When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra


All poems in the Mahri language may be sung.  In fact, no indigenous lexical distinction is made between “poetry” and “singing” in the Mahri language and Mahri poets must import this technical terminology from Arabic. Any poem may be easily set to a number of traditional melodies that are available to all types of poetic line, regardless of syllable count or pattern of heavy and light syllable. Different melodies might accompany the same configuration of poetic line; different regions of al-Mahra have their preferred melodies. When sung (or chanted), filler syllables are often added to poetic lines to achieve the correct syllable count for a specific melody. These filler syllables also encode the correct pattern of long and short syllables required by the melody.  The filler syllables also supply the name by which such a melody or song is commonly known: yā sāmeʿī samʿī  (| - - v - v -|) and dān i-dān (| - v - ) are two such popular songs/rhythmic templates. 

The only constraints on singing a poem relate to the appropriateness of the venue and the skill or inclination of the performer. On the other hand, some poems may only be sung: these are work and celebratory songs in which the choreography of the activity engaged in are guided by the rhythmic melody of the song. 

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