Oud, Liwa and Al-Sout

Weaving through the narrow streets lined with gold shops, I said to my Bahraini friend, “I have never been here before.  Where are we?”

“This is the old Muharraq souq.  Remember when I showed you my grandfather’s house?  We are near there.  The Mohammed Bin Faris Hall is next door to my husband’s father’s house.”

“Next door” or “Near to” are typically included in the directions a Bahraini gives but they are not literal.  My experience is Bahrainis are so knowledgeable about the honeycombed streets, they find it difficult to give detailed directions an outsider needs.  If I wanted to ever find my way back, I would have take a daytime, reconnaissance trip.

Arriving before 7pm, we met some old school friends on the doorstep.  Hearing I was from California, one women became particularly interested.

“Where – in Los Angeles?” she asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“GO TROJANS,” she yelled making her fingers into a horn.  “I went to USC.”

“So did my husband,” I told her and instantly we became friends.

My new friend insisted on showing us the recently opened Mohammed Bin Faris House Museum where the legendary Bahraini artist used to live.  Born in 1855, he recorded several Al Sout albums in Iraq and two albums in Bahrain before his death about 1946.  Looking around his one-room house, his albums did not go platinum during his lifetime.  Still seventy years later, his music continues to be played live.

At 7pm, ten Bahrainis wearing matching winter-grey thobes entered from the stage left and began setting out their instruments – a qanum, violin, oud, several drums and an electric keyboard.

“Who do you think will dance?” my friend asked me.

“It will likely be that guy,” I said pointing to the tall thin, young man who reminded me of Harold Perrineau from LOST.  “The others are too chubby to be dancers.”

Without any introduction, the singer began.  A slow song, “About love,” my friend whispered to me.  By the second song, the tempo sped up, the clapping began and then the dancing.  It was not the young Perrineau look-a-like; rather, the oldest man, a tall man of African descent with a missing front tooth began a slow, somber walk across the stage.  Soon the music inspired him.  He spun around, placed his hand on his ghuttra and jumped high off the ground then spun again.  The twinkle in his eye showed us how much fun he had before returning to his seat to help out with the percussion.

When the spirit moved him, he would get up.  As the songs continued, love song after love song, his shoulders started shimmering and his gestures grew more flirty.  He paused to pose for us, the photo-taking audience, or to smile at a friend.

“Is he doing this for show,” I asked my friend.  “Would your husband dance like him?”

“No, he is performing.  My husband would not dance like that.”

“His jumping reminds me of the African dancers we saw in Tanzania.  Is he Bahraini?” I wondered.

“Yes, but probably his ancestors were from Africa.”

I read later, liwa is a traditional African dance performed in the Gulf by people from Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Usually the al-sout was a male-only dance performed at night.

mohammen bin fares hall

The Mohammed Faris Hall is modern and formal but the audience was fluid and friendly.  Some arrived late then walked across the seats to kiss their friend hello.  Others shouted their Salams to the band when they entered.  An elderly man called out for his favorite songs.  And a woman announced in a loud voice before she led a pack of friends out, “We would love to stay with you all night, but we have another appointment.”

We did not have another appointment so continued to listen to song after song about love – “if you love me, how could you have done this to do me” and “I see your face in the water I drink”.  Finally, the topic moved from loving women to loving Bahrain.

ABOUT MOHAMMED BIN FARIS BAND

7pm every Thursday night, the band will perform in the Mohammed Bin Faris hall.  Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, their concerts are free.  There is little parking around the hall.  It might be easier to take a taxi.

The Hall opened in April 2013 and is part of the Muharraq revitalization project.  Across the street, a new Zaffron café has opened.  It is built over an old date juice building.  The acrylic floors make you feel like your floating.  Zaffron serves breakfast, coffee and tea.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. forthwrite
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 05:38:47

    Thanks for letting us look over your shoulder when you attend these fascinating cultural events.

    Reply

    • Eva the Dragon
      Jan 12, 2014 @ 07:12:39

      Thank you for taking time to read about them. I appreciate the music and effort made to share it with us. If I turn on my radio, I cannot say this would be the type of station I would choose, but I enjoy the live music.

      Plus it is free and in a beautiful setting.

      Reply

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