When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Musallim bir Rāmes

Musallim bir Rāmes Bīt ʿAmūš Thawʿar al-Mahrī is a poet and singer in the Mahri, Śḥērī, and Arabic languages. Musallim bir Rāmes currently lives in Ṣalālah, where he is widely known and respected for his singing talent. In addition to having mastered the repertoire of traditional melodies, Musallim bir Rāmes experiments with new variations of older melodies and invents entirely new ones. For instance, when Musallim bir Rāmes sings an ʾōdī we-krēm krēm poem, he draws out the melodic line and embellishes it, giving it (in his own words) “uplift” (Ar. nashwa) and “greater emotional effect” (Ar. shajiyya ʾakthar). In addition to melodic innovations, Musallim bir Rāmes performs traditional songs to the accompaniment of modern instruments such as the synthesizer (Ar. ʾurj) and Arabic ʿūd. Musallim bir Rāmes has recorded between twenty and thirty audio tapes of his own poetry sung by himself, although they are largely for private circulation among his friends.

A few years prior to our interview in 2012, Musallim bir Rāmes was encouraged by some younger, internet-savvy Mahra to post recordings of himself singing poetry in the Mahri and Śḥērī (Ar. Jibbālī) languages on YouTube; according to Musallim bir Rāmes, these were the first recordings of Mahri singing to appear online. Musallim bir Rāmes appears to be in his early fifties and is deeply familiar with Mahri poetry, language, and history.

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