Tradition of Nabati poetry revived through tweets on show El Beit

Nabati Poetry competition El Beit offers a glimpse into Gulf traditions and has been taking audiences by storm since its second season began.
Majid Abdul Rahman Al Bastaki, standing, with the judges of the show El Beit. Reem Mohammed / The National
Majid Abdul Rahman Al Bastaki, standing, with the judges of the show El Beit. Reem Mohammed / The National

The poetry show El Beit, the brainchild of the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre, has been taking Gulf audiences by storm since its second season began in November.

The weekly show, broadcast live on Sama Dubai, aims to keep alive the tradition of Nabati poetry. And for season two, the producers have added a unique Twitter-based, reality television-style element to the competition.

Viewers are invited tweet a line to complete the first “chater” – or stanza – of a poem that the show’s producers post at 5pm each Monday.

The production director Obeida Sidani says the show gets about 70,000 entries a week from across the GCC and beyond – the winner of one episode in season one was a Saudi student watching in the United States.

El Beit translates as The Home, so it was a pleasure to be invited to the home of the show.

The hosts, Dr Barakat Al Wagyan and Ahmed Al Bidwawi, are the show’s yin and yang. The Kuwaiti television star Al Wagyan brings his vast experience of presenting TV competitions, while Al Bidwawi is a respected Emirati poet.

“Poetry has been part of this culture for so long, but we’re becoming a global country and that has shaken the position of poetry,” says Al Bidwawi. “Poetry was the only entertainment 40 years ago, but there are so many new things now and it doesn’t have the same status. By using social media, it’s a modern way to keep alive a very ancient tradition.”

Al Bidwawi was already presenting a daily, non-poetry-related radio show for the centre when, thanks to his background, he was approached to co-present El Beit. His almost accidental journey to the screen seems to complement his approach to poetry well.

“There are companies that specialise in things like writing poetry for weddings,” he says. “You can make money that way, but I never thought of poetry like that. I see it as something very valuable in itself, not as a source of income. When approached to be host, I was honoured, but I never even thought about it from a financial perspective.”

Al Wagyan is happy to leave the poetry analysis to his co-host and the 15-strong panel of judges.

“I’m no poetry expert,” he says. “But I have many years experience hosting competitive TV shows and you can use that format with whatever content you like. It’s an honour to have the trust of Sheikh Hamdan to do this programme, and the centre has done every single thing possible to prepare us for the programme.”

One of the biggest challenges for Al Wagyan has been adapting to the live format, when many such shows are pre-recorded.

“Every word is like a bullet,” he says. “And each one has to be right. We have to be entertaining but, equally, it can’t be silly. We have a responsibility to our culture, our community, to Sheikh Hamdan. It’s not easy.”

The switch to Twitter is a new development for season two and Sidani is keen to emphasise how it has helped the show to be more transparent.

“We used to be an SMS competition, but that was very controversial because there is money involved, so we removed this notion,” he says.

“The centre takes no financial reward from this show – we even refuse to have advertising. It’s purely an exercise to teach people more about culture and Nabati poetry in particular.

“All the people who participate are anonymous, even to the judges. We’re using the latest software from England that is used on a lot of global competition shows. It filters entries and all the details of entrants are removed before a human being sees it.

Al Bidwawi adds that he has started trying to write some poetry in English, which raises the question of whether the show’s producers have thought of subtitling the show in English and running a repeat, perhaps on Dubai One or online. It would seem a great way for many expats to learn about traditional Emirati culture.

“It’s a wonderful idea, but there are so many challenges in translating Nabati poetry in particular,” says Majid Abdul Rahman Al Bastaki, the show’s general coordinator. “However, this is something we have considered since the beginning of the show’s first season. The whole world makes an ideal audience for expressing our Nabati culture, especially with the rhythm and concepts that Nabati poetry is based on.”

El Beit is broadcast on Monday nights at 9pm on Sama Dubai

Published: December 30, 2014 04:00 AM


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