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Ayoub in Crete: Existential questions and talking to the dead

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

by Walladah

Ayoub in Crete: Existential questions and talking to the dead

Have you ever thought that the rhythm which we call ayoub along with some

of its ritual aspects exist in Crete island today?

Crete is the big island in the south of Greece, more or less in the middle of the

Eastern Mediterranean and exactly between Greece and Egypt if one draws a

line to connect the two countries.

There is a group of traditional songs of Crete island, which seem to have a very

strong connection to the rhythm of ayoub in Egypt.

1. What is ayoub?

Ayoub is the name used for a 2/4 rhythm in Egypt that has various forms (very

slow, slow, quick, very quick) and consists of basically two heavy/deep sound

hits (centre of drum) and two light/surface sound hits (crown of drum). In

western representation it is two Dum(s) and two tek(s), where the first is the

stronger and isolated from the rest, so that everything else sounds to be

attracted to that first Dum. Dum…. TekDumTek – Dum…. TekDumTek.

Listen to an example of ayoub

The quick versions, although same rhythmic pattern, have a completely

different movement sensation

Here is a progression from very slow to very quick ayoub

The autonomy of the first Dum creates a very clear sensation of wave in

movement and sound that attracts the repetitiveness of the rhythm, which is

for this reason also used for ritual purposes, i.e. in trance dances, for example

in Zar ceremonies. A Zar ceremony is a collective ritual, usually held or led by

women, that aspires to heal a person who is perceived to have been possessed

by a spirit (jinn, afrit), not by eliminating the spirit but by negotiating with it

and allowing it to speak.

Zar music uses various rhythms and not only ayoub, and in many cases ayoub

might not be the only rhythm used in the same song.

Listen for example to Mazaher band here

Try to remember the melody, maqam and structure of the voice over the

rhythm, because it will be very useful in the next sections.

2. The same rhythm 2/4 as ilahi, used in Muslim rituals

The same basic rhythmic pattern with many variations is used throughout the

Eastern Mediterranean world and beyond, for ritual purposes, like the

dhikr/zikr ritual by sufi orders.

Here is a dhikr excerpt by an Egyptian band

and this is an entire dhikr/zik(i)r ritual

This is a reconstruction of zikr in a Turkish TV series, where the main theme of

the lyrics is that “world is a lie”, which is a theme we will also see in Cretan

Listen here to a slow version of ilahi in 2/4

3. Why is this important?

One would ask why the same rhythmic pattern is so important and why it

would not be a coincidence. Actually, the rhythm in the music of the

Mediterranean and the regions around it is not only a metric but a “way” to

play music, i.e. it bears with it more elements that the counting of time. Not a

coincidence, it is called iqaat, durub, darb, usul which means that rhythm is not

a simple arithmetic.

The Greek word ρυθμός (rhythmos) from which rhythm is derived has also the

meaning of flow, which makes it a word that has more than mere numbers and

divisions of numbers.

This article, therefore, is about the flow of ayoub in some Cretan songs.

Ayoub (or ilahi 2/4) is used in many occasions without ritual aspirations. It is

also very popular in Middle Eastern/MENAHT dance performances, as it allows

impressive movement sequences that are trance-like (for example, head spins,

floorwork with hair tosses, or full body spins) inspired by but not representing

any ritual. How is ayoub rhythm used in Cretan songs? Which songs use it that


3. Cretan songs in ayoub

The songs we are interested in have similarities in melodic line or they seem

so, depending on the performance. In many cases, particularly in

contemporary performances, two or three songs of this type are played

together in a form of a suite.

3. 1. Dakryzo me parapono – Δακρύζω με παράπονο – I well up with a niggle

“I well up with a niggle, I reflect with pain, because everything is vain, in this liar

world that I am in”

This is a very old performance. The lyra is played by Mihalis Lagos/Lagoudakis

and the singer is Ioannis Bernidakis-Baxevanis

The same song by Nikos Xylouris

In the much quicker version by Marina Kakli, she uses the song in a suite with

“Oloi mou lene yianta klais” and “Ta vasana mou haromai” that we will see a

bit later.

This is a contemporary version performed by the Cretan laouto team of the

Music School of Meron of Amari, Crete.

A very slow version performed by a big music band, a chorus and Bishop

Makarios being the lead singer

mVOESyqJA Observe how Bishop Makarios keeps the beat of 2/4 with his right

hand when he sings on his own.

Bells are used in this version by Yannis Xilouris (Psaroyannis) and Giorgos

Xilouris (Psarogiorgis) to accentuate the first beat of the rhythm.

A very slow ayoub is used in this suite of the song with Stafidianos song (next

sub-section) by Lampis Xilouris and other musicians.

