Another step on the path
From the 1950s to the 1970s, two important field researchers visited Bahrain. They had a common purpose, but different topics; both travelled thousands of miles to the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula to learn about the music of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. Their work in the Gulf complemented in-depth studies that they did as academics.
Professor Poul Rovsing Olsen (1922-1982) was a prominent ethnomusicologist, a member of the Danish Folk Music Association, and the Chairman of the International Council for Traditional Music from 1977-1982. He joined excavations in Bahrain led by a Danish archaeologist, then returned to the area to study songs and music.
While I was a student in preparatory school, the late Ahmed Al-Fardan and I were among the guides who accompanied Olsen when he met with members of traditional bands throughout Bahrain. Professor Olsen recorded significant songs associated with pearl diving, sailing, weddings, and other special occasions. I am confident that he recorded traditional songs and music firsthand from the original musicians and singers. After he left Bahrain, Olsen wrote to ask me about the names of some percussion instruments and to ask me to translate certain recorded material. I did my best with the help of my English teacher, Mr. Issa Al Dhawadi.
Professor Olsen’s Music in Bahrain: Traditional Music of the Arabian Gulf was his finest work. When he died, his study was unpublished, which was a great loss.
I wrote to Olsen’s wife to tell her that the Arab Gulf States Folklore Centre wanted to buy copies of his material on the Gulf region. I was surprised when she told me that his notes, diaries and assets, (including correspondence between Olsen and his guides), had become the property of the Danish Folk Music Association, which donated them to the National Museum of Denmark.
Thanks to official efforts, we managed to procure his manuscript in 2005, and to buy the rights to translate and publish it. The Department of Culture and National Heritage at Bahrain’s Ministry of Information published Olsen’s study in its original English and as an Arabic translation with three CDs of unique recorded material. This long-awaited study was relevant to both the region’s musical heritage and to musical heritage in general.
Professor Olsen left a valuable heritage-related legacy of rare audio recordings, notes, drafts and articles published in scientific journals.
The second scholar I want to mention is Simon Jargy, Chairman of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Arts, who visited the region in the early 1970s. Simon’s mother is an Arab, and he speaks Arabic fluently. Before he visited the region, he collected and studied folk songs and published a valuable analytical study about Mawwӑl, (a traditional Levant song that is usually performed as a prelude to the actual song).
Jargy visited Kuwait, surveying musical forms such as Mawwӑl in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan as preparation for a comparative study. When he visited Bahrain, he was so impressed by the songs of pearl divers and the famous art of Sawt that he decided to concentrate on the folk songs of the Arabian Gulf. I was his guide when he recorded samples of the most important folk songs in Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman. He returned to Bahrain several times for his study. With the support of the Swiss National Museum, he published his study in the form of CDs, each of which was accompanied by details about the narrators, the guides and the singers.
The Folk Culture Journal is exerting a great deal of effort to acquire the rights to re-issue these recordings with an Arabic translation of Jargy’s notes. This step will complement the other steps we have taken to preserve folk music.
Without scholars such as these who collected and recorded songs and music in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, our heritage would not have been preserved for future generations.
Ali Abdulla Khalifa
Editor In Chief