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Bedouin music: the poetic music of the desert

fawaz playing bedouin music
When you listen to our traditional Bedouin music, you might hear similarities with music from Yemen. You are not mistaken as all Bedouin music originates for the first settlers in Yemen. We are all desert dwellers in search of water and food for ourselves and our animals. Therefore over time, we spread all over the peninsular, across the Middle East and North Africa. Although we moved, we kept our culture and traditions. In this week’s blog, we share more information on our music.

Bedouin music: music from the heart

Our music comes from our hearts. It is one of our ways of desert storytelling. Stories set to music to arouse the imagination of the musicians and their audience. It is like a caravan of camels on a long ride. One musician is in the front. He starts and leads the song. The other musicians follow him one by one—all in a set order and rhythm. The songs are long, with a lot of repetition. Mostly we use the rhythm of a riding camel. It is the rhythm that will capture and hold you. We can divert our music in 3 types:

  • Al-shi’ir al-nabati; these songs are mostly a capella songs containing poetry
  • Taghrud; the songs of the camel-drivers
  • Ayyala; the dance songs of preparation for war

Bedouin music and poetry

A lot of our music contains poetry. And we Bedouin love poetry. To us, the words, the poets are more important than the voice of the singer. That is why everyone can play Bedouin music. The better your poetry, the better singer you are. The following three forms of poetry, we consider music.

  • Ghazal, the love poem
  • Qasidah, the long, epic poem
  • Ghinwiyah, the social criticism poem

The type of poem influences the way we sing it, the use of a refrain, the number of needed singers, and we use instruments.

Music instruments used for Bedouin music

Although most music is a cappella, we do use instruments. We use the rababa, the oud, and the darbuka.

  • Rababa
    The Rababa is an over 1500 years old bowed string instrument. A one-stringed fiddle held on the lap. It is made from goatskin and the tail of an Arabian racing horse.
  • El Oud
    The oud is a pear-shaped string instrument. Unlike the guitar and lute, the oud has no frets. The number of strings varies between ten and thirteen. The back of the oud is beautiful, with the thin strips of wood used.
  • Darbuka
    The Darbuka is an over 900 years old struck drum. It is a single head drum with a goblet-shaped body. This instrument can be played either by keeping it under the arm or resting on the leg.

During our tours, we often take our oud with us. To play Bedouin music during lunch break, at a viewpoint or night under the starry skies of Wadi Rum desert.

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