3.2 Stafidianos - Σταφιδιανός Σκοπός – Tune of Stafidianos/Stafidakis

This is a song composed by Mehmet Stafidakis, who died in the 1900s out of

sorrow (he got severely ill with tuberculosis) because of the separation with his

wife, as the oral tradition says. He wrote this song to express his feelings. The

variability of lyrics however, implies that the song or tune was probably a

previous traditional song and Stafidakis made it famous or popular in the

island, at least with the lyrics attributed to him.

“I am dying and getting rid of worries and you that you live, you escape, and if I have

any rights on you, you pay them back in the Underworld. You whore/liar world do

not brag to me, because I was the one who enjoyed you and now you renounce me”

Some of the older recordings are these

playing boulgari and Ioannis Bernidakis-Baxevanis singing the song.

“Aman, but stafidianos tune gets old but does not melt, and the who have love in

hidden this [tune] reveals it. Aman, but you are the reason and the excuse and my

heart has pain, and I entered the torments and I do not escape anymore”.

Antonis Kareklas

“I wish I were an immortal doctor, and never die, to heal the hearts of those who

area wounded”.

Stafidianos by Vasilis Skoulas

“Oh, my fate has it, my fate, and where I love, they think that I hold fire, aman aman,

to burn the world.

Oh, your love is fire, it is fire, and I am a candle and I melt, and the more I see that it

burns me, aman aman, the more I get closer”.

This is Kostas Mountakis singing Stafidianos but at 06:00 he changes both the

“ But stafidianos tune gets old but does not melt, and the who have love in hidden

this [tune] reveals it”.

If you want to listen to the melodic line and the in-built ayoub, this is a

mandolin solo by Michalis Kontaxakis

Evgenia Damovoliti-Toli and Yannis Paximadakis use the lyrics traditionally

”Aman, I am dying and getting rid of worries and you that you live, you escape, and If

I have any rights on you, you pay them back in the Underworld. Aman, but you are

the reason and the excuse and my heart has pain, and I entered the torments and I

do not escape anymore”.

Stelios and Leonidas Lainakis perform Stafidianos at about 00:36:00 of the

video. In this performance they avoid the lyrics that talk about death, probably

because those lyrics are not appropriate for the gathering, while they use them

in their music album about Tabahaniotika music (see section 4).

“Oh, but stafidianos tune gets old but does not melt, and the one who has love in

hidden this [tune] reveals it. Oh, but you whore/liar world, do not brag to me,

because I was the one who enjoyed you and now you renounce me”.

The lyrics concerning the imminent death of Stafidakis are performed by

Lainakis band at 07:49 of the video

“Oh, but I am dying and getting rid of worries and you that you live, you escape, and

if I have any rights on you, you pay them back in the Underworld”.

Leonidas Lainakis recites more lyrics

“Oh, but you whore/liar world, do not brag to me, because I was the one who

enjoyed you and now you renounce me”

Observe that this is not a big celebratory gathering, but a documentary, and

the performance is intimate.

Stafidianos as a very slow ayoub by Lampis Xilouris and a chorus

“But you are the reason and the excuse and my heart has pain, and I entered the

torments and I do not escape anymore. But stafidianos tune gets old but does not

melt, and the one who has love in hidden, this [tune] reveals it”.

3.3. Ta vasana mou hairomai – Τα βάσανά μου χαίρομαι – I rejoice in my


“Aman, I rejoice in my sufferings, I am having fun with my pains, Aman, and if I wait

for joys, I think I do not recognise them. Aman, the torments feed me and the pains

keep me alive, Aman, but I do not wait for life in the danger where I am. You are a

glass jug and you love [i.e. reflect] everyone you see”.

An old recording by S.Foustalieris and Y.Bernidakis is this

Another very traditional performance by Kostas Mountakis

This performance has additional lyrics:

“You come and I enjoy myself, you leave and I am tormented. Aman, my many

torments, and my horrific sufferings, I will print them on paper, for the world to learn

about them”.

The additional lyrics say “You say that you love me, but I see you that you go


In this version by Giorgis and Nikos Ntagiantas, the song starts with ayoub but

then it mixes the form with the 4/4 of Qadduka al mayyas melody (see section

3.7). The suite travels between the two melodies, maqam/modes and rhythms

until it establishes itself as syrto.

The song has different lyrics in the 2 nd part

“There is a water in Chania city, inside the fountain, and whoever has pain in their

heart, should go and the water will heal it. Everybody tells me that you love me, but I

see you that you go elsewhere”.

3.4. Ki esy ston ypno mou sklira – Κι εσύ στον ύπνο μου σκληρά – And you in

my sleep in a harsh manner

“Ah, and you in my sleep in a harsh manner, aman aman, you still torture me, and I

open my eyes, ah you tall dark-skinned, and you quickly leave from me.

