Al-Mosallami: Sheikh of Yemeni Songs [Archives:1998/26/Culture]

June 29 1998

The Yemeni master of singing or sheikhs, as they are known here, have enriched the Yemeni artistic movement with their revival of Muwashahat (old traditional songs) and other types of traditional Yemeni music. One of those sheikhs is Awadh Abdullah Al-Mosallami.
Al-Mosallami was born in 1909 in Al-Shihr. Despite being well-off, the majority of his family’s members were illiterate due to the widespread backwardness in the countryside then. His brother, Omar Bu Mahdi, was a talented and famous folk poet. The famous poet and musician, Hussein Abubaker Al-Mihdhar was his friend.
Al-Mosallami followed an artistic trend and adored singing from his early youth. He had been inflicted with smallpox at the age of 12, which deprived him of his eyesight. In spite of this, he did not despair but continued developing his singing talent with great determination. He formed a band, which consisted of some men from his district.
Following a dispute with his younger brother, Al-Mosallami traveled to the Gulf and stayed for three years. Then, he returned to AL-Shihr for one year before going on to Aden in 1928. He worked on ferry and agreed with the captain to be the singer for the ferry.
In Aden he got acquainted with Omar Mahfoodh Ghaba, who had a high opinion of Al-Mosallami’s voice and talent. Al-Mosallami would accompany Omar Ghaba to every wedding ceremony, playing the tambourine, drums and singing.
He excelled in songs by the artist Sultan Bin Al-Sheikh Ali Bin Harhara. He was also able to play the lute and fix the strings, even though he was blind.
Al-Mosallami memorized and picked up songs so well that Sheikh Ali Abubaker was afraid to sing a new song at a wedding ceremony if Al-Mosallami was present. Al-Mosallami became famous because of his participation at wedding ceremonies. He was well known, even as far as Somalia and Djibouti. Some musicians and singers would accompany Al-Mosallami in his artistic travels such as the great artist Mohammed Saad Abdullah, who remained forever grateful for the goodness he received from Al-Mosallami.
When record companies were established in Aden, Al-Mosallami’s first song, ‘Mal Albab Da Mughlaq’ or ‘Why this door is closed,’ was recorded in 1951. This song was written by Abdulmajid Al-Asnaj and composed by Al-Qomandan.
Al-Mosallami undoubtedly had a beautiful voice and had gained mastery in famous Yemeni Muwashahat and all Arab and Yemeni singing styles. He was a good learner of Arabic and Yemeni poems, which made him able to stand firmly at popular festivals along with Yemeni singing masters such as Ibrahim Al-Mass and Sheikh Ali Abubaker.
Al-Mosallami was full of spirit and would reject any help to lead him in markets and streets. Even when he wanted to buy qat, he would pick the best by feeling the leaves. During the last days of his life, Al-Mosallami was afflicted with cancer. Immediately after that, he traveled to Kuwait for treatment and stayed for three months. He returned to Aden in 1975 after recovering, but had a relapse and died on November 1 of the same year.
Saleh Abulbaqi,
Musician and Composer