Historic Roots of the Yemeni Songs [Archives:2001/16/Culture]

April 16 2001

Saleh Abdulbaqi
Yemen Times
I am intrigued by the deteriorating condition of our national artistic heritage and can’t help but to recall how glorious the traditional Yemeni arts were. The Yemeni arts are among the oldest to appear in Southern Arabia. That is what Arab and foreign researchers and orientalists agree upon. The earlier form of arts were public songs and dances performed on many occasions. Rhythms and musical tones first developed in Zamels (songs performed without music on social occasions) during weddings, etc. Such performance used to reflect the joys and happiness of both performers and the audience.
The varied climate and customs of Yemen has helped every place to have its own distinctive folklore. Such folklores have greatly influenced the neighboring areas. The Yemen folklore itself has been influenced by that of Andalosia and Persia. This is clearly witnessed in the old Sana’ani songs known as ‘Mwashahat’, composed by pioneering poets like Mohammed Abdullah b. Sharafaddin, Ali b. Mohammed Al-Ansi, Abdulrahman b. Yahia Al-Aanisi and others. Poetry of theses great poets have been known as Humainy and Hakami poetry. Humeini means dialectical while the Hakami means standard Arabic. The former has gained tremendous popularity because most of it is extremely lyrical. The Sana’ani songs also gained popularity when it started to be sung by great singers at that time, such as Sheikh Qassem Al-Akhfash, Sheikh Ali Abu Bakr, Al-Antari and others. Songs were recorded on discs which were circulated in the neighboring areas.
The Sana’ani songs, which go back to 500 years, are characterized by easy and sweet diction and tones derived form eastern scales such as the al-Iraq and al-Hodham. They are also distinguished for different scales: Addas’ah, al-Wasat, Assara, etc. which all indicate different dances. All this make the Sana’ani songs the most popular in the country. Another contributor to the wide popularity of these kind of songs is the Adani signers who were fond of the Sana’ani poetry and music.
Like in other cities, songs in Hadhramaut were practiced by people during their daily activities until the appearance of Sultan b. Ali B. Harharah, born in 1286 Hijirah. This talented singer was able to develop the Hadhrami songs by introducing new scales. Harharah is the first singer to use al-Qanios in his songs. The popularity he gained in Hadhramaut and the neighboring areas gradually disappeared following his death. The Hadhrami song was revived again after some time by Mohammed Jomah Khan who died in 1963. After his death, from 1965 onwards the Hadhrami songs entered a new era of popularity and flourished in the hands of Yemen’s great poet Hussein Abu Bakr al-Medhdar and the distinguished singer Abu Bakr Salim Balfaqih. These two were able to popularize the Yemeni songs in general, and Hadhrami songs in particular in Arab countries.
As far as Luhj is concerned, other than a number of dances, there was a period when nothing about the Luhji songs was known. Luhj is famous for its basateen (fruit fields) as well as for a number of dances that are known and danced all over the country. Theses dances include Arrazhah, Azzafah, Raqsat al-Hinna, etc. During this period there appeared in Luhj Hadi Sobait who used to sing in weddings. After his death a host of artist including Saleh al-Dhaheri, Saleh Ba Issa, Sad Abdullah, Omar Ghabah, Awadh Salim al-Tanbari, Ibraheem Al-Mass, contributed to the popularity of the Luhji songs and dances. However, Luhji arts were more widely known since the 1980s in the hands of Ahmad al-Qumindan who laid a strong foundations for the Luhji poetry and songs. Presently, there is Faisal Alawi, the most prominent Luhji singer who has been preforming the Luhji songs in concerts many countries.
The Sana’ani, Hadhrami and Luhji poetry and songs have, since their inception, been presenting a fascinating picture of the original Yemeni songs and the Yemeni arts in the Arab world.