When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek

ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek was the youngest active poet in the Mahri language whom I encountered. He looked to be in his early thirties and, unlike Ḥājj Dākōn for instance, only composed Mahri-language poetry that hewed to the traditional themes and formulas of Mahri poetics. Remarkably for someone so young, ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek was also one of the few Mahra I met whose command of Arabic was less than fluent. The Mahra for whom I replayed my recordings of ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek agreed that he was a very talented Mahri-language poet, that he used the trade- and place-specific idiom of Mahri poetics masterfully, and that he expressed his meanings through inventive metaphors. I recorded thirteen poems composed and recited by ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek. Unfortunately, his voice did not come through very clearly in any of the recordings that I made: ʾAḥmad was reticent to speak into the microphone and angled away from it. Also, because we were recording outside near his livestock pens, there was a large amount of ambient noise. The low quality of my recordings of ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbārek meant that my consultants preferred working with poems they could hear better.

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