Ahmed Jaber: “Yemenis who studied music outside Yemen are not given a chance to develop music here.” [Archives:1998/14/Culture]

April 6 1998

Jaber Ali Ahmed is a musician and a singer. Having studied philosophy in Syria and music in Cairo, Jaber Ahmed is also well versed with the academic side of the music. He has written several books on Yemeni music and singing, and currently works at the Ministry of Culture.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor, met Mr. Jaber Ahmed and filed the following interview:
Q: May you tell us about the history of music in Yemen?
A: There are two forms of music in Yemen – folk music and traditional music. Folk music is very common among rural people. It has its own songs and musical instruments and is associated with different social occasions. For example, there are special songs for work, seed-sowing, sea-faring, funerals, weddings,.. etc. Like folk songs in other parts of the world, the Yemen folk song is part of its socio-cultural environment.
The traditional song, on the other hand is the well-prepared song. Its origin dates back to the Rasoulid state in Yemen, about 5 centuries ago. During that period of time, a widespread movement of manufacturing musical instruments thrived in Taiz. A very popular musical instrument used in the old traditional songs, Qanbous, appeared then.
The old traditional song or Muashah, mainly written in the local dialect, accompanied the movement of reviving the traditional art during the early 1950s. Basharaheel, Al-Akhfash, Al-Qa’atabi, Al-Mass, and others were the ones who established this movement then.
Q: Can you just give us an idea about the book you are going to publish?
A: In my book ” Singing and Music Trends in Yemen,” I discuss many issues related to music in the past and present. This book is not yet complete, but I hope it will be published in the near future. I am trying to present all the Yemeni musical trends and the modernization process some artists follow.
Modernization trends first appeared in Aden and other southern governorates. Aden’s geographical location and the high cultural level of its people paved the way for the modernizing movement. It is not necessary that a singer should follow a musical style of the area to which he belongs. Almost every artist develops a different style in music which is surely affected by the environment of his area, though.
Q: How do you evaluate music today in Yemen?
A: Things are going from bad to worse. Yemeni music was better in the 50s than in the 60s. In the 60s, it was better than in the 70s, and in the 70s it was good. Unlike now, there were serious attempts to present new musical creations. New ensembles and singers appeared. Al-Hodeida ensemble tried to re-present some of Jaber Rizq’s songs.
Today, we find that the musical movement in Yemen is somehow sterile or dull. This is due to some socio-economic and political conditions, let alone the authorities giving no attention to this field. Some people studied music outside Yemen, but they are not given a chance to do something for music here.
In the whole country, there are only two or three music institutes. There must be an independent department of music at Sanaa University. From this department teachers graduate to teach music in schools, and so people may acquire knowledge about music. This is, in my opinion, the way to make a musical recovery.
Q: How far do you think TV and other media affect musical trends?
A: TV has a direct influence on music. Unfortunately, this influence is negative. What is shown on the Yemeni satellite TV channel is merely a blind imitation of the other channels. The new fashion of music which they call video clip is a rash step towards the horrible downfall of music. Journalism also played the same role, though not in such direct a way. It is a two-edged blade. On the one hand, it pushes artists to run after fame, regardless of who is worth of becoming a star. On the other hand, journalism is associated with the movement of criticism which is basically good.