Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The arda

The importance of the arda is far more profound than just a dance. The events at which it is performed are social occasions whose origins lie in the tribal societies that made their home in the Peninsula and the Arabian hinterland. The meetings have a number of functions, political, strategic, social and entertaining. When tribes gather to show allegiance, they perform the razeef as an important and highly visible element of the event.

The arda may be held first and foremost in order to demonstrate association and loyalty in a traditional, political setting. It might also serve as a formal or informal gathering where familiy issues are discussed, including marriages.

The arda is essentially a war dance where dancers can be seen wearing bandoliers and carrying guns of different ages or swords in a typical display of martial strength and loyalty to the ruler, as a show of respect to both himself and the country. Two lines of men, facing one another, chant in response to a single person leading them in an eight-bar refrain. In between, men present their weapons in a slow moving, individualist display. The call and response from the lines of men can be powerful, but also humouristic or insulting to their enemies.

The drums are the most important element of the arda as there is no tune to carry; the rhythm is important to pace the dancers who use the whole of their bodies to move in time with the beat. In the fishing and pearling traditions of gulf music percussion is a strong element. Clapping, producing a hard, dry sound, is part of the arda and razeef.

While it is the men of the tribe who dance and sing, there are dances where women participate though in a less open-air setting. The na’ashat and rada are the most common. The former is characterized by the women sweeping their hair rhythmically to the beat of the music and is common to badu traditions; the latter is a processional performance associated with weddings.