Bin Faris House for Sut Music
BY ANAAM IKRAM
For anyone who has been trained in classical music, or is an avid listener of traditional Arabic music, the name Mohammed Bin Faris Al Khalifa almost instantly comes to mind when discussing some of the most influential Arabian musicians of the 20th century. Mentions of Sut music – a bluesy genre of music influenced by Africa, India, and Persia – are almost entirely incomplete without bringing up the significant contribution of Bin Faris and his protégées, Dhahi Bin Walid and Mohammed Zuwayyid, as the three of them, amongst many Sut musicians in Bahrain, were celebrated highly for their unique style of performing and their beautiful voices. Preserving the legacy that has been left behind by Bin Faris, the Shaikh Ebrahim Center for Culture and Research has brought back to life his original place of music playing. Member of the Board of Trustees, Hassan Salman Kamal took Perle Magazine on a tour of the house – which has been reconstructed on the original site – that was the space once used by the legendary singer to perform and entertain his friends with his musical mastery.
Born in 1895, Bin Faris, grandson of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa (ruler of Bahrain from 1843-1868), initially got his Sut musical training from his elder brother Abdelatif Bin Faris, and later travelled to Bombay, to train under his mentor Abd Al Rahim-Al Asiri. His visit to India further widened his scope as a Sut musician and allowed him to develop new compositions, which enhanced and elevated the musical industry in Bahrain at the time. Bin Faris’ music was inspired by various poets whose writings iterated the feeling of being in love. He would create his own melodies to the poetry that resonated with him, and recorded many records in Baghdad, India, Syria, and even in Bahrain, before his death in 1947. His most famous record, Master Voice, was recorded somewhere between the 1920s and 1930s – along with most of his records – in Baghdad, one of the few places (other than India) where the technology was available to record music. Mohammed Bin Faris’ unique style of singing also inspired many to learn music from him by watching him perform, and two of his students, Dhahi Bin Walid and Mohammed Zuwayyid, followed in the footsteps of their guru and also became prominent names in Sut music.
Belonging to the Royal family of Bahrain, it was not common practice to openly pursue music, and thus Bin Faris would play music in his personal space. The house is located in the centre of Muharraq and has been restored as part of the ongoing project by Shaikh Ebrahim Center to hold onto the memory of Kingdom’s valuable members of society and those who have given the country its identity today. With only one room and a small courtyard, Bin Faris would gather all his friends and music enthusiasts, especially on a Thursday, and together they would delve into the world of Sut, as they all took turns to perform in their own signature styles.
The ritual is still carried out today, in the Bin Faris Sut Music Hall, where a live band performs every Thursday evening from 7pm onwards. Located next to the modern structure of the music hall, the Bin Faris House walls are laden with records of his music and written text from which he would perform, as the sounds of his voice echo throughout the traditional courtyard. The inner room, though a small room, was once the grounds of some of the greatest musical rendezvous of the time and has been decorated with other string and percussion instruments, such as the violin and mirwas drums which were played as accompaniments to the oud. A glass case with an Eagle feather used to play the oud as it is the only strong suitable object to strum the strings with; Master Voice and other vinyl records possessing the sounds of the great musician; musical sheets of his music (for others who wish to play his work); and a series of black and white photographs of other great Sut musicians of the time and comrades of Bin Faris – such as the Mohammed Bin Faris’ brothers Abdelatif and Saakir, Dhahi Bin Walid, Mohammed Zuwayyid, Farhan Bashir, Bu Sheikha, Abdulla Ahmed, Abdulla and Abdelaziz Burqouba, and more – are all part of the artefacts that maintain the musical memory of the house and tell its lyrical tale.
Donating Bin Faris’ records to the Shaikh Ebrahim Center, Hassan Kamal, an esteemed poet and self-taught oud player himself, was also fortunate enough to have spent some time in the company of the great Sut musicians who had also spent significant time with Bin Faris.
A child at the time, Hassan’s only encounter with Bin Faris was as a child on his way to his father’s friend, when Bin Faris, already a celebrated musician by the time, was also in presence and was pointed out by others present there. A teacher by education but having been always inspired by Bin Faris, Hassan not only wrote love-poetry but also verses in honour of Bin Faris and his work. Hassan’s work has been published in many books, as well as placed outside the music hall for all to see his respect for the admired musician. Though he did not come across Bin Faris again, the opportunity to work with Mohammad Zuwayyid arose when Hassan helped him record some of his music in one of Bahrain’s first studios, which was established around the 1960s.
Forever echoing in Bahrain’s cultural and musical history, Bin Faris’ compositions have been considered as the best in Sut music. His unmatched skills as an oud player and his melodious singing has contributed greatly to Sut music as well as being a part of the musicians who served as an inspiration to revolutionise the music industry, and continue to do so today through their work, which will forever be heard in the stories of tradition, culture, and history of Bahrain.
For more information:
Saturday-Thursday, 8am-1pm / 4pm-7pm
Shaikh Ebrahim Center, Muharraq
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