Ahmed ‘Ushaysh is yet another of the last representatives of this tradition. He sings and accompanies himself on a copper tray, the sahn mimiyeh.
This tray, made of a special alloy, belongs to the same family as the gongs of South-East Asia; it accompanies a solo singer or an ensemble of singer and lute (see tracks 1 & 2). It rests lightly on both thumbs so as to give the maximum resonance, and is struck with the other eight fingers. As the main percussion instrument it gives rise to innovatory rhythms, for instance the irregular cycles of 11 beats are stretched into 14, 17 or even 20 beats. Since there is no melodic instrument to support the voice, the gaps between the words of a poem are often filled with meaningless syllables (la-la-li, dan dana etc.) – knowing exactly how and when to do this is quite an art in itself.
Like Hasan al-‘Ajami, Ahmed ‘Ushaysh made his first public appearance at the concerts held at the Institut du monde arabe in January 1998. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after his return to his homeland, so these recordings are a unique historic testimony, a moving trace of his voice now silent for ever.
Translated by Délia Morris
Available album: Sanaan Singing