Traditional songs and dances of the UAE.
The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (adach.ae) published some very interesting leaflets about Emirati customs and culture, so I thought it would be interesting to share them on the blog. All the data below has been taken from these pamphlets.
(I tried to look for audio/video files to complement this post but I had little to no luck: any contribution/suggestion on the matter would be very welcome!)
Contemporary world culture and music are well represented in the modern, cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi, thanks to theatres, cinemas and TV, but the UAE still preserves its rich folk traditions in the form of story-telling, songs, poetry and dance.
The interpretation of these folk arts varies between the coast, the oases and the desert, but the structure is broadly similar and the common themes are pride, religion, praise, masculinity, strength and chivalry.
Some genres are male-dominated, others are performed by men and women. All are popular at weddings, other social events and religious feasts, particularly the Eid festivities at the end of Ramadan.
One of the most well-known forms of Emirati folk art is al razeef, the unaccompanied recitation of verses by two facing lines of men. The performers are dressed in traditional costume with cartridges belts and ornate curved daggers slung around their waists. They each carry a cane and a rifle and their performance is punctuated by gunfire. When all the verses have been recited, the performers rest and male dancers or razzafeen take over: they perform a swaying dance, weaving between the two rows and from time to time circling their rifles above their heads.
Al ayyala combines song and dance. Symbolizing triumph after a battle, it is now performed as an act of welcome to dignitaries visiting Abu Dhabi, and it is considered to embody the UAE’s finest historical and cultural values. The performers’ coordinated movement and vocal refrains are often accompanied by gunfire and brandishing of swords and daggers, in a display that epitomizes the courage and fortitude of Bedouin living in the heart of the desert.
Al harbia is a similar dance, in which the rhythm is supplied purely by vocal chants and the recitation of poetry.
Two other performances, al na’ashat and al radha, were traditionally given by Bedouin women at various kind of celebrations.
During al na’ashat, the dancers roll their heads from side to side to display the beauty of their long hair, especially when the song performed relate to love, pride or bravery. Al radha was traditionally performed after a wedding celebration, when the women sang as they made their way to the house where the musical instruments were kept.
Other genres reflect the isolation of the Bedouin. Al tareq is a recitation describing the act of leaving family and loved ones and the solitude felt in the empty desert. The singer would chant it whilst riding his camel, to entertain himself.
Al taghrooda glorifies life with all its hardships and blessings. Often it would be recited in the desert by two or three men searching for a lost animal, as the rhythmic chanting encouraged their mounts to go faster and helped pass the time.
Al maled, or al mowled, is the recitation of long poems that deals with religious themes. A group of tambourine players or drummers provide a gentle percussion background to the narration and a second, larger group repeats the refrains after the narrator.
Other distinctive genres are al wannah, a slow romantic song for two singers, in praise of heroism, which has a gentle rhythm played on tambourines and it is accompanied by brass instruments, and al sameri, an ancient form of Bedouin singing that derives from the world samer, meaning to stay up at night: the tradition was to sing through the hours of darkness, accompanied by the traditional Arabic stringed instrument called rababa.