Ayoub in Crete: Existential questions and talking to the dead
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
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
Listen to slow ayoub https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viRbENDI1Z0
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
and here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGp3QFtHzh4
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
And a quick version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPkq7K7DkpU
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
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-
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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BODJvKMuDkM by Stelios Foustalieris
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”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpJninO7SHM again by Foustalieris &
“I wish I were an immortal doctor, and never die, to heal the hearts of those who
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
rhythm and the maqam. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU5UEvQqAcM
“ 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
attributed to Stafidakis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj0_fCpDu5o
”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
This is by Lainakis band. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzMX4WhGL9A
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”.