Almezmar, Drumming and Dancing with Sticks

Almezmar is a stick song-dance that is savored by the population inhabiting Alhijaz region in western Saudi Arabia. It is performed at cheerful occasions, e.g. religious holidays, weddings, celebrations, national occasions, festivals, or any event considered important for the communities, group and individuals. It is transmitted from generation to generation and deemed by the Hijazis as a paramount manifestation of their intangible cultural heritage. This art contributes to the maintenance of their social structure and envisaged by them as a strong marker of identity.

The word “Mezmar” is actually a designation for most any wind instrument, i.e. “oboe”. However, the name of the performing art Almezmar, subject of the present nomination,is perplexing inasmuch as the Almezmar song-dance does not mean a wind instrument, as there is no oboe used in this art, but only drums. This art is a worth seeing performance and leave the chance for the performer to distinguish himself while being observed by the tribesmen.

This performing art commences when players (15 to 80 or 100 performers) line up in two opposing lines or a large circle, each man holding a stick (ca. 130 cm long) called Alshon or Mirwad. Beating drums (Alʿidda) marks the start of the play. The leader of each row called Almozomil or Muʿallim, who chants loudly rhythmic songs, called Zomalthat harmonize the rhythms of drums and clapping. Songs, in terms of content, transmit the values of gallantry, praise, magnanimity, or love. The first row repeats the song accompanied by strong handclapping as a sign of strength and bravery followed by the second row which sings antiphonally. Two players advance to the playing arena followed by other two players. This ways is called Aljosh or Almaqlab, which means turning the stick round. Main players are usually young males who can master and swiftly twirl the stick. Players try to show their skill by making circular movements while holding the stick and moving their legs according to the rhythm of drums. Almezmar performance may differ in its movements and to some extent their rhythms from place to place or from village to village. This depends, inter alia, on the rhythm regulator (Muʿallim Alʿulba) and the entire drumming team which is located, including their drums (ʿulba), at one end of both rows.

Al-Mezmar is usually played at night outdoors on streets, public venues, or rural locale. Sometimes, players set fire in middle of the circle or the two rows of players. More frequently, they dance these days around some central object, so performers may place some items in the middle of the play area instead of fire. The play begins as both players spin around the flames or the object(s) set in the middle, twirling their sticks with graceful and quick moves.

This play is subject to certain customary regulations to which players and spectators should abide with; e.g. if one of the spectators tries to engage, he will be asked to leave the playing area as the designated players are still performing. Moreover, players should show mutual respect towards each other; the younger player should greet the older first at the playground by shaking hand while holding the stick in the other.
Performers are usually public people as well as members from organized troupes. But all public spectra can perform this art equally, apart from the social status or professional backgrounds. In some cases, people, who come from other cities or localities as guests, e.g. to participate in wedding ceremonies, are given the priority to play before the locals of the host city as a sign of respect.
It is worth mentioning that certain poems sung in Almezmar performance were composed by Hijazi women, e.g. the female Hijazi poet Thurayya Qabil. Almezmar songs are usually sung by renowned Hijazi male and female singers and got broadcasted in the media. From the female singers are Tuha, ʿItab, Sonia Ahmad and Ibtisam Lutfi. Today, women used to warble Almezmar songs during wedding parties in private familial context; sometimes accompanied by Almezmar dance performed by them.
This art is associated to certain tangible objects. There are three sizes of sticks used; the thickest is the Alshon, the middle one is the Mutliq, and the smallest is the Mirwad. Nowadays, the latter size is widely spread because it is convenient and handy.
As for drums, several types are used, including ʿUlba, which is a large frame drum that rests across the lower legs of a seated man, Alnagrazan, is a hollow drum made of tin and covered with leather and hit by small chopsticks, Mirwas or Maradd, is a small barrel drum played with both bare hands and used to respond to Alnagrzan, and Mirjaf, which functions as a large frame drum that keeps the main beat.
Regarding clothing, troupes wear traditional Al-Mezmar costume that includes a white garement (thobe), a wide embroidered belt, Baqsha, made of wool or fabric and fold up on the waist, scarf on the shoulder (Alshal), sometimes a vest (Sideeri), and mostly orange/yellow turban called Alghabana, which is placed on the head above a white bonnet folded by ironing into four quarters. Other colors of Alghabana are known as well. Apart from troupes, public performers wear their daily dress, a white garement (thobe) andany head cover. All performers wear usually under the white garement a wide trouser. Its bottoms are usually embroidered by Hijazi women by raveling  fibers from the bottoms and forming geometric shapes in the remaining fields of the raveled bottoms.

Almezmar is a collective performance which assembles people from diverse generational and socio-economic backgrounds. As a cultural expression, source of amusement, and a manifestation of skillful performance, it promotes among the community members the spirit of equality which is based on tolerance, fair and unbiased play. It disseminates good qualities and manners among youth despite the alternating lifestyles, ways of thinking and reasoning in an urbanized and globalizing world.

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