During the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend two Hadra performances and I am aware of at least four other performances scheduled in the coming days. Hadra is an incredibly popular musical tradition here in Tunis, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, with concert halls often filling to capacity on performance nights.
Hadra is a form of Sufi celebration of God through the recitation of Quranic verses and religious poems. Traditionally, each Sufi order has its unique set of songs of remembrance that are performed during rituals at a mosque, in the home, or at another sacred site. The songs feature collective recitation performed to the beat of the frame drum.
From these traditional roots has evolved a performance of recitations collected from various Sufi orders. The popular performance involves a cast of reciters, drummers and other musicians, and dancers that chant and perform what are now mainstream songs for very enthusiastic audiences. You would think that the religious themes might deter youth from attendance, but, just the opposite, most of the attendees are young and have memorized the recitations. The music is lively and engaging and the audience is always very enthusiastic with many people dancing, clapping, and singing along.
An interesting challenge facing today’s Hadra troupes is how to modernize the recitations, by changing the type of dancing performed, altering song rhythms, or including non-traditional instruments such as the guitar or saxophone, without alienating the audience that is accustomed to a specific type of performance. The last Hadra concert I attended featured a modern dancer and a guitar solo, which were both met with complaints from some of the audience. It is a challenge taking a much-beloved art form and altering it. I look forward to seeing how and if Hadra performances will evolve over the years.
Hoda El-Ghazaly, Arabic Track 2017