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Musicians & poets celebrate storytelling at UAE Hekayah event

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Musicians & poets celebrate storytelling at UAE Hekayah event
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Musicians & poets celebrate storytelling at UAE Hekayah event

Lyrical artists from across the Middle East came together to celebrate music and prose in an event called Hekayah, staged at the New York University in Abu Dhabi on December 5th.

The festival of Hekayah, meaning ‘the story’ in Arabic, featured performances of both contemporary and classical styles of poetry from the region. With ten nationalities of artists represented, the event also sought to spotlighted the UAE’s cultural diversity.

Kuwaiti jazz musician Ghazi Al Mulaifi, is skilled at melding melodies and words together in a modern interpretation of the traditional vocal art form known as Bahri music.

Also referred to as ‘sea music’, the distinctive folk singing was mostly practiced by Kuwaiti and Bahraini pearl divers.

Using instruments like a barreled tabl bahri, an Arabic sea drum, Al Mulaifi and his band mates – who are descendants of pearl divers - create rhythms and chant verse reminiscent of a skippers’ call to motivate his crew to raise a sail or row in unison.

A sea drum and clay pot used in Kuwaiti sea music

Adding an edginess and a modern twist to the vocal style, Al Mulaifi also incorporates his electric guitar into the musical mix.

This year’s Hekayah gathering also featured performances of Nabati poetry.

Otherwise known as Bedouin poetry, the spoken tradition has been handed down from one generation to the next in some parts of the Middle East.

Hosts of the UAE’s fourth Hekayah poetry and song event speak before the opening act

Emirati-Japanese-American writer Afra Atiq is a master storyteller, using wordplay and voice inflections to bring her poetry to life.

She’s keen to dispel the myth that this style of alternative prose and performance is something new to the Arab world.

“In the region, we’ve been poets for centuries,” says the PhD student at UAE University.

“Getting up and reciting - poets responding to each other. I don’t think that it’s adopting a different form.”