Hassan Atta, Voice of Love and Revolution [Archives:2000/23/Culture]

June 5 2000

The artistic and creative movement witnessed in Lahj during the 30s-70s has greatly influenced the tone, and temper of Yemeni songs in general and the Lahji in particular. Nowadays, Lahji is one of the most popular forms of music, songs and dance in Yemen and the neighboring countries.
It was Al-Qumindan, the great Yemeni poet and composer, who enunciated the basic characteristics of the Lahji musical school. After his death, a number of poets, composers and singers followed his style and developed it. Poets like Hadi Subait, Saleh Qusaib and Saleh Mahdi, composers like Fadhl Mohammed Al-Lahji, Mohsen Ben Mohammed Mahdi and Salah Nasser Koud and singers like Mahdi Darwish, Abdul Karim Tawfiq, Faisal Alawi, Hassan Atta and others worked together to embellish the diction and musical scales of Lahji songs. One of the well-known contemporary singers is Hassan Atta. Atta has sung songs on themes of love and home. He is a cultured person. Besides his being a singer, he is the principal of a school in Al-Hawta. Before this he was the director of the office of culture in Lahj. Saleh Abdul Baqi of the Yemen Times met with him and filed the following:

Q: When did you start your career as a singer?
A: I was born in 1935 in Al-Hawta, Lahj. I was brought up there and studied there as well. My career as a singer began in 1956 when I founded the South Musical Forum in Lahj. This was set off to promote and develop the Lahji musical heritage. We also organized a number of cultural festivals whose proceeds were denoted to help Algerians in their struggle for freedom. It was the first time for me to stand before an audience to sing a song titled ” Akhi Fi Algazaaer Ya Arabi” (You Arab brother in Algeria.)
Q: How did the British react to such festivals?
A: They were enraged at the public enthusiasm. However, people resisted and determined to attend those festivals to help their brethren in Algeria. The proceeds of such festivals were directly sent to the Algerian Liberation Font. Singing has been part of me since then.

Q: Did you contribute to the national songs that played a vital role in augmenting the September and October revolutions?
A: Since the outbreak of armed struggle against the British colonialists in the South and against the Imam in the North, a lot of sensational songs on patriotic themes were composed by nationalist poets. I had the honor at the time to sing many of those songs like ” Bessm Hadha Al-Turab” ( In the name of this soil.) This infuriated the Britishers here and my name figured in the CID black list. I considered that as mark of honor conferred on me with which I gained the love and respect of the public.

Q: What have been your contributions to the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Yemen’s unification?
A: I have got a lot of national songs to participate with in the activities organized by the office of culture in Lahj. There has been a plan to organize a number of festivals in the governorate and I have the honor to be a participant in them.

Q: How do you evaluate modern Yemeni songs in general and Lahji in particular?
A: When we compare songs of today with those of the 50s, 60s and 70s, we feel a great difference. Today’s songs do not match the level of those of the past.
Good songs should combine three essential elements: good diction, suitable rhythm and a melodious voice that is able to evoke the appropriate emotion through the words he is singing. The situation today is absolutely different. Singers are much more conscious of materialistic gains at the expense of artistic excellence.

Q: What do you think of piracy of the Yemeni songs?
A: I think that the government and the authorities concerned will be able to find a solution to this problem. Ignoring the recurrent problem will lead to the loss of our heritage.

Q: How do you see life of singers in our country?
A: You are one of Yemen’s great artists, and you know what they suffer from because you suffer the same.
Low level of their living standards negatively reflects on their artistic performance. Singers in other countries enjoy a lot of rights and privileges which we lack here. We hope that artists in general will be paid the attention they deserve and be encouraged to preserve the original Yemeni heritage, presenting it to discerning audiences.