When visiting a new country, travellers are always intrigued by the food, the clothes, and the language of the local people. But most often, they're intrigued by the local music. No matter where you travel in the world, you're always going to be moved by the emotion of songs, regardless of linguistic barriers. In Oman, musical performances are wonderful opportunities to enjoy the lovely rhythms of Arab music combined with the beats of Africa and the passion of the Omanis. After all, due to its location in the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has been influenced by varieties of cultures from India, Portugal, Yemen, Iran - even as far as Tanzania!
Music plays a major role in the Sultanate of Oman and it's a vital part of all important life events like the birth, marriage and death of an individual. Unlike other Arab countries, all Omanis take part in music regardless of age or sex. On national days of celebration, each region and governorate prepares their own celebration of Oman's culture. There are more than 130 known forms of traditional music in the country. Different regions of the country have their own celebrated musical cultures. Most traditional music of Oman is accompanied by dancing and recitation of poetry, though the styles differ between regions. Dhofar region in southern Oman has a tradition called Al-Bar'ah which includes a war-like dance and tribal chanting. It is performed in a half-circle by both men and women.
As a primarily desert country with a long coastline, Oman's music can be typically divided into 'sea music' and 'desert music'. The many songs can be attributed to various tasks performed by the locals across the day. Some examples of sea music are shallat al-baura for pulling the anchor of a boat, nazag sheraa for hoisting the sail, and yarah mashumah for rowing the boat. The Bedouins of the country have their own musical culture, as do the locals in Oman's mountain ranges. Other common themes in Omani music are longing, homesickness, and travel.
What Are The Instruments Used?
The Omanis have many instruments used in their music. They have a number of string instruments. The tambura, also called fann at-tanbura or nuban, is a six-string instrument. The strings called 'khiyut' are beaten with a horn. This instrument draws its influence from Africa.
The rababa is considered the 'mother of all string instruments'. It has one, two, and four string versions. The Omani version called rababit ash-shair has one string. Unlike a violin, it is played vertically with the instrument placed on the player's thigh. The rababa is rarely used nowadays, but it was once integral to Oman's music. Another important string instrument is the oud. It is commonly used in Arab music. It has a short wooden neck. It commonly has five or six strings. Other instruments used in Omani music are the duff (tambourine), khulkhal (ankle bracelet), qassaba (flute) and a surnay (wooden oboe of Beluchi origin).
Patronage of the Sultan
Although music has always been an important part of Oman's culture, it was revitalized by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said when he came to power in 1970. The decade after his ascension is considered the Renaissance of Oman. The Sultan known to play the oud himself and has great knowledge of Western classical music. He was determined to give the country's music a structured program, which resulted in the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra in 1985.
As part of this program, musically gifted children were found from all across Oman and sent to a special boarding school where music was an important subject. Highly-qualified teachers from Europe were specially brought to Oman. After several decades of this program, Oman now has a large number of well-taught individuals who are qualified to play in a national orchestra. When students graduate from the program, their first performances are typically in front of the Sultan. Then they are allowed to play for the Oman public. The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra performed for the first time in 2007 at the Young Euro Classic Festival in Berlin. They were very well-received. Today, their music is known for combining traditional Omani folk music with strong Western techniques. Their music can be watched at the Royal Opera House in Muscat which was inaugurated in 2011. It is known for its wonderful architecture and many musical programs that include jazz and international music. The hall is generally sold out for every event. When there aren't performances taking places, there are weekly tours of the opera house.
Other ways in which the Sultan patronised music in the country include the new Department of Musicology at the Qultan Qaboos University, music education in schools and the formation of the Muscat Festival. The Oman Centre for Traditional Music was created in 1984 to document the country's traditions. The Centre now has over 20,000 photographs, 500 audio-visual media and sound recordings in its archives.
Musical Festivals of Oman
The Muscat Festival is a national celebration of Oman's culture. It generally takes place in the months of Jan and Feb for a period of two weeks. There are musical performances, intellectual seminars, poetry evenings, and even lectures by specialists in their fields. These take place in a number of locations of Muscat-like public parks, exhibition centres and cultural halls. There's even an Arabic concert night when Arab singers perform. It is hugely popular amongst locals and tourists alike, gathering crowds of over 50,000 people each year. There is always music playing in Oman. The Ministry of Tourism plans multiple cultural evenings in Al Flayj Castle Theatre and Salalah's Al Morooj Theatre. You can also catch performances in Oman's souks like Souq es Sabt in Muscat. Taking place in two sessions each year, several local bands perform both modern and traditional music here between 3 PM and 7 PM.
The rise of tourism in Oman has created a cosmopolitan culture in the country. Major modern music festivals include Spring Music Festival and Sunset Music Festival that host international DJ's and include a variety of genres like EDM and hip-hop. So whether you're seeking some traditional sounds or modern music, you'll find it all in Oman!