A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. ～ African proverb ~ to which could well be added ~ 36 degrees Celsius never made a large audience. The Al Maas Ensemble, however, went ahead with their performance in the Jnan Sbil Gardens despite the heat and the small audience were (warmly) appreciative, not only of their music, but their resilienceThe litters of the Máliki camels that morn in the broad
watercourse of Wadi Dad were like great schooners
from Adauli, or the vessels of Ibn-i Yámin
their mariners steer now tack by tack, now straight forward;
their prows cleave the streaks of the rippling water
just as a boy playing will scoop the sand into parcels.
~Tarafa, Mu’allaqat (Hanging Poems)
Kuwaiti Salman El Ammari and his Al Maas Ensemble presented The Art of the Sea, drawn from the repertoire of the pearl fishermen. The pearl diving, which had sustained Arabia's coastal communities for generations, is now a thing of the past. Since the 1920s Japanese cultured (artificially produced) pearls have flooded the world market, their cheapness and abundance fatally undercutting Arabia's labour-intensive harvesting of natural pearls from the oyster banks beneath the warm waters of the Gulf.
Yet the music lives on, played now by professional musicians rather than fisherfolk. In the countries of the Gulf, the art form is called fann al-bahar, the art of the sea, or aghani al ghaws, or diving songs.
Salman Al Ammari is a singer and oud player specialising in fann el bahar. and with a mission to preserve this musical heritage in Kuwait and the Gulf states. The percussion and rather staid dancing were energetic enough for the audience, who had sort shelter in the shade of the garden's trees
This ‘art of the sea’ is without doubt a very old genre that ‘only resembles itself’ as researcher Simon Jardy described it in 1970. It borrows from the Arabised cultures of African and Indo-Iranian origin. Its poetic strength and the structure of the cycles recall Iraqi maqâm and the wasla of Aleppo. The polyphonic aspect and exhalations that punctuate it, related to gestures of some effort, go back to Sufi dhikr. In fact, the overall sound of the afternoon concert was that of a laid back Sufi hadra.
|Well known Moroccan photographer Omar Chennafi braving the heatwave|
The chanting, percussion and rather staid dancing were energetic enough for the audience, who had sort shelter in the shade of the garden's trees and was a glimpse back into a long-gone era. Nevertheless, it was a hot but rewarding afternoon.
Review and photographs: Sandy McCutcheon