Folklore Dancing in Hadhramaut [Archives:1998/11/Last Page]

March 16 1998

Having the most ancient civilization in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is characterized by its rich musical heritage and beautifully choreographed rhythmical dances.
Hadhramaut is especially endowed with a colorful spectrum of traditional music, song and dance. Two of the most famous dances that are unique to the Hadhramaut region are the famous Ghaya and Zarbadi.
Two lines of men, facing each other, start the dance with a light, slow rhythm accompanied by singing and clapping. A female bedouin dancer then joins the dance. She undulates to the rhythm through the two lines of men, wearing an exquisitely embroidered dress and bedecked with thick silver bangles and anklets.
One of the male dancers then dances facing the woman, retreating backward as he advances forward. Sometimes, the female bedouin is accompanied by two men, or there may be two women and two men doing the routine.
Ghaya is also performed in weddings by women standing in two parallel lines and beating small drums with the bride in the middle. They wear wide silver belts and thick silver anklets with small rattlers attached to make a rhythmical sound. The bride then starts to dance, shaking her head and letting her hair wave to the right and left.
This beautiful dance was portrayed by the lyricist and musician Hussein Abu Bakar Al-Mihdhar in his famous song ‘Balqa Asal Noob Jardan’ or ‘I find honey in the Jardan valley,’ which is part of a longer song sung by Yemen’s singing “ambassador” Abu Bakar Salem Belfaqeeh.
This beautiful dance is named after the famous Zarbadi family in the Hadhramaut valley, which was instrumental in preserving this dance and retaining its traditionally unique character. It was described by the renowned German musicologist, Prof. Elsner as ‘one of the most superb folklore dances with its polyphonic rhythms.’ Zarbadi is also called Rabdh in reference to its extended or drawn out rhythm. It is performed by men and women in separate groups. The traditional ‘Hajer’ and ‘Mirwas’ drums, three in all, are rhythmically beaten to the accompaniment of the ‘Naay’ or reed flute.
In Zarbadi, the performers dance within a ring of spectators by first jumping in the air in a movement called ‘Tamra.’ Coming down, they sit momentarily on the ground in ‘Karsaa.’ Female dancers, however, do not often do this jumping up and down, instead, they wave their hair to the right and left in what is called ‘Naash.’
In fact, Zarbadi consists of two distinct stages – slow rhythm or ‘Madkhal’ and fast movements or ‘Mafraj.’
There are many songs the lyrics of which were written to be sung with the Zarbadi dance or other dances such as ‘Khaya’ and the coastal ‘Shrah.’
The folklore dances of Hadhramaut represent a historical dimension of human creativity. These dances give the region its unique character and color, which also enriched the artistic and cultural movements in Yemen. The Folklore Dance and Art Troupe in Hadhramaut, headed by Abu Omar, has played a major role in presenting these traditional Hadhramaut songs and dances to the rest of the world.
Saleh Abdulbaqi, musician