Muhyiddin Ba’yun – Taxim Alal Wahidat

Muhyiddin Ba’yun (1868-1934) was from Beirut, and became a popular recording artist for the Baidaphon company, based out of that same city, from the early 1920s until around the time of his death. He became well-known as both a singer and as a talented instrumentalist, having studied under a lute player from Baghdad named Ibrabim Adham. It appears he recorded sessions in 1924, 1926, 1929, and sometime in the early 1930s, most likely, when this terrific improvisation was made – a wahida, similar to the Turkish ciftetelli, accompanied by an oud playing on the pulse throughout the piece.

Part of the problem of piecing together an overall picture of Ba’yun’s career for me, anyway, is access to documentation. I could trace about 35 individual releases by Ba’yun, most of which are vocal pieces, though I am almost certain there are more. Typically, his name is often transliterated in multiple ways: Mohieddine Effendi Bayoun, Mohiddine Baayoun, and the spelling I’ve used above, culled from an out-of-print Ocora CD (Archives de la Musique Arabe, Vol. 1).

One of the most interesting wrinkles when considering Ba’yun’s output has appeared when trying to determine precisely what instrument he’s playing. On some records he is credited as playing the buzuq. On others, he is credited as playing the tanbur. Tony Klein first brought this artist to my attention, and the instrument he was playing. We listened to Ba’yun tracks which were labeled buzuq and others labeled as tanbur, and he posited that there appeared to be very little sonic difference, if any, between the sound of either instrument.

Definitions can be hazy, however. The buzuq is usually a two-course instrument with 24 frets and a body similar to the oud. “Tanbur” is a term that can refer to a number of different long-necked lutes from Turkey to Central Asia. Complicating things further, Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments states in their tanbur section that “Buzuq is the term known in Arab urban music and is used in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut.” So tanbur = buzuq in this instance. Or does it? Or, as Tony asked rhetorically in an e-mail: “When is a tanbur a buzuq, and/or when is a buzuq not a tanbur?”

At the risk of plummeting down a semantic rabbit hole, it’s probably best to get right to the music. Those who’d like to augment our musical instrument discussion are welcome. Enjoy!

Muhyiddin Ba’yun – Taxim Alal Wahidat

Technical Notes
Label: Baidaphon
Issue Number: B 090887
Matrix Number: same

Thanks to Tony Klein!


I am wrapping up the notes to Excavated Shellac: Reeds, the next LP in the Parlortone series, which hopefully will be finished soon. I can definitely say that it’s the most intense little mix I’ve put together, with virtually all 14 tracks stone rarities. Opika Pende, on the other hand, sold out its first printing recently, and a second printing arrives very soon. I’ve been way behind on posting, as usual, but there’s lots afoot.

7 thoughts on “Muhyiddin Ba’yun – Taxim Alal Wahidat

  1. Very nice piece + good luck with ‘Reeds’. Any chance Strings + Reeds might be available in the future on CD for the ‘less pure’ among us? Keep up the great work!

  2. Absolutely beautiful and sounding as fresh as the day it was recorded. Thanks, as ever. On the question of the type of instrument, it’s quite possible that after the session, a record company clerk was filling out a card with the recording details, and asked another clerk ‘What was that instrument?’, and got a vague, uninformed reply, which was then preserved for us to puzzle over eight decades later.

  3. Thanks, as always, gracenotes!

    John B – it’s possible, but I’m not sure as of yet. Thanks for your support and interest – I appreciate it. If anything happens with that, I’ll let you know!

  4. Thank you for this insteresting record. The sound of the instrument reminded me the Turkish ‘cümbüş’, which was derived from banjo. Both cümbüş and tanbur/buzuq sound similar. And the instrument of Bayun may be a ‘hybrid’ instrument, like Malatyalı Fahri’s instrument. Here is a photo of it: You can see that he put a tanbur’s fingerboard to a cümbüş’s body.

    I don’t know the case in Egyptian music, but in Turkish music the names of the lutes are not systematic. The tradition names the lutes according to their sizes, but the names are usually confused with each other. The historical sources also contradict with each other. And the modern folkloric studies show that every region uses different names for different types of lute. So maybe the case with the Egyptian tanbur and buzuq is because of a similar confusion.

    And when it comes to music: I am aware of Bayun’s reputation, but being familiar to Turkish music, unfortunately what I can only hear is false notes.

    Good luck with your new LP.

  5. Hi Volkan –

    Thanks for your comments – I have to say that I disagree with your comment on the sound. I don’t believe this sounds like a cumbus at all. It doesn’t sound like an instrument with a metal resonator to me – there’s a marked difference in sound, to my ears. An oud and a banjo, for example, sound wildly different to me. That said, it sounds similar, but not quite the same, as a saz.

    I was introduced to a musician named Matar Muhammed, a buzuq player, by Tony Klein. You can see the buzuk he’s playing here:


    1. As regards false notes – perhaps we should simply and humbly agree that just as languages and dialects differ, so do the intervallic structures of the innumerable maqamat/makamlar of the many countries in which maqam is the basis of melody. There are no absolute standards. If such standards are asserted they are usually academic “after the event” constructions like grammar books and dictionaries, always about to become obsolete. Of course there have been many attempts within for example Turkish and Persian classical music to systematise the divisions of the octave but none has absolute validity – just as one man’s blue note is probably not exactly the same number of cents above the note before it as the next man’s blue note. I don’t mean to say that there cannot be “out of tune” playing of course. But it doesn’t help much to say that this sounds “out of tune” because one has grown up with Turkish music. This is not Turkish music.

      1. To wrap up the reasoning in my previous comment: what is meaningful here is what the limits are to accepted variations in pitch within the music of a particular culture. At what point would we in the West consensually agree that “that blue note sounds wrong?” If Ba’yun was heard as playing in tune by people of his own culture, then he was in tune.
        This ethnomusicological way of reasoning is to my mind quite separate from all discussions on absolute standards of intonation based on mathematical and physical acoustics, such as the debates on the out of tune-ness of equal temperament, and the superior quality of interval systems based on whole number frequency ratios.
        Within the sphere of Western classical music, players of fretless stringed instruments, such as the violin family, will pitch notes on the fingerboard differently depending on whether or not they are playing together with a fixed pitch instrument such as a piano. Ask a classical violinist how they tune. To acoustically perfect fifths, which are by definition out of tune with a properly tuned piano. But their playing is then adapted to be in tune with pianos.
        The whole field of transposable and non-transposable tuning and fretting systems is so complex that I will now, having given some examples, hold my peace……

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