Beginning of Lahaji Song & Its Development [Archives:1998/35/Culture]

August 31 1998

Saleh Abdulbaqi,
Arts Editor, Yemen Times.
The Folk Song
I would like to give a view of Lahaji singing, beginning with the study conducted by some prominent researchers in Lahaj and presented at the First General Conference on Literature and Folklore in 1971.
Before Al-Qomandan, the famous tunes in Lahaj used to be in the form of well-known folk dances such as Al-Razha, Al-Zafah and Al-Hinna. Many folk poems by outstanding Lahaji poets were composed on these folk dances’ musical meters. At that time, the Yemeni Mouashaha, also known as the Sanaani song, was widely spread in Lahaj where brides used to dance to their tunes.
These songs created a deep desire to learn how to play Qanbous (an old type of the lute) among many singers such as Hadi Sobait. Then, Fadhl Maater, the Yemeni singer and songwriter, composed the first Lahaji song called “Wa marhaba Bel-hashimi” (welcome Al-Hashimi).
Birth of Artistic Prince Ahmed Fadhl Al-Qomandan
Al-Qomandan came to prominence in the 193s. He took it upon himself to develop the Yemeni song in Lahaj, which was lacking the creative and artistic fundamentals that make an artistic work successful. Al-Qomandan’s artistic life passed through three stages.
Firstly, he began to imitate the traditional songs which made him gain great knowledge of folklore and traditional music composition.
Secondly, Al-Qomandan composed his songs, performed them and introduced new dances which relied on the above mentioned artistic fundamentals. Being a Lahaji prince, Al-Qomandan supported the Lahaji artistic movement materially, morally and intellectually. He established his school and devoted the ground floor of his house for artists and foreign and Arab visitors who used to meet with him. He was also the first to introduce the modern eastern lute and violin for the first time in Lahaj.
Thirdly, Al-Qomandan modernized singing through poetic and expressive songs. He drew on inspiration at Al-Hosaini orchard, a place of sweet scents and Arab jasmine. After Al-Qomandan made good progress in the field of folk dancing and singing, he managed to modernize some tunes, presenting them in a new distinguishing style. Al-Qomandan took an interest in the folklore called “Al-Samaayat” which is a slow rhythmical style with a musical meter of 4/4 or C.
Influence of Yemeni Mouashaha on Al-Qomandan
Al-Qomandan was greatly influenced by the Yemeni Mouashaha, which gained much popularity among the general public when master singers used to perform it at weddings or qat chewing sessions. He was able to present the new Lahaji Mouashaha which had become a new trend in Yemeni singing.
By setting to music the song “Sadat Oyoon Almaha Qalbi” (Oryx eyes conquered my heart), Al-Qomandan was the first lyricist to combine the Sanaani and Lahaji songs. He managed to lay down the foundations for the Lahaji artistic fundamentals as he himself was an artistic landmark, not only in Yemen but also in the whole Arabian Peninsula.
Development of Musical Creativity After Al-Qomandan
In the early 1950s, some artists such as Abdullah Hadi Sobeit and Saleh Nasib contributed greatly to the spread and development of this creative singing, presenting it in a new distinguished style.
A band was formed in 1956, headed by some outstanding artists such as Abdullah Hadi Sobeit who presented his debut of artistic creativity with the song “Salat Al-Ein” (the eye sheds tears). This song which was sung by Mohammed Saleh Hamdoon in 1956, became an instant hit all over the country. Mohammed Murshed Naji mentioned in his book “Our Folk Songs” that this song shot into the arts’ firmament like a rocket.
Lahaj Musical Band
The Lahaj Musical Band was then established under the maestroship of the well-known musician Fadhl Mohammed Al-Lahaji. The band included:
1 ) Mohammed Saad Al-Sanaani (violinist & composer).
2 ) Salah Nasser Kurd (violinist & composer).
3 ) Abdulsalam Al-Najjar (zither player).
4 ) Ali Salem Al-Najjar (violinist).
5 ) Mohammed Salem Al-Najjar (violinist).
The band also included some poets such as Saleh Mahdi and Saleh Nasib and other artists such as Abdulkarim Tawfiq, Mahdi Darwish and Faisal Alawi.
Thus, the restorational song elements developed and flourished in the original Lahaji song, which shot to fame in the neighboring countries. Credit is due to some of Lahaj’s artists such as Ahmed Yousif Al-Zabidi, who presented “Sakat Wala Kilma” (silent without a word).
It is written and composed by Mahmood Al-Salami. The artist Faisal Alawi has recently played a big role in adopting Lahaji songs and making them famous in Yemen and many other Arab countries.