Ah, and you in my sleep in a harsh manner, aman aman, you torture my body, I wake

up and there is no, ah you tall dark-skinned, mind in my head, I wake up and there is

no, ah, you live and let me die, mind in my head”.

This is a song that Stelios Foustalieris composed for his deceased wife, who

was appearing in his dreams.

This is a contemporary performance of the song where Fatmanur Kekeç, Nikos

Papageorgiou and Asineth Fotini Kokkala, use Stafidianos melody as an

A rather experimental, very slow version of the same song by Yorgis Manolakis

3.5. Exo t’ aheili mou gela – Έξω τ’ αχείλι μου γελά -Outside my lips are


The title in Greek has also a version in plural form Έξω τα χείλη μου γελάν

meaning the same thing “outside my lips are laughing”. The translation is

“Outside my lips are laughing, inside my heart is crying, my mouth is sleep-talking

and says your name. I loved you as a lie [I was not truthful] but now I feel only in the

layers of my heart the real [really] the pain”.

Or in the 2 nd version: “You made me love you but now I feel only in the layers of my

heart really the pain”.

An old performance by Stelios Foustalieris, singing Yorgos Tzimakis

In this version by Yorgis Vrentzos the use of the drum accentuates the ayoub

This is again by Lainakis family at 01:32:00

This is a slow version by Kostis Veligrantakis

Again a slow version by Niki Xilouris

3.6. Oso varoun ta sidera – Όσο βαρούν τα σίδερα - As much as the iron

sticks beat

“As much as the iron sticks beat, the black clothes beat, because I put them on for a

love I had. I had and I was deprived, I remember and I sigh, Earth, open for me to get

in, you world liar, so that I do not look at the world”.

This song in the older versions is played in ayoub rhymth, but today we also

have performances in 4/4 with somehow changed maqam and mood of the


This is Domna Samiou, one of the greatest music and dance ethnographers of

This is Lampis Xilouris singing the same song after 04:00 with a chorus in a

The song is performed by L.Lainakis at 16:20

This is Michalis Kallergis performing the song as an ayoub suite at 2:45

At about 5:30 Michalis Kounalis sings the song in suite

3.7. An eixes allon stin kardia – Αν είχες άλλον στη καρδιά – If you had

another in your heart

“If you had another in your heart, what did you want me for? To hurt me to suffer so

that I live for you. You play with the poor hearts to enjoy youth and then you forget

them in the road of separation. No matter how much you play and laugh, your turn

will come too, and sorrows and sighs will burn your heart”.

This song we have seen before in suite with Oso varoun ta sidera by Kallergis

By Michalis Kounalis at 3:00

This song just like some of the previous ones are occasionally played in 4/4 and

they might replicate the melody of Qadduka al mayyas, a popular traditional

This is not a mistake, but part of the same tradition that has influences from

the Eastern coasts of the Mediterranean too. Listen this instrumental by Ross

Or this by Michalis Kallergis

Yorgis Xilouris whom we saw in the previous sections playing ayoub, performs

Oloi mou lene yanta klais (Qadduka al mayyas) along with Stafidianos.

different structure he ends up playing the ayoub again in the second song. The

suite is 4/4 and 2/4 in reality.

4. Common characteristics of Cretan songs in ayoub

First, in the Cretan case, the rhythm is really the core of ayoub pattern and has

a very clear beat, which means that among all ritualistic 2/4, a choice was

made to keep the basic rhythmic pattern. The Cretan songs that use this

rhythm are not meant to be danced, to the best of my knowledge, but

performed with the idea that people are allowed to express their emotions

without moving much and are enabled to ponder on the music and the lyrics of

the songs. This might happen with Zar music as well, i.e. to be performed but

not necessarily danced as we saw in sections 2 and 3.

Second, the songs are not many in numbers. Cretan music, and traditional

music in Greece generally uses 2/4 rhythms a lot, therefore, one would say

that these songs are not special. Yet, they are because they concentrate

various aspects of ayoub-based music. This is not a coincidence of 2/4

counting. Let’s say there is a group of Cretan songs in ayoub. Ayoub rhythm as

such is not rare even in contemporary composed Greek music. Listen to this

song titled Ο τρυγητής/The reaper

nwQM released in 1996. A lyrics translation is available at

Αlthough it is a love song, it talks about the threat of death. Therefore, the

Cretan songs are not unique but it is interesting that they are concentrated as

a group in the same tradition.

Third, these songs have a very clear presentation of the rhythm, even if they

might not be using drums as such. Contemporary performances of the songs

might have drums, and then ayoub is even clearer. In other arrangements, the

beat is accentuated by the melody, in a more or less un-missable or

inescapable way. Τhe metric pattern of the lyrics also holds the beat in a clear


Fourth, the modal structure or maqams/dromoi of the songs is quite dark, not

exactly sad but desperate or full of unsatisfied worry. The movement of the

mode/maqam/dromos in each case is very elaborate to avoid jumps of tonal

positions and lead the ears to the melodic path in an as much connected

sequence of tones as possible. The maqam in these songs has two roles: one is

to have a base melody to keep the ayoub movement going. And the other is to

allow the lyrics and voice to travel beyond the underlying ayoub movement, as

if the trance beat allows the mind/discourse to speak its truths in an

uninhibited way. The melodic lines therefore are both short and very long, one

(short) under the other (long).

Fifth, the lyrics of the songs are even more revealing. All the songs with this

structure have lyrics related to very important life questions and therefore

they are quite bittersweet in emotional load: the vanity or illusion (lie) of this

world; living with the adversities of life an how happiness might be a superficial

behaviour; the pain of separation and the suffering of love; the separation

sorrow of M.Stafidakis who knows he will soon die; and S.Foustalieris

addressing his deceased wife who still appears in his dreams.

Sixth, given that the songs are nowadays not supposed to be danced, I still

have many questions on how the trance rhythm functions in this case. Were

they danced in the past? Were they perceived since their creation as non-

dance music? The songs are beautiful but are not usually performed in happy

celebrations. Yet, they are very popular, which means that they might be few

in number, and without offering opportunity to dance, but they affect people a

lot to like, learn and enjoy them. If you watch the entire show about

Tabahaniotika music you will

be able to discern the vast differences in style and mood between the two

songs in ayoub (Stafidianos, 00:36:00, and Exo ta heili mou gelan 01:31:55) and

the rest of the music, that is occasionally danced.

Seventh, all the songs in this group belong to the tradition of Tabahaniotika

music of Crete. Tabahaniotika is a name of neighbourhoods in the big cities

(mostly Chania and Rethymnon) of the Northern coast of the island and at the

same time, of the style of music used in urban tavernas. Therefore, the songs

belong to an urban tradition, that is part of the broader rebetiko styles of

music developed around the coasts of the Aegean Sea in late 19 th – early 20 th .

We still do not know whether the songs were adopted at that time or they

existed earlier but when recording was available, they were recorded as

artworks of Tabahaniotika music. Tabahaniotika songs, just like rebetiko, were

drawing from various cultures of the Mediterranean, and this means that the

influences from other regions outside Greece are prominent in this type of

songs. In the TV show about Tabahaniotika the musicologist Yorgos Papadakis

explains about the music style (at 00:33:00) and the North African influences,

especially concerning the melodic structure of the songs (at 00:41:20).

As you may imagine looking at the map, Crete island had connections to Egypt

and North Africa since early antiquity, just like it was connected to other places

in the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is not possible to identify the time

and directions of cultural influences. Concerning the cultural influence, I would

speculate that for the type of songs in this article, the most probable is that the

rhythm, its ritual purposes and possible the modal flow of melodies have come

to Crete from Egypt, although it is not sure that the route of the style would be

direct in terms of geography (quite possible though). For example, some of the

songs seem to be connected to the melodic line of Qadduka al mayyas from

Aleppo, Syria, although their maqam and rhythm is usually very different. After

all, Qadduka al mayyas is not in ayoub. In terms of Cretan music, the

Halepianos amanes (Amane/Mawal of Halepa/Halepi) is Qadduka al mayyas

song both in maqam and rhythm.

Given the long tradition of trade and cultural relations between the island and

Egyptian mainland, bi- and multi-directional influences on this music cannot be

precluded either. The most important point is that this type of music exists in

Crete island and signals a field for further ethnomusicological investigation that

promises very interesting findings.


Further reading:

About Zar, see H.El Guindy & C.Schmais (1994) The Zar: An ancient dance of

healing, American Journal of Dance Therapy 16 (2): 107-120.

For rebetiko and Tabahaniotika, see Y.Zaimakis (2011) Music-making in the

social world of a Cretan town (Heraklion 1900–1960): a contribution to the

study of non-commercial rebetiko, Popular Music 30 (1): 1-24.

About Cretan music and dance see M.Hnaraki (2007) Cretan music –

Unraveling Ariadne’s thread. Athens: Kerkyra Publications.

Walladah is a dancer, dance instructor, choreographer, musician, singer

and researcher, currently based in Hull, UK. She has community,

traditional and formal education in performance arts, both in Western

European and in Mediterranean musical traditions. Walladah curates a

dance blog with selected videos for anyone interested in Mediterranean

and/or Middle Eastern Dance styles

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