Mahri Poetry Archive

Recorded Performance


The type of performance that was recorded for each poem in this archive was often a matter of chance since it depended on where and when I happened to run across a Mahri-speaker willing to share poetry with me.  In a few cases, I was lucky enough to be present at weddings to witness the exchange of chanted reǧzīt couplets.  At other times, I was able to record a particularly gifted singer perform poems according to their traditional melodies.  More often than not, poets responded to my requests for a poem with a non-melodized recitation.  The fact that the recording of a poem in this archive happens to be recited (rather than sung or chanted) does not mean that the poem can only be recited.  In fact, every Mahri poem can be sung regardless of length or subject matter.  Chanted verse, on the other hand, tends to be limited to couplets (reǧzīt or dāndān) that can be performed collectively. Certain types of poem can only be sung; these are work, celebratory or ritual songs.  Due to their association with a particular activity (wedding parties, inciting a camel to trot more quickly or weaving tent fabric), they are rarely performed outside of their specific performance context.

Since collective chanting requires a great deal of social and aesthetic coordination, this mode of performance tends to evoke the greatest degree of esteem amongst native audiences.  It is the most heavily “marked” of poetic performances and is linked to prestigious genres of Mahri poetry: reǧzīt and chanted dāndān.  The topic of collectively chanted poetry is almost always occasional and meant for public display; in many ways, it reifies tribal customary law (ʿurf) and affirms the political, linguistic and kinship ties of its participants.  Since the practice of chanted couplets is tied to the pre-revolutionary social order of al-Mahra, collective chants are rarely heard outside of wedding celebrations in present-day al-Mahra.  For instance, disputes are more likely to be mediated in a law-court than through tribal arbitration, which typically involved the disputants chanting poetic couplets as a tribal assembly came to order.

Collective Chant



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