[L]: For weddings, we always have like specific instruments for like the ceremony. We have tabals, which are a certain kind of drum that will be at every wedding, every Lebanese wedding reception. There’s also the darbuka which is another type of drum and then there’s also a little like flute…I don’t really know what it’s called but if you googled “lebanese flute” you could find it. [I did google it, and it’s called a zamour] And those three instruments are essential for Lebanese weddings.
[Me]: Do you happen to know why?
[L]: Well those are just the instruments that are used for all parties, aka hafle, but those instruments are just like at the center of almost all like party music and they’ve all been used in the region forever. You’ll find variations of those instruments in every other country in the Middle East..but yeah.
[Me]: Are there particular types of songs that they play? Or even a particular mood or tone or rhythm of them?
[L]: Usually very upbeat, um, and the mood or rhythm…there’s a very iconic Lebanese party music if you look up Faris Karam, he’s a very….iconic singer and his songs will always be at weddings. There’s also a dance that we do called dabke and we do that at all of our parties and weddings.
L is 20 years old and a student at USC. She grew up in Michigan, but spent most summers in Lebanon with family. Her dad grew up in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States in his early 20s, and her mom grew up in the United States in a Lebanese immigrant family. L has been to multiple Lebanese weddings—though only in the United States—so this information comes from her first-hand experiences as well as her general knowledge of Lebanese culture from her upbringing.
I was fortunate enough to attend a USC Lebanese, Egyptian, Persian club crossover event with L very shortly after conducting this interview, and was able to experience and witness dabke first-hand. The dance didn’t make an appearance until about 2 hours had gone by of vibrant Arabic music blasting all around, but when it did surface, it was unstoppable. There was no distinction between those of Lebanese or Egyptian or Persian origin, this was a moment of people coming together to perform a dance that they knew as well as their own names. The most wonderful part of dabke, in my humble opinion, is that it works in a similar fashion to a conga line—participants can keep joining at the end of the chain—but instead of being linear, the front of the line begins to spiral inward to create a sort of pinwheel of people, all holding hands and united in dance. It makes perfect sense that this would be a dance performed at weddings and other celebrations alike—upon doing a little bit of research, I found that the dance has ties to community, family bonding, and resilience: “A simple message of locking arms together, stomping to the ground, and singing or chanting has left a deep mark in the culture…it unifies us against our oppressor” (Dabke Dance: A Shared Tradition of the Levant). Dabke is a folk dance known well in regions like Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where people live and die by their connections to their family and community. Speaking to the specific wedding performance of dabke, a wedding is a liminal period in one’s life, and thus a dance promoting and encouraging resilience and unity would serve to reassure the newlyweds and make sure that they know they have the strength and love of the community behind them. All in all, dabke is a beautiful manifestation of the dearly held beliefs, ideals, and traditions of both Lebanese and other middle-eastern cultures.