Abu Dhabi: The Emirati art of Al Azi has been added onto the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi announced in a statement on Saturday.

The decision was taken during the 12th meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is currently being held on Jeju Island in South Korea and closes on December 9.

Al Azi is a significant and important cultural heritage performance reflecting UAE culture and Emirati society.

The art of Al Azi depends on the repetition of poems without music or rhythmic instruments. It is practised at national and social events to instill pride, loyalty and national values. It also praises the traditions of welcoming and praising achievement.

The performance focuses on the singer and the supporting reciters who give him answers that emphasise his words. Reciters stand in lines behind the lead performer in a symbolic scene of unity and solidarity.

“Al Azi’s inclusion in Unesco’s list is reflective of our leadership’s directives to support our authentic cultural heritage, and to emphasise on its importance in building national identity and maintaining communication between different generations. It also contributes to the achievement of the Department’s strategic goals in ensuring that the UAE national heritage is embedded in the constant development and progress of our nation,” said Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department.

“In that context, Al Azi is an important performing art which still enjoys wide public participation, highlighting its historical depth and its significant stature among elements of the UAE’s authentic heritage,” Al Mubarak added.

The Unesco committee, which includes representatives of 24-member countries, meets on an annual basis to monitor the implementation of the legal document ratified by 175 countries that have listed the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in their national legislation. The 14-year old convention has enabled the launch of 140 conservation projects for living heritage in 107 countries.

“The inscription of Al Azi on Unesco’s list is one of the positive outcomes of the depth of research and documentation that the Department of Culture and Tourism has conducted to preserve the UAE cultural heritage and promote at the international level, as a tool of effective intercultural communication among world nations,” said Saif Saeed Ghobas, director general at the Department.

A number of other traditionally Emirati practices and items also feature on the Unesco list of intangible cultural heritage, including majlis gatherings, the Arabian coffee known as gahwa, performances of Al Razfa and Al Ayala, falconry, and the chanting of Bedouin poetry known Al Taghrooda.

The Intergovernmental Committee for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage meets once a year to examine the heritage elements and practices that are nominated for inscription on the Unesco List.

Its 4th session in 2009 was held in Abu Dhabi, after which the UAE adopted a number of recommendations and issued decisions that contributed to Unesco’s journey towards achieving its key objectives.