When I attended folklore festivals and events several years ago, I had the opportunity to watch international folklore groups comprising performers of different ages. I enjoyed watching the groups perform their national dances with flags, traditional costumes and incredible musical instruments.
These thrilling performances evoked joy and harmony. I always regretted that we were not part of these international festivals. I wondered why Bahrain was not participating in international cultural festivals and gatherings, especially as we have the potential to do so successfully.
It is true that most Arab countries are experiencing financial crises, but they also waste a lot of money on things that are not useful. Although our Arab world is currently suffering because of divisiveness and dissent, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. From history, we have learned that great nations have survived adversities, and that art offers people a way to express and nurture their humanity.
I thought about the large number of unemployed people, and how some of them must be creative with promising talents.
In the Arab world, people often retire from their official careers and start their own businesses, which are usually related to their skills or areas of specialisation. After she retired, a successful woman once asked me to suggest a project in which she could invest her savings. I suggested that she found a Bahraini folklore group. Surprised, she asked, “You mean a dance group?”
I said yes and explained that I was talking about a group that would perform the folklore dances of Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf, including the highly respected ‘Fajri’, ‘Zafan Al Sawt’, ‘Ardha’, ‘Al Mradah’, ‘Samiri’ and ‘Khammari’. Folk dances are in no way related to arts such as belly dancing.
I explained that my idea involved working with an international expert in the performing arts and physical theatre to develop and adapt our folk dances. The plan is to come up with dances with cultural dimensions that meet the needs of the new generation, and to encourage boys and girls to learn these dances. Once trained, they could represent Bahrain at festivals, national celebrations and international folklore events.
As the project became a success, it would receive increasing official and community support. I told her about different initiatives, and about how we founded the Bahrain band for Arab music and the Mohammed Bin Faris Band in 1997 with the support of a local bank. I also spoke of the Indian academy for folk dance, which is headed by Professor Parul Shah.
The woman turned away from me, saying, “What about our society’s traditions and attitudes, and the conservative people in our community? There are also many other considerations; what will people say about me?”
I said, “Your work and its prestigious artistic and cultural profile will convince people of the value of this project and its impact on future generations.”
Despite my best efforts, she remained unconvinced.
In the Arab Republic of Egypt, there was a pioneering project in 1959; Mahmoud Reda, Ali Reda, and an actress named Farida Fahmy formed a folk-dance group. It helped people recognise the importance of many dances associated with Egypt’s great history and civilisation. Despite challenges and obstacles, the Reda group has managed to survive.
Founded in Lebanon in 1968, Abdel-Halim Caracalla’s folklore group has elevated Lebanese and Levant arts throughout the world.
Since 1978, the Kuwait Television Folklore group has played an important role by recording Kuwait folk dances and songs, making this rich heritage accessible to future generations. This was made possible by the successful management of Ahmed Al Qatami and Ghannam Al Dikan, and the work of choreographer Rabiha Marzouq and designer Aysha Mifreh bin Touk.
Despite the lady’s misgivings and any obstacles that other people may raise, we still believe in the viability of founding a Bahraini folklore group. We need to adapt our attitudes towards culture; after all, everything in life is subject to change.
Ali Abdullah Khalifa
Editor in Chief