Ali Al-Asbahi: “Yemeni Music Must be Documented” [Archives:1998/06/Culture]

February 9 1998

“The musician Abdulhameed Ali Al-Asbahi was born in 1961 in Al-Hojariya, Taiz. He started his academic music studies in 1978 at the Music Institute in Sanaa, and worked at the Ministry of Culture upon his graduation in 1980 with a medium diploma. Al-Asbahi had the chance to continue his studies abroad.
He received his orchestra-conducting diploma with a ‘very-good’ grade in 1984 from the Institute of Musical Culture and Arts, Leningrad, in the former Soviet Union. Getting a masters degree with excellence from the same institute, Al-Asbahi went on to study for two years at the Beijing Conservatoire in China. He got a high diploma in ethnic music. He returned to Yemen to become the Director of the Music Department at the Ministry of Culture in Sanaa. Although he occupies an administrative post, Al-Asbahi took part in several musical festivals such as the Qomandan and AL-Sahareej and in various other national celebrations. He also did the musical arrangement for piece called ‘Friendship’ presented on the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the UN.
On developing Yemeni music, Al-Asbahi said: “The lack of academic qualification in this field impedes the progress of Yemeni music and documenting its heritage. This actually depends on the culture and music administration in the country. Following the seminar on Yemeni musical heritage which was held last year in cooperation with the French cultural authorities, good steps were taken to establish a library for musical heritage as a first step towards the formation of a scientific music academy for collecting and preserving the Yemeni musical heritage.”
How well is the Yemeni music documented? “There is not much musical documentation. Rhythms are handed down the generation, relying mainly on hearing. That it is how we got to know the songs and music of famous singers such as Al-Masi, Al-Qoaiti, the modernist Ahmed Qassem who added a lot to the Yemeni music both artistically and academically, and Ahmed Fat’hi.” That is how Yemeni music has been preserved and became adopted in many Gulf countries.
As a musician and an academician, Al-Asbahi arranges the tune into musical notes. He did this for his graduation piece which was played on the radio by the Leningrad radio and TV music ensemble. “A process of interweaving takes place when western and oriental music pieces are arranged together resulting in what is called polyphony or tune and an accompanying tune.” Regarding Yemeni vocalists, Al-Asbahi said: “Good vocalists are quite lacking due to the reliance on the ud. Also, there are no fully competent musical groups, especially considering that it is necessary for the voice to be compatible with the sound of the piano over a certain vocal area. It is important to study the solfege when choosing the vocalists.”
While studying in China, Al-Asbahi was host to talk about popular Yemeni songs on a one-hour radio program for three consecutive episodes. He is currently instructing a number of musical groups, but is facing many obstacles due to the lack of teachers and resources. “First and foremost, a musician has to have an artistic sense, talent, and knowledge of folklore. A competent musician must give the tune its rightful effort, considering the complex and varied rhythms of Yemeni music.”