An Introduction to Hausa Poetry and Song

Hausa has a rich literature in poetry and song. In terms of the texts, there is really no difference between poetry and song. Hausa has a single word, wak'a (plural wak'ok'i), for this type of linguistic artistic expression. All wak'ok'i have certain things in common:

One can broadly distinguish two co-existing traditions in Hausa poetry and song. The Hausa terms for these traditions are wak'ar baka 'oral song' and rubutacciyar wak'a 'written poetry'. These terms are a bit misleading since both types are intended for oral performance, but the former is COMPOSED IN ORAL FORM and would never be written down by the artist, whereas the latter is generally COMPOSED IN WRITTEN FORM, then read or performed from memory on the basis of a written text. In addition to these differences in modes of composition, there are other differences:

Origin Hausa traditional folk and professional singing dating from pre-historical times Formal study of Arabic and Arabic poetic texts
Themes Professional artists specialize in praise-singing; folk traditions cover everyday life events, such as marriage, relations between men and women, etc. Originally, focus was on religious themes, which are still dominant in the "written" tradition, but modern poets write on every imaginable theme
Composition Composed and performed orally--never written down by the artist Written out by the artist (often in Arabic script); there are also blind poets who compose and perform in the "written" style but who obviously cannot write out their own texts
Performance Performed to instrumental accompaniment, such drums, lutes, or fiddles; professional praise singers usually perform as soloists with an accompaning chorus Performed by a solo artist without instrumental accompaniment
Verse structure No fixed pattern; a verse (insofar as "verses" can be identified), may range in length from one to many lines Poems follow fixed verse structure. The most common are 2 and 5-line verses, but 3 and 4 line verse patterns also exist.
Rhyme No rhyme pattern Usually exhibit a regular rhyme pattern. Most common is an "external" rhyme (the last line of each verse rhymes) and an "internal" rhyme for poems with verses of more than two lines.
Meters Traditional, probably dating to the earliest Hausa times Classical Arabic. Arab poets of the classical period had a complex system of meters. Hausa artists apply these to Hausa. Some modern poets in the "written" tradition also use traditional Hausa meters.

Click on the links below to hear samples of songs in each of the styles: