Arab poets from Aswan
Sayed Rekabi is counted among the few singers who still perform the original repertoire of the traditional music of the Arab tribes of Upper Egypt. Born in the village of Jaafra in the province of Aswan, he learned these singing styles under the tutelage of the great masters of the Jaafra tradition; El Leithi and Abu El Amin whose repertoire encompasses numerous examples of popular poetry. Sayed Rekabi and his ensemble present a collection of Jaafra traditional songs based on traditional poetic forms (including adaptations of Nameem) with voices, oud (lute) and dhoff (small frame drum).
The Jaafra tribes live in the Aswan governorate and they trace their lineage to El Emam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, a nephew of the prophet Mohamed, and a key figure in the history of Islam. Their situation is currently no different from that of the rest of the Egyptians in that most of their traditional arts have disappeared under the onslaught of media culture and the priorities of official and commercial institutions. There remain only very few people who still know, value and try to hang on to their cultural legacy.
The art of Nameem
Among the arts practiced by both the Jaafra and the Jaafrat tribes is the art of Nameem. This art is derived from forms of classical Arab poetry, but is distinguished by unique characteristics that set it apart from other popular literary art forms.
Nameem is a kind of poetic competition between two poet-singers in which each poet tries to “top” his rival’s poetic lines with spontaneously composed poetry. Except for the melodically improvised and un-metered introduction to each stanza (ya leil or lolee ) which is shared by other traditional Egyptian song forms, Nameem can be most clearly compared to the rhythmic and chant-like rap or hip hop. The poets sing in turns, each vying for the greatest impact on the listeners, as it is the audience who make the ultimate judgment. The performance can last all night without a break (as there are no accompanying instruments, so there are no instrumental interludes to provide breaks for the performer) as the singers do their best to outlast each other.
Abu Darwish and Sayed Rekabi are among the few poet-singers who still perform the Nameem. The performance requires not only great stamina, but great skill and creativity on the part of the performer who is expected to touch his listeners with imagery, wit and feeling. At the same time, the poet’s spontaneous composition must adhere to the requirements of the Nameem stanza which is characterized by unified rhyme and meter at the end of the hemistich. The rhymes may be partial or complete puns (play on words). For example, the word gani in Arabic means “criminal” as well as “harvest” and “genie”. Within this framework the poet draws on his memories, emotions, experiences and empathy with the listeners to review the past, contemplate nature, ponder history and highlight the adventures and feelings of daily life.