The first to arrive at any wedding are the dancers. The royal wedding party of Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, and his brothers Sheikh Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Ahmed, Chairman of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Education Foundation, was no exception.
A wedding party begins when chanting fills the air, an invitation to the neighbourhood to join celebrations.
Scores of dancers stood outside Dubai World Trade Centre on Thursday afternoon, lifting their voices and their canes, a signal that the royal wedding had begun.
The dance of choice at most weddings is the ayala, a performed by rows of men swaying side to side, up and down, arm in arm or shoulder to shoulder. An off-kilter tempo is kept by small group of percussionists dancing between them, beating drums and tinging cymbals.
The royal wedding included folk troupes from across the country, with changing rhythms a subtle nod to both maritime and desert traditions.
“A wedding isn’t a wedding with ayala,” said Darwish Mohammed, a senior member of a Dubai ayyala folk troupe, standing outside the World Trade Centre hall. “Right now we’re listening to one from Al Ain and we’ve just performed one from the sea. I grew up in the Zaghaya quarter of Deira and those we sang from the sea I remember from my childhood.”
The poetry chanted in ayala dates back generations. Chants written after the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 are known as harbiya and can include other instruments or synthesised melodics.
Ayala is traditionally performed at weddings, to mark the return from a successful pearl diving season or to celebrate victory in war.
“Some words are for love, some words are to say hello and today we sing songs for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid,” said Awwadh Khalifa, manager of the Khair bin Al Hai Al Kuwaiti Band. “Today’s ayala is only for marriage. But we have many songs and many words for love. Some lyrics are from UAE, some are coming from Saudi Arabia.”
The Al Ain troupe, led by Mr Khalifa, has a rich repertoire of songs that existed long before the troupe was founded in 1954. But when he discovered that they would perform for Dubai’s three princes, he selected a modern song set to poetry by the father of the grooms, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
“I couldn’t believe it when they called me,” Mr Khalifa said.