AHMED QASSEM: The Man Who Presented Yemeni Music to the Arab World [Archives:1998/04/Culture]

January 26 1998

Ahmed Bin Ahmed Qassem is an outstanding Yemeni singer and musician. He was born on March 11th, 1938 in an old neighborhood in Aden. Ahmed Qassem was brought up in Crater’s famous neighborhoods like “Al-Qadhi,” “Hussain” and “Al-Quta’e” quarters. His being brought up in Crater was the main reason behind the speed with which he became a distinguished genius in music and singing. He did his elementary education at Bazara’a school. There he proved his early talent as a musician by becoming the maestro of the school’s music group following in the footsteps of Yahya Makki, the old maestro who was actually Qassem’s teacher . From Bazara’a School, Ahmed Qassem won a scholarship to study music in Cairo in 1956 where through his genius in music, especially in composing, he became famous at the hands of Egyptian music professors. Because of that, the Egyptian radio decide to record his songs in 1956. Right up to his death, he used to record his latest songs at the Egyptian radio whenever he visited Egypt. As a tribute to Qassem, the Egyptian radio broadcast a special program about his life and works after his death. During his study at the Teacher’s Music and Art Education Institute in 1956-1957, when he studied playing lute at the hands of Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Khateeb and Mr. Goma’ah Mohammed Ali, Ahmed Qassem was greatly influenced by the two great singers, Mohammed Abdulwahab and Riyad Al-Sonbsati. At that time, he recorded for Sawt Al-Arab radio station some of his songs which he composed before arriving in Cairo. In Cairo, he met the Yemeni poet Koor Saeed who was studying there for whom Ahmed recorded the song “Dakhalt Gannat Redhak” or I entered the paradise of your happiness. After that, Ahmed Qassem continued his study at the Music High Education Institute. In 1960-61, he was granted a certificate for best student on the occasion of the Teacher’s Day. During his study there, he was able to develop many Yemeni folklore songs. Ahmed Qassem was the first Yemeni singer to be appreciated by the audience in the City Lights concerts in Egypt. In 1966, he recorded the song “Ebtadeina” or we started, the lyrics of which the poet, Mostafa Khadhr presented to him in 1963. Ahmed Qassem was fond of cinema. More than being a musician and a singer, he wanted to act. His dream became true when he got a chance to act with some great Egyptian actors like Mahmoud Al-Meleegi, Tawfeeq Al-Deqn and Zeezi Al-Badrawi. It was the first time a film was made starring a Yemeni actor. “My Love In Cairo” was made in 1965 starring Ahmed Qassem and was produced by him and his friend Anwar Hamid. On returning from Cairo in 1961, he taught music in public schools and at the Teachers Training Center in Aden until 1963. Between 1970-73, he studied art and music science in France. Then, he went to Hollywood, Moscow and London to gain more knowledge about music. Ahmed Qassem has his own contributions to Yemeni art and music. In 1956, he, with the help of Mr. Yahiya Makki, opened a class for teaching music in Abyan. During the 1960s, he established the Ahmed Qassem Modernizing Music Group, the first of its kind in Yemen. Several Yemeni talents played with that group, and are now famous singers. Through that institution, Ahmed Qassem was able to represent the best of Yemeni folk songs in a new and never-heard-before form. Being a highly patriotic man, his great love for Yemen was obvious in his rousing and expressive patriotic songs such “Biladi” (My country) and “Min Kulle Qalbi Ahebbic” (I love you with all my heart). Though these works made him famous all over the Arab world, he himself acknowledged that his two songs Ya’aibah (A shame) and Sodfa (By Chance) were his passport to the Arab fame. Ahmed Qassem was the kind of a person who intensively went through all his works. He talked a lot about a note book, always there in his briefcase, which he hoped to be published during his lifetime. “My life is not my own, it belongs to my Yemeni audience,” he used to say. Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh wrote in his weekly essay in Al-Thawra newspaper (Issue No.10373, April 6th, 1993): “He was the most acknowledgeable about music. His studying in Cairo, Russia and France had given him the ability to acquire the latest techniques in music. Just one year ago, he came asking me to write a preface for a book which included the latest of his songs and compositions. And though I did not know much about music, I wrote him a two-page preface. He took the preface with the book to the Minister of Information who promised him to publish it. The question now is where is that book? Why is it not published?” The book, “Music Rudiments and Theories,” is now with Qassem’s sons. From the preface of that book we quote these lines: “In these bad circumstances, Ahmed Qassem wrote his book benefiting from his wide experience and inspired by his love for music and art in general. He simply presented art as a spiritual uplift from the absurdity and difficulty of life.” Qassem’s death deeply shook the Yemeni artistic media and people. He died at noon on Thursday, April 1st, 1993 in a car accident on the Sanaa-Taiz road. With his death, the curtain came down on a rich era in Yemeni art. What he contributed to Yemeni art and music was great, but that which is still in his famous briefcase and among his unpublished works is much greater. So can we expect some other unique achievements? All what we hope is that young Yemeni talents will follow in the footsteps of Ahmed Qassem.