Weekend Listening: Bahri Music

Kuwait is a coastal country, and the sea played a major role in its history, survival and culture. One of the cultural products of this relationship with the sea is Bahri or sea music. Below you have several examples of this style of music

Three bands in Kuwait are famous for keeping Bahri music popular to this day; the Mayouf band, the Bin Hussein band and the Amari Band.

This first musical performance by the Mayouf Band is presented by Ghazi Al-Mulaifi a Kuwaiti ethnomusicologist. Read a Brownbook feature about Ghazi and visit his website

At the end of the performance above the celebrated musician and musical historian Ahmad Alsalhi plays the oud and sings. You can hear/read an interview with him about Bahri music over at the Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR). His famous website Zeryab has been providing us all with access to the best in classical and folk music from the Gulf and the wider Middle East for years. Follow him on Twitter and Soundcloud

Below is a Haddadi version of Bahri at the Bin Hussein Diwaniyya. This type of Bahri is the music that was played for entertainment as opposed to the music mostly heard above which functioned to provide rhythm, direction and encouragement for the work.

This third video below is also a Haddadi but a version more haunting by the great Salman Al Amari. He is one of the most well known Kuwaiti Sawt singers (a Kuwaiti town based music as opposed to desert or sea) and also a preserver and performer of Bahri music.

The musical cycle begins with the Nahham (the main singer, in this case Salman AlAmari) singing the Ijrihan (widely thought to be from the word jarh: Pain/ache) which is a solo expressing longing. The rest of the men acting as choir will start to respond vocally, without instruments, at the end of this part of the song. Then the instruments enter in the section called the tanzila.

In this following video you can clearly see the instruments used, some of which may seem like odd household objects, as is the case with the ijhala (water jug seen in minute 3:00) and the Hawin (Garlic beater seen in minute 4:13). These are the objects carried on boats that serve both a musical and functional purpose and also, unlike the Oud (lute), will survive the wet, salty, rough conditions at sea. The other typical instruments are the larger horizontal drum (Tabl Bahri) and the smaller hand held drum (Mirwas).

When the song moves into the third section which is the Nehma the choir hums while the Nahham sings or wails above it. This part also includes the dancing, as a circle is formed and the choir clap and hit the ground and a dancer jumps in possibly in the slippery fashion a fish might.

And now, enjoy:

Finally take a little jump back in time and listen to the legendary Awadh Al Dhoukhi singing the Ya Mal which is the work song with a nahham singing the mawwal while the rest respond with grunts and sounds implying a response in action and words when rowing or pulling out to sea. The words to this piece are a poem style known as a Zuhairiya and is thought to have been based on the story of a sailor leaving his dying friend alone on an island.


To learn about the music above the go to book is:

By Lisa Urkevich

Prof.  Lisa Urkevich is a musicologist / ethnomusicologist who has established herself as an expert in the field of Gulf music and has done much to bring the music to many outside the region.

For a shorter introduction to some of the cultural highlights of Gulf music the article by Sarah Alzouman is a delightful piece.