Issue 2, September 1998 - Jan van Belle, Dafsâz in Tajik Badaxshân; Musical genre and rhythmic pattern

3. Dafsâz

Little is known about the history and function of the dafsâz genre. We could not find the genre mentioned in any written documents. According to statements of various musicians, dafsâz seems to belong to the oldest musical forms of Badaxshân, dating from the times in which the daf was probably the sole existing instrument to accompany the human voice. Some musicians assured us that dafsâz is currently performed during weddings and on other merry occasions, as part of a larger musical performance; see also the above-mentioned description of a dâyira bazmî performance in During 1992. Other performers, however, told us that dafsâz is a distinct way of singing ghazals and folksongs and thus stands apart as a specific genre. I shall adopt this latter suggestion as a working hypothesis, for reasons given below.

A dafsâz performance usually consists of a series of ghazals, folksongs or short love songs (muxammases). The main part of the poems is sung by a solo singer, and this is alternated with a chorus of men (the qâshiqân) singing the refrains (qâshiqs). Most of the singers also play the daf and are called dafzan. The number of qâshiqân and dafzan may differ, depending on the availability of performers and dafs in a village or area. It seems that at least three persons are necessary to perform dafsâz. The dafs are not provided with jingles of any kind and they are usually large, with a skin diametre between 40-60 cm; the different dafs do not necessarily have the same size.

The four dafsâz performances we recorded invariably followed the same pattern: the lead singer starts solo in a slow, reflective mood, and in an ad libitum style; in some cases after a few soft opening beats on the daf. The qâshiqân and/or dafzan sit around him and sing the refrains, while the dafzan sets the pace for a rhythmic pattern, mostly in a rather 'hesitant' way, not yet fully synchronized, as if he is searching for the right mood. During the whole per formance the alternating solo-refrain pattern is strictly maintained. Soon, after having performed some stanzas of the first poem, the players find each other in a fixed rhythm and tempo, although the solo parts are still freer and slower than the refrains. From this moment onwards the voices and dafs develop a long and steady accelerando and crescendo towards the end, putting the lead singer gradually in the same pace.

The dafs become even more dominant, never restricting themselves to a modest accompanying role, but strongly outlining the basic beats of the musical phrases of the songs. The voices are moving around a fixed pitch in a small ambitus, never extending the interval of a third. Although the melody undergoes variations and accent changes, owing to the different metres of the poems follow each other without interruption, the dafs continue their rhythmic pattern imperturbably with a growing density in the rhythmical space. The intensifying effect is reinforced by the shortening of the refrains. Towards the end, pauses or instrumental interludes between the parts of solo singer and qâshiqân are no longer observed. In all recorded dafsâz performances ghazals predominate and the preferance for classical ghazals composed by Hâfiz and Hilâlî is remarkable. Apart from the folksongs, most poems have a fixed poetic metre. (5)

5. See Berg 1997:341-50 for a sequence of ghazals in dafsâz and analysis of the poetry used in dafsâz. (back)