Sama’i is much more than a rhythm…

Most belly dancers have heard of the sama’i thaqil rhythm. It’s a 10/8 made popular by the Andalusian song Lamma Bada Yatathanna. But the term sama’i has many meanings in classical Arabic music. Let’s explore!

Side note: In the Arabic language many words originate from a root word comprised of consonants. The word sama’i means listening and come from the root word s-m-‘ (سمع) which means to hear, to listen, pay attention, be told, hear about. More info to be found here.

1. The 10/8 Rhythm (Yeah, yeah we know…)

Samai’I thaqil roughly translates to heavy listener. The rhythm consists of 10 beats:


Here is a video of the rhythm:

2. The Song Form (what?!?)

When I went to the Arabic Music Retreat in 2013, one of the highlights was beginning to understand the different song forms of Arabic music. The sama’i song form is comprised of 4 sections or khana. In between each khana is a refrain, called the taslim.  The first three khana use the sama’i thaqil rhythm while the fourth changes to another rhythm such as a 6/8. Other musical song forms seem to do similar changes in the fourth section, the Turkish longa being another example. For more information about song forms, check out which is maintained by frequent Arabic Music retreater Johnny Farraj. P.S. I HIGHLY encourage all dancers to go to the Arabic Music Retreat. You’ll never listen to Arabic music the same way again. Here are 2 examples of the sama’i song form that I have studied and love:

This piece, called Sama’i ‘Ushshaq Masri was written by Arab music scholar Dr. A.J. Racy and is absolutely beautiful:

This is a popular piece called Sama’i Nahawand by Munir Bashir Samaii being the song form and nahawand the Arabic mode or maqam):

Another Samai Nahawand:

3. Tarab (Sh!t just got real)

According to Dr. A. J. Racy’s book, Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab, “In Arab culture, the merger between music and emotional transformation is epitomized by the concept of tarab, which may not have an exact equivalent in Western languages”.  Just like belly dancers, classical Arabic musicians react to the audience. In order for tarab to occur, there has to be a loop of energy between the audience and the musicians. I’ve had it explained to me that some tarab musicians and singers will test the audience at the beginning of a concert to see if they have sama’iyeh or listeners of tarab. I’d like to point you to a great blog that goes a little deeper in this topic here.

I am always enchanted by sama’i. Both the rhythm and song form are beautiful and can be a rich addition to your dance repertoire. Did you learn something? Great! Did I make a mistake in this article? Tell me! I’d love to hear from you and continue to improve and provide education to dancers on Arabic music.