Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Music and Dance in Qatar

A traditional Qatari dance is performed during the opening of the 17th Arabian Gulf Cup soccer tournament 10 December 2004 in Doha. Photo: RABIH MOGHRABI / AFP


Qatar’s culture is based on Bedouin poetry, song and dance. Yet, because of the few archives available on the importance of its culture in the Peninsula, its original development and raison d’être have not been documented properly. The music and its different presentations and performances no longer exist in their original contexts in the Gulf region, but have been performed in a variety of situations in order to bridge that gap. The two main themes in the region, the sea and the badu, are reinforced in the rhythms of the music.

Traditional dances are particularly the arda and razeef, and the fishermen’s dances. The arda is originally a war dance but is said to have become a dance of peace in recent history. It represents the majority of folkloric dancing that you might see at national events, festivities and weddings in Qatar. The arda is the name given to the two lines of men chanting to or at each other in a competitive or challenging fashion; the razeef being the dancing element that accompanies or follows it.

Just as the peninsula knows nomadic movements by the badu to take advantage of seasonal benefits, the seas around it were the scenery of those trading, fishing and pearling. These elements were inserted in an art that is special to the people of the Gulf, especially among the Arab tribes that migrated from the Najd region.

The elements of the sea, like elsewhere in the world, were associated with the loading and unloading of cargoes, illustrated by one type of song or chant and, at sea, other chants developed with the need to raise sails by hauling lines in unison, lifting a heavy anchor or to row for long periods of time efficiently.

Naturally, the songs were not just portraying the work which had to be carried out at sea but were also related to the consequence their long periods at sea had on them and their families. So love, patience and fate were elements of the music sung by or to those at sea.