The traditional music and folk dances in Dubai are a reflection of the rich heritage of the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE). The celebration of the various cultural events and festivals in Dubai will not be complete without these traditional music and folk dances.
In Dubai wedding ceremonies, for example, people dance to express their joy for the occasion. In a typical festivity, dancers form in a circle or a line and encourage everyone to join them.
Drums are a common accompaniment, and so are tambourines (called Tiran or Duffuf). Other musical instruments traditionally used are the Nay (a long end-blown flute), the Rababah (a fiddle played with a horsehair bow), and the Tambura (a long-necked plucked lute). Each of these musical instruments is played for one of the different folk dances.
There are at least three folk dances in Dubai: Ayyalah, Liwa, and Haban.
This folk dance, which is popular throughout the UAE, depicts a battle, the overcoming of the enemy, and the celebration of triumph. It is performed with at least 25 men, but may be as many as 200. The men form in two lines and face each other, with arms linked, as if ready to do battle.
Those watching a performance of this folk dance will be fascinated once the men begin to brandish their swords (camel sticks, actually), recite poems (as if challenging the other side), and swing slowly and rhythmically back and forth to the beat of drums. The concerted music is led by a big drum called Al-Ras, which is supported by 3 smaller drums called Takhamir.
Like the Ayyalah, the theme of this folk dance is war. It traces its origin to East Africa, when traders from that region introduced it to the Middle East. As such, the dance is inspired by the African style of music. Some of the instruments used in its performance are the Mizmar (a pipe flute) and three drums – Jabwah, Shindo, and Jasser.
A typical performance of the Liwa opens with a 6-minute playing of the Mizmar in slow tempo; beats from the three drums immediately follow, and the 10 singers/dancers enter. The pace increases as the performance progresses, until it peaks to a whirling activity. The entire performance takes about twenty minutes.
The Liwa is traditionally performed in special occasions, such as at wedding ceremonies and in the celebration of the successful conclusion of the pearl-diving season.
This is another major folk dance in Dubai. Alternative names to the Haban are Khayali or Khamiri, any of which refers to the instrument that predominates the performance of this dance. The folk dance is especially performed at weddings.
The Haban is performed with 3 groups. The first group is made up of about 8 men, the second group is composed also of about 8 women, and the third group is comprised of about 10 musicians. The player of the Haban (the instrument) is usually the conductor of the ensemble.
Certain rhythm instruments and drums of varied sizes accompany the performance. The two groups of female and male dancers move back and forth on a steady 2-step rhythm as the group of musicians does its number in between the two groups.
Two other less known, but nevertheless equally significant, folk dances in Dubai are the Harbiya and the Mated. The former is very similar to the Ayyalah, which is performed with two rows of men facing each other; the latter is rather different from the other folk dances in Dubai, in that it’s performed for a specific religious occasion – the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.