Hussein Abu-Bakr Al-Mehdar and his lyricsComposing great things of Hadramout [Archives:2004/715/Culture]

February 26 2004

By Khalid Abdo Al-Razihi
For The Yemen Times

I had always dreamed of travelling to Hadramout due to the influence the Hadrami music had on me since I was a child. Finally my dream became true when I was hired by the GTZ to teach a course of English in Hadramout.
Needless to say how beautiful the land is, huge gardens of palms and fascinating mud buildings revealing a welcoming smile of its kind people. Music is a major activity people resort to for recreation. Few weeks after my arrival, I planned a picnic with some of my students. To my surprise, I found that many had brought some musical instruments namely violins, drums and whistles.
My wonder diminished little by learning from them that almost each house possesses a musical instrument. The discussion and comments of all attendants reflected their devotion, appreciation and love for music in general and their own music in particular. The songs of Al-Mehdar, whom they considered to be the father of the Hadrami arts, took the major part of our conversation and singing.

Al-Mehdar dedicated many of