The word Maqam or Moqam is used to refer to the highest level of creativity and mastery on playing and singing a traditional form of music local to the Khorasan Province, and the person playing it is known as Bakhshis. This music stands as a witness to the richness of Iranian music that has resisted the passing of time. The maqam in Iranian music is close to the idea of melodic modes in Greek Music. It also has another meaning, in Farsi it means a high position and refers to the high stand of the Bakhshis musicians.
On general, the music of Khorasan is divided to two regions of north and south Khorasan. This music is the tale of life’s calamity, of the tragic events, and a life of wandering with no sense of belonging. Although many of the lyrics are in a language close to Turkish, but the style of the music is completely Iranian. Based on the language that the lyrics were written in, the Khorasan Maqam Music is categorized to Kourmanji, Turki, Turkmani, and Farsi. The themes of the lyrics are common evolving around tragic incidents in life, the hardships faced in one’s life, and the life in mountains and plains, just the language differs from a city to another.
The players of this form of music have different levels that the highest belongs to the Bakhshis, a group of players that have achieved mastery of not only music, but also poetry and lyric writing. They know all the maqams and their lyrics by heart and they can write music and poetry as well, some of the Bakhshis can even make musical instruments. The word Bakhshis comes from Bakhshesh meaning bestowing or forgiving and refers to the natural gift that was bestowed upon these musicians by God. In appreciation of this gift, the musician has a duty to sing songs that show his gratitude toward God. Singing praises of Muhammad (Peace be upon him) the prophet of Islam is another important theme that Bakhshis. The main musical instrument that accompanies their songs is Dutar that in Farsi means two-strings.
The word Bakhshis comes from Bakhshesh meaning bestowing or forgiving and refers to the natural gift that was bestowed upon these musicians by God.
The second group of Maghami musicians are Ashiqs, a group that have less respect than Bakhshis, but are an important part of the community’s life since they are inseparable from ceremonies and festivities such as weddings, engagements and birthdays. Since they are musicians of ceremonies, their music is light and rhythmic played with instruments such as Sorna (horn), Dhol (drum) and Kamancheh (bowed string instrument).
The last group of Maghami musicians are Luties, the wanderers that keep singing of the human sorrow and yearn for a sense of belonging. Although they are the least respected group among all Maghami musicians, their wandering and roaming is the reason that this style of music has come to attention and was carried over from generation to generation.
The most common musical instruments used for Maghami music are:
- Dutar: it is a form of chordophone or string instrument possessing two strings, 13 whole tone and is tuned based on the lyrics and the language that accompanies the music. The two strings of the instrument represent the sharp and flat pitches. This instrument is known to be a version of Tanbur and made by the Islamic scientist and musician, Abu Nasr Farabi.
- Kamancheh: another chordophone with three or four strings mostly used in Quchan.
- Qushmeh: an aerophone or wind instrument mostly used for Kourmanji songs.
- Ney: another wind instrument in form of an end-blown flute with five or six holes with four typical ranges of Bam, Owj, Gheith, and Pas Gheith.
- Sorna: another wind instrument similar to horn and used by Ashiqs in ceremonies and festivities.
- Dhol: a form of percussion instrument with double headed drums used with Sorna in ceremonies for joyous songs.
Although this style of music is known as the Bakhshis or Maqam music of Khorasan, its cultural border can be traces to the whole Transoxiana. There are traces of different cultures in this music, but today the music of Khorasan, specially the north Khorasan, is what is remained of a style and mode of music that dates to ancient time. The most famous of these Maghams are Tourgheh, Allah Mazar, Shakhtar, Herai, Rashid Khan, Belal, Zaranji, and Bolbol. In 2010, this style of music was registered as an Intangible Human Heritage by UNESCO.