Updated: Sep 20
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
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”.
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
introduction to the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQjqBsmHlBw
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
“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 by Nikos Xilouris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAC4LFMjAcU
This is Lampis Xilouris singing the same song after 04:00 with a chorus in a
suite of ayoub. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVyWihO341c
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXzyxfkjZPI
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
song from Aleppo, Syria https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eguCjENV-A
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi49JEvvawM
Yorgis Xilouris whom we saw in the previous sections playing ayoub, performs
Oloi mou lene yanta klais (Qadduka al mayyas) along with Stafidianos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9HkSxFfv-o Because Stafidianos has a
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEiiIR-
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz7fZE90-pI 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.
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.
About rhythms, see https://www.maqamworld.com/en/iqaa.php and
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 http://walladah.wordpress.com/