian people, also referred to as Palestinians or Palestinian Arabs , are an Arabic-speaking people with origins in Palestine. Despite various wars and exoduses, roughly one third of the world's Palestinian population continues to reside in the area encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza...

 women to express grief or reproach. The most common theme of an ataaba is love, though eulogies are also common. Less common themes include moral instruction, and descriptions of nature.


About half of all ataabas do not use fixed meter, while the other half use a standard rajaz or wāfir meter. Generally composed of four verses of poetry, the first three end with the same sound. The end of a verse or quatrain
A quatrain is a stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines of verse. Existing in various forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China; and, continues into the 21st century, where it is...

 in an ataaba is marked by adding a word ending in "-ba" to the end of the fourth hemistich
A hemistich is a half-line of verse, followed and preceded by a caesura, that makes up a single overall prosodic or verse unit. In Classical poetry, the hemistich is generally confined to drama. In Greek tragedy, characters exchanging clipped dialogue to suggest rapidity and drama would speak in...

. The fourth and final verse usually ends with a word ending in the sound aab or awa.

While there are four lines of verse in an ataaba, these are usually sung as two musical phrases. These phrases are often a melodic curve beginning on the fourth or fifth, descending to the cadence
Cadence (music)
In Western musical theory, a cadence is, "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution [finality or pause]." A harmonic cadence is a progression of two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece of music...

 and ending on the supertonic
In music or music theory, the supertonic is the second degree or note of a diatonic scale, one step above the tonic. In music theory, the supertonic chord is symbolized by the Roman numeral ii in a major scale, indicating that the chord is a minor chord , or ii in a natural minor scale, indicating...

 or tonic
Tonic (music)
In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of the diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone. The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is thus the most significant chord...

. All ataabas are performed by a soloist, who often begins by singing a long melismatic phrase on the syllable ōf. While this opening sequence is not necessarily a part of the ataaba, the closing melismatic phrase sung to words such as yā bā ("O father"), yā mā ("O mother"), or yā eyn ("O eyes"), etc., is an integral part of the song's structure and is unique to this musical form.


The ataaba is one of many Palestinian folk music
Palestinian music
The music of Palestine is one of many regional sub-genres of Arabic music. While it shares much in common with Arabic music, both structurally and instrumentally, there are musical forms and subject matter that are distinctively Palestinian.-Pre-1948:...

 traditions that continues to be performed at weddings and festivals in Arab villages in Palestine, as well as by Palestinians in the West Bank
West Bank
The West Bank ) of the Jordan River is the landlocked geographical eastern part of the Palestinian territories located in Western Asia. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with the state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan...

 and Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
thumb|Gaza city skylineThe Gaza Strip lies on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Strip borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a total area of...

. The ataaba and other forms of improvised poetry such as the mawwal and mijana have been used by Palestinians since the 1960s, "to express outrage and grief at the razing and appropriation of Palestinian villages by Israelis." Ataabas are also performed by famous Arab singers, such as the Lebanese singer and composer, Wadi' al-Safi.