Two rows of men and boys – the Al-Razeefa or Al-Muzafnen – face each other about 10-20 metres apart, while drummers and other musicians are gathered nearby. The Al-Razeefa perform movements with thin bamboo canes, while Na’ashat – a group of young women wearing ornate traditional dresses – contribute an element of beauty and rhythm as they sway their hair from side-to-side in time to the music.
The performance commences with a handful of individuals and quickly builds into a larger group. The two rows of performers move in cohesion and sing verses of poetry to each other. Al-Razfa creates a sense of community and shared identity among its performers.
Social and cultural significance
Al-Razfa is an important feature at social and national occasions and weddings, as it is viewed as a form of celebration and expression of gratitude and valour. It also is used in welcome ceremonies for dignitaries.
Al-Razfa plays a significant role in preserving traditional poetry. Poets who compose verses for Al-Razfa performances write original verses for the occasions.
Reflecting its popularity and cultural significance, Al-Razfa was inscribed in 2015 on the UNESCO ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’.
Re-energizing an ancient art
Al-Razfa is widespread with every segment of society and its practitioners are young and old alike. Parents encourage their children to perform Al-Razfa at events and gatherings, one of the reasons why the dance attracts so many participants.
At a national level, heritage associations in the UAE are committed to introducing Al-Razfa to children and adults. Cultural, educational and media institutions also help raise awareness of Al-Razfa.
The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, and other heritage associations and institutions in the UAE promote the inclusion of traditional performance troupes at festivals, celebrations and social occasions.
These efforts have led to an increase in both the size and number of Al-Razfa groups.