The tradition of musaharati — Ramadan drummer who awaken the faithful for their pre-dawn meal — may be dying out across the Muslim world, but Yasser al-Samak has become a social media hit by adapting age-old songs for the time of coronavirus.
The silence of the darkened streets of Bilad al-Qadeem, a village outside the capital Manama, has been broken during the holy month by the voice of the 50-year-old and the pounding of the drummer who accompanies him.
In a distinctive Bahraini accent he sings of life in the pandemic, extols the benefits of social distancing, and gives thanks to medics and first responders for their sacrifices on the front line.
“Oh quickly the time of suhoor arrives, but this time it is different from all the years before,” Samak sings of the meal which fortifies observant Muslims for their day of fasting ahead.
Samak also humorously plays on the word “corona” urging people to still eat “macarona” — macaroni — rhyming in Arabic to say that life must go on and that the faithful should not lose their resolve in the face of the crisis.
Devout Muslims observe the holy fasting month of Ramadan by abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to set.
In a centuries-old tradition, the musaharati once provided the heartbeat to the ritual, but the practice has become rarer across the Muslim world now that people have alarms and smartphones to rouse them from their sleep.
“Stay home with your family, and blend your suhoor meal with hope, because those who rely on God, he will protect them,” he sings.
“Make yourself strong with prayer and wear the mask as a shield against the pandemic,” go the lyrics, which mix religious blessings with standard health advice.
In the village streets where Samak roams from door to door, with a lockdown in force, only a few residents are out and about buying basic necessities. Traffic is light and the stray cats mostly have the pavements to themselves.
Video clips of Samak reciting his timely messages have circulated widely on WhatsApp and Instagram.
The veteran musaharati said he hopes to raise awareness while also spreading hope and maintaining a sense of continuity during the crisis.
“We had poems specifically written this year about coronavirus and they have been popular. I sing them alongside traditional ones,” he told AFP as he walked the streets of Bilad al-Qadeem.
“I have been doing this for 30 years, but it’s not like before when we had a lot of children taking part,” he said of the youngsters that used to come out and trail behind him.
“Now because of the coronavirus situation we are limited to a maximum of five people,” he said, as children came out of a house to listen, only to be quickly brought back in by their father.