SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Mr Saeid Kordmafi

BA (the University of Tehran) MA (the University of Tehran)
  • Research


Saeid Kordmafi
Mr Saeid Kordmafi
Email address:
Thesis title:
Rhythmic Organization in the Classical Music of the Arab Mashriq: an Analytical-Historical Study of the Theory and Practice of Īqā‘
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


Saeid Kordmafi is a fourth-year PhD candidate in ethno/musicology and senior teaching fellow in the Department of Music, SOAS, University of London. Having completed his BA in classical Iranian music and an MA in art studies at the University of Tehran, Saeid is supported by a Felix full Scholarship for his current research at SOAS. He has also received the first BFE Fieldwork Grant (2015) and AAWM Rob Schultz Junior Scholar Award (2019). His research includes interregional and cross-cultural music studies as well as the history of music theories and their relation to practice in the maqām realm.
A performer and composer, Saeid has learned classical Iranian music from a number of distinguished musicians in Iran, endeavouring to explore various performance styles of the given music culture. He is one of the leading musicians of a revival movement in Iran that seeks to revitalize the pre-modern aesthetic in Iranian music, inspired by historical pieces of evidence as well as neighbouring traditions which have partly preserved the previously shared musical heritage.
As a soloist on the Iranian santour, he has participated in various live, recording and workshop projects in the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and the United States and been engaged with various collaborative music-making projects with acclaimed musicians from the Central Asia and the Arab world. Having authored some 15 journal and encyclopedia articles as well as book chapters in Persian and English, Kordmafi is a member of the editorial board of Mahoor Music Quarterly in Iran, and worked in the Music Departments at the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia and Tehran University of Art respectively as a senior researcher and a lecturer. He co-founded Rahâ ensemble in 2007, and has released four CDs in Iran so far. His last music-making project in the UK is the Phoenix of Persia (Tiny Owl Publishing 2019), a collaborative compositional work accompanying an illustrated children’s book based on one of the ancient epic stories of Shâhnâme.

PhD Research

My research project investigates rhythmic-metric system in modern practice of the Arab Mashriq (Mediterranean Eastern Arab region) with special focus on the art-classical tradition developed at latest from the mid 19th century in Egypt and Levant, partly rooted in the legacy inherited from the preceding musical aesthetics, and currently revived by a small group of dedicated musicians in the Arab World. With the aim of presenting a descriptive theory as well as modern history of the metrics in the tradition in question, the thesis can thus be conceived as an analytical and historical query enhanced by ethnographical data I acquired in a multi- sited fieldwork over the time span of 2016-2019.
Examining a number of Ottoman and post-Ottoman sources, the research partly concerns aesthetical, ideological, and perhaps political contexts that have shaped the trajectory through which the repertoire of metric cycles in Arab art music has evolved, reaching the contemporary revivalist musicians. Moreover, it endeavours to examine the degree to which the general theories of rhythm and metre may enrich our understanding of musical time in Arab art music and the other way round. Informed by my participatory and practice-based observation, the thesis analyses a handful of music performances dating from the early 20th century onward, with each chapter on a specific facet of time organisation in Arab music and also the potentials for creativity each one provides musicians and listeners with: it goes through the structural interdependencies between the metric cycles, regardless of their relationship with melody, and describes the mechanism motors by which the cycles might be created from each other. More importantly, it addresses the function of metric cycles (both long and short patterns) in relation to melody, shedding light on how differently metric formulae may be treated in the courses of composition and improvisation. The dynamics of tempo and rhythmic density to provoke the ecstatic status of “ṭarab” is another area delved into. The thesis also explores the aesthetic approaches adopted in setting words to music in the given culture, striving to contribute to a wider and long-standing area of inquiry in maqām studies, that is, the relationship between musical and prosodic metric systems.


Kordmafi, Saeid. (2018) 'Reviving the Mukhammas and Thaqīl: Collaborative Composition on Long Metric CyclesAcross the Iranian- Tajik Divide', world of music (new series), vol 7 (2018) 1 + 2, pp. 179-202.

Kordmafi, s. (forthcoming) 'Īqā‘: a Canon to Respect or Break? Rhythm-Making Strategies in Composition and Improvisation in Classical Music of the Arab Mashriq', AAWM Journal.

Kordmafi, S. (2017) 'Dastgâh', Great Islamic Encyclopedia, Dā'erat-ol-ma'āref-e bozorg-e eslāmi, [The Great Islamic Encyclopedia]. Tehran: The Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia], Vol.23.

Nikfahm Khubravan, s. & Kordmafi, s. (2016) [Music in Ashjâr-u Aṭmâr by ‘Alâ'-i Munajjim-i Bukhârī; critical edition and narrative of the text] 'Musiqi dar Ashjâr va Aṭmâr-e ‘Alâ'-e Monajjem-e Bokhâri; taṣḥīḥ-e enteqâdi va sharhe matn', Mahoor Quarterly, No 50, winter: 39-86.

Kordmafi, S. (2013) [A Study on Some of the Practical Aspects of Iqa’ in the Old Islamic Musical Treatises from the 12th to 18th century], 'Barresi-e barkhi janbe-hâye ‘amali-e iqa‘ dar resâlât-e musighâei-e ḥoze-ye eslâmi, qorun-e haftom tâ davâzdahom-e hejri-e qamari', Mahoor Quarterly, No
60, Summer: 167- 198.


BFE/RMA Research Students' Conference, University of Sheffield, Uk, 10-12 January 2019.

Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, SOAS, University of London, UK, 5 Nov 2018.

CityMAC, City, University of London, UK, 5–7 July 2018.

Fifth International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM), Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece, 26-29 June 2018.

Annual BFE Conference, University of Kent, School of Music and Fine Art, The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent, UK, 14-17 Apr 2016.

Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, City, University of London, UK, 27 Nov 2015.

Music, Art and Spirituality in Central Asia Conference, Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy, 29-31 October 2015.


British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE) the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia Mahoor Music Institute.


Interregional and Cross-Cultural Music Studies: Islamic Middle East, Near East and Central Asia Historical Ethnomusicology: History of Music and Musical Theories in the World of Islam Music Analysis, Aesthetic and Theory.