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The UAE’s traditional performances offer a window into heritage

The UAE’s traditional performances offer a window into heritage
3 Apr 2024 08:56


All over the world, traditional performances are lively representations of cultural legacy that provide windows into identities, practices, and beliefs. In the UAE, traditional performances are a key component in preserving and celebrating cultural heritage.

Various types of traditional performance have come to embody the heritage and values of Emirati culture, representing national identity and solidarity.

Al Ayyala: Stylised VictoryAl Ayyala, is a tradition involving dancing troupes, poetry, chants, and drummers, with bamboo canes. This practice, listed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is traditionally performed at weddings, on national holidays, or at welcoming ceremonies for visiting heads of state.

The performance is a stylised battle scene, featuring two rows of 20 or more performers, who use bamboo canes to represent arrows or swords, and alternating movements to indicate victory or defeat.

The performance also features a band playing music and men chanting verses from Nabati poetry, with a group of “yaweela men”, a name which refers to movement in Emirati dialect, who accompany the performance.

Wanna: Poetry and Melody Wanna is a traditional performing art where Nabati poetry is sung in a melodic form.  
Different singers use their unique voices and vocal stylings to evoke feelings of peace, longing, or sadness.

Occasionally, Wanna is performed by two vocalists who alternate lines of verse.

The performers will use lyrics from Nabati poetry, which in itself is an importance component of the UAE’s cultural legacy.

Wanna is also performed as a part of other traditional performances like Al Ayyala.

Shilla: Sung PoetryShilla is sung poetry, frequently accompanied by the traditional Arab string instrument known as the “rebabah”.

There are three classifications for the poems chosen for Shilla-descriptive, laudatory, or wise words-and most deal with themes like praise, but with a melancholic undertone.

Shilla performers are known for their beautiful voices and expertise in traditional Nabati poetry. The art is commonly performed by one or two individuals.

Al Azi poetry: Call and ResponseAl Azi, a type of poetry performance defined by its call-and-response structure, involves a chorus that “answers” the poet, with performances taking on a loud and commanding voice.

The poet carries a sword, while the chorus members are arranged in rows behind him, holding fake rifles.

The call-and-response style demonstrates feelings of solidarity and unity, and the symbolic weapons represent bravery.

This poetry used in Al Azi is influenced by Nabati and traditional Arabic poetry, with themes primarily focused on pride in one’s family, tribe, or rulers, highlighting qualities like generosity and courage.

Frequently, Al Azi is performed at major events and ceremonies, such as weddings, national festivals, and religious celebrations.

In 2017, Al Azi was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage categorised as in need of immediate safeguarding.

Al Razfa: Drums and PoetryAl Razfa, a traditional poetry and rhythm-based art form, involves drummers and musicians, typically male, who perform coordinated movements with bamboo canes, spaced about 10–20 meters apart.The art form preserves traditional poetic styles, as original verses are composed for special events.

Al Rafza is typically performed during dignitaries’ welcome ceremonies, and was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015.

Al Taghrooda: Improvised VerseAl Taghrooda, an improvised form of poetry, originated in the rural communities and desert regions of the UAE.

The art form started with Bedouin camel herders, who recited improvised rhymes to help their camels travel in unison during desert excursions.

Variations of Al Taghrooda are included in traditional performances, weddings, camel races, and heritage and national festivals, and are even chanted around campfires.

In 2012, Al Taghrooda was included on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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