Faces & TracesHussein Al-Mihdhar: a Hadrami poet of romantic songs [Archives:2008/1156/Culture]

May 19 2008

Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Yemeni poet, playwright, composer and parliamentarian Hussein Abu Bakr Al-Mihdhar was born in 1931 in Ash Shihr city in southeastern Yemen's Hadramout governorate. Raised in a high-ranking puritanical Sufi family, his grandfathers were renowned public poets in Hadramout who renewed modern Hadrami public poetry.

Al-Mihdhar received his primary education at his city's Makarim Al-Akhlaq School where he memorized the Qur'an. He then joined Ash Shihr's Scientific Ribat (a religious school hosting and teaching students) for three years, studying jurisprudence, theology and Arabic literature.

In his 20s, Al-Mihdhar moved around to many Yemeni cities, most notably Aden, before going to work in Saudi Arabia in the late 1950s. He spent nearly three decades of his life as an expatriate in Gulf countries such as Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Returning to Yemen in the 1980s, Al-Mihdhar settled in Hadramout, working in the Ministry of Culture Office and then as an archaeological officer's assistant. In the early 1970s, he participated in establishing the first union of Yemeni authors and writers.

In February 1986, he was elected a member of Aden's People's Council, followed by his appointment as a member of the presidency staff of the Supreme People's Council. After forming unified Yemen's first Parliament in mid-1993, Al-Mihdhar was elected a Member of Parliament, a post he held until 1997.

Al-Mihdhar began poeticizing at age 12. He began participating in poetry meetings when he was 14 and within several years, various Hadrami singers started singing his poems.

His classical Arabic and colloquial poetry became known in many cities in his region during the early 1950s. Al-Mihdhar continued moving about numerous Hadrami cities in the 1960s to recite his poems at poetic meetings attended by many poets.

Al-Mihdhar is considered a prominent artistic phenomenon in writing classical Arabic and colloquial poetry, as well as being a talented composer. His lyric poems contain many humane and emotional meanings and their effects surpassed Yemen, reaching most neighboring Gulf countries and the Arab world.

His first poetic divan written in colloquial language was 1966's, “Dumu'a Al-Ushaq” (The Lovers' Tears). Among the poems in this divan are “Hikmat Al-Hawa” (The Wisdom of Passion), “Kul Shai Ma'aqool” (Everything is Possible) and “Nar Walla Nar” (Fire, I Swear, Fire).

Al-Mihdhar's other divans include “The Lovers' Smiles” (1987) and “The Lovers' Sorrow” (1999). His last divan was 1999's “Haneen Al-Ushaq” (The Lovers' Longing) and included more than 70 poems on various issues. Among the romantic poems contained in this divan are “The Repentance of Love” and “The Edifice of Love.”

Religious poems in the same divan described Al-Mihdhar's fondness for Islam's prophet and the holy lands of Mecca and Medina. Among these poems are “We Returned to Tayba” and “Allah is Almighty.” This divan also included poems about the various cities Al-Mihdhar lived in, such as “Al-Dammam,” “We saw Kuwait” and “The Emirates.”

Al-Mihdhar's divan, “Buka'iyyaat” (Cryings), containing 43 classical Arabic and colloquial elegies, was collected and published posthumously in 2001. In these elegies, Al-Mihdhar elegized many of his late friends among Hadramout's writers and famous characters.

Along with Yemeni singer Abu Bakr Salim Bilfaqih, Al-Mihdhar created an artistic phenomenon wherein they generally presented and spread Yemeni art widely, particularly the Hadrami art of singing.

Some of Al-Mihdhar's well-known lyric poems sung by Bilfaqih include “Ya Zari'aeen Al-'Ainab” (O, Peasants of the Grape), “Aadih Hina Aw Sar?” (Is She Still Here or Has She Gone?), “Sirr Hubbi Feek Ghamidh” (The Secret of Loving You is Still Vague) and “Law Khayyaruni” (If They Let Me Choose).

Al-Mihdhar also was considerably distinguished in the Hadrami art known as al-dan, a lyric art consisting of two poets spontaneously reciting two lines of poetry, which then are sung by a singer. A literary collection entitled “Al-Mihdhar in Al-Dan Poetry” was published posthumously in 2000.

Because Al-Mihdhar loved his birthplace of Ash Shihr, he penned several poems about it, calling it “Si'aad,” “Um Al-Yatama” and “Al-Kahila.” Among his poems about the city are “Si'aad” and “Ash Shihr, My Mother.”

Before Yemen's 1990 unity, Al-Mihdhar penned political poems like “Al-Bakirman” and “Nobody Should Talk to Sa'ad” and then wrote about the nation's reunification in the poem, “The Knower of the Invisibles.”

Al-Mihdhar's dramatic works treated numerous aspects of social behavior and inherited traditions in Hadramout. These works also recount national victories throughout various periods of Yemeni history.

One of his most renowned lyric dramas is “Nida'a Al-Watan” (Call of the Homeland). The book, “Al-Mihdhar's Dramatic Poetry,” was published posthumously in September 2007, containing 10 lyric dramas written in the form of operettas, including “The Victim,” “The Seven Martyrs” and “The Ten Candles.”

Al-Mihdhar was awarded the first-class decoration of merit in arts and literature in May 1998 in Sana'a for his remarkable literary and cultural contributions.

Al-Mihdhar died February 5, 2000 in his beloved Ash Shihr at age 69. A special and unique marvel, he provided many prominent distinctions in Yemen's contemporary art movement throughout his life, but particularly the original singing of Hadramout.

Furthermore, with his spontaneous and effective poetry, he was able to address people and include in his poetry their natural worries, longings and sufferings.