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The immersive music of the Gulf’s pearl divers

The immersive music of the Gulf’s pearl divers

The immersive music of the Gulf’s pearl divers

BEGINNING IN THE FIRST CENTURY BCE, pure pearl diving was the financial, social, and cultural spine of the Persian Gulf. Effectively into the Nineteen Thirties, over 100,000 males—enslaved Africans, indentured employees, and profession divers from Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar—nonetheless took to the ocean every season, diving a whole lot of occasions a day to the oyster beds, only one p.c of which might produce a pearl. It was exhausting and dangerous work descending twenty fathoms all the way down to the seafloor, and music lifted their spirits. Nahma: A Gulf Polyphony, the most recent transmedia compilation from FLEE, explores the histories that formed the music of Persian pearl divers alongside the capricious gulfs they traversed.

A file label, publishing home, and exhibition organizer, FLEE goals to understand musical genres and actions as “social objects,” encouraging a mode of knowledgeable listening attuned to the political dynamics that form specific sound cultures. Every launch contains an LP and publication devoted to singular musical phenomena, resembling Kenya’s benga or Italy’s pizzica, researched after which revived by the interpretation of latest musicians, students, and artists. The inspiration of their most up-to-date venture is a set of uncommon and beforehand unreleased recordings of pearl divers’ music captured by the Danish ethnomusicologist Poul Rovsing Olsen within the late Fifties. Categorized in keeping with rhythm, melody, and chanting type, his archive contains nahma (“songs”) for work (bahri), leisure (fijiri), and drydocking (sanghini), with particular songs directing the motion of the anchor (“Dawwāri”) or the sails (“Khatfat Al Shira”).

Each captain would rent no less than one singer (a Nahhām) to sing on his pearling boat, in addition to to guard the crew from legendary sirens and sea monsters—the nahm—from which they drew their title. These vocalists would lead every music as their ship moved between oyster beds, with the remainder of the boys becoming a member of in to kind a choir. Based on legend, this music was stolen from genies and certainly, it sounds without delay mystical and fully human, suspended between heaven and earth. Educated to carry their breath for lengthy durations underwater, the divers’ lungs increase and bellow throughout the open water, summoning magic out of skinny air.

Nahma: A Gulf Polyphony (FLEE, 2022).

The primary music from Olsen’s archive featured on the album is “Yā Mal,” a midaf (or “oar” music) to be chanted by the Nahhām whereas sailors row. Collectively, a droning bass choir of throat singers and the strained lamentations of the soloist (“O, Fortune!”) compose a portrait of their sea: unfathomable and fickle, hardly ever fruitful. The pearl commerce depended closely on slavery, which was perpetuated alongside the Arab Peninsula properly into the 20th century. Songs like “Zumayyah” hauntingly echo the decision and response of African American spirituals, whereas “Bahri”—evoking Bahrain’s namesake “two seas” (referring to the abundance of freshwater springs beneath the ocean)—slowly builds to an ecstatic frenzy. Drums slap like water in opposition to a ship’s hull, propelling the musicians ahead because the piece falls right into a seventeen-minute polyphony of mantric exclamation and reverie: a tempestuous dialogue between the soloist and his choir, between the wind and sea. Throughout the extra leisurely fijiri suites, songs loved when the wind died down or work was performed, poetic improvisations and huge syllables swell beneath the empty sails; the gradual and nostalgic Arabic vocal custom of mawwāl prevails right here, and you’ll practically hear these sailors’ hearts break for the shore. In different tracks, anguish reverberates between the choir’s extremely percussive clapping and cries, recalling Flamenco’s feverish palmas and jaleo.

Such resonances mirror the Gulf’s wealthy, intercultural waters. The 240-page Arabic-English publication accompanying the album presents a prismatic historical past of this music by the eyes of pearl retailers and divers, curators, conservationists, students, and artists. We meet Abou Saleh, one of many final of the Nahhām, who welcomed the rise of oil (which, he says, “allowed us to relaxation”) within the area, in addition to “Main Ali,” a retired Emirati Navy main turned conservationist who bemoans the devastation the petroleum trade has wrought on the Gulf, among the many most polluted our bodies of water on the earth. On the LP, modern musicians additional interpret Nahma in apply and concept. Percussionists like Tomaga and YPY fall into rhythm behind the fijiri, whereas Hieroglyphic Being pushes it into EBM and home. Tarek Yamani, a Beiruti pianist identified for his jazz-inspired “Afro-Tarab” type, pulls us towards the Atlantic; Ben Bertrand drifts in an ambient seascape, and Joakim samples the sounds of the shore.

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The archival music of Nahma sits in stark distinction to those new artists’ work, usually reliant on synths, programming, or the regular pulse of a drum machine. The dichotomy is poignant, and portends the way forward for pearling itself, a commerce newly depending on expertise. The worth of cultured pearls plummeted throughout this century, returning the Gulf’s divers to darker waters. Wearing scuba gear, they use X-rays to enhance effectivity and keep away from overfishing, whereas again on shore, conservationists, students, and divers’ households work to protect pearling as a commerce, cultural heritage, and life-style. Muharraq, as soon as the pearling capital of the Gulf, is being revitalized as a Unesco website, whereas out at sea, previous males are as soon as once more instructing their grandchildren to dive and sing.

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