Omani folk dances have deep historical roots, intertwined with the nation's history and traditions. They offer insights into the country's diverse heritage, reflecting influences from various Arab, African, and Indian cultures.
These dances were performed during significant milestones such as weddings, religious celebrations, and harvest festivals, serving as a way to express joy, commemorate victories, and strengthen communal bonds.
For the people living in South Sharqiyah, North al Batinah, Qurayyat and some wilayats in Dhofar, Mudima has been a permanent fixture in community lives and celebrations.
Mudima is a beautiful marine folk art that combines acting, singing, dancing, and even playing—a theatrical performance rich with a beautiful tapestry of history and tradition.
It is said that Mudima originated in African countries and was brought to Oman by Omani sailors who traversed the seas separating the countries.
"We have been performing Mudima for several generations now. Historically, Omani sailors brought this tradition from African countries during a time when trade by sea was the biggest trend. Through the navigation of different trade routes, these countries manage to share cultures," shared Mohammed Al Maqhusi.
Mohammed is the Al Ageed, or leader, of the group and conducts different performances in some specific areas of Oman. As the lead musician, he not only leads the singers but also acts as the maestro directing each member of the team that plays specific instruments.
"It started with very simple instruments in the past just to get the beat going. While on the ship sailing across waters, they used Mudima as a form of entertainment, a great way for sailors to keep in cheery spirits while exploring vast waters," Mohammed shared.
"From its humble beginnings as entertainment while out in the sea, it becomes a prominent fixture as a form of entertainment even on land. From simple drums, over time, more and more instruments were added," Mohammed explained.
Today, Mohammed and his team are a full marching band complete with singers and instrumentalists. As its conductor, he directs the group, but they always keep the spirit of the tradition alive, with each group re-living the lives of their ancestors as sailors.
For every event, the group starts by standing in two parallel rows and walking behind each other until they reach the venue of the event.
The group then rotates in a circular ring, carrying rowing sticks with them. After some time, they put these sticks on the ground and started clapping, showing scenes that simulate the reality of life on the ship. Through their gestures and movements, they show acts like raising the sails and rowing through the waters against the backdrop of singing and clapping accompanied by the sound of drums and flutes.
As the leader, Al Ageed sings either in Swahili or Arabic and his words are then repeated by the chorus behind him. The playful dances then take centre stage with the dancers performing graceful movements called 'chambi' showing off their skills in the middle of this circular ring. These movements are then mirrored by the person opposite him.
"In today's performances, people can now see different instruments. The main instrument is the rahmani or drum — an instrument that is struck by hand to emit a loud booming sound. Supporting it is a smaller drum called kasir struck by one hand with a dedicated stick called mekasira which gives a sharp tone," Mohammed shared.
"We also used mucindo, the Swahili name for a long conical percussive instrument that is covered from one side. The musician uses it as a chair while playing, in addition to the tank, which is a metal tray," he added.
There are other instruments too, such as the jem, which is a large spiral shell with a hole for blowing. These were used as trumpets in ceremonies. Bergum is a traditional musical instrument made from the horns of the Arabian oryx or ibex. The sound is produced by blowing into the opening hole near the end of the thin part of the horn. It is used as a trumpet in traditional musical styles.
In addition to this, the wind instrument kirbah or bagpipe was later on introduced to the performance. It is made of a leather bag with one or more flutes on it. The bagpipe produces sharp tones. It functions in such a way that air is blown into the bag, and when it's full of air, the player presses on the bagpipe to give the required tone.
Mohammed and his peers had been performing under the Al Burj Group, created in 2004.
Their group has been invited across Oman to perform at different events and high-end productions. They had been to weddings and cultural festivals that showcased the versatility of Mudima.
During the time of this interview, the group has been performing at Ajwa Ashkarah which is a festival with two stops, including Al Kamil and Ras al Hadd.
"Mudima is very versatile and can be used for different celebrations. Depending on the event, we also change the lyrics of the songs to coincide with the celebration," Mohammed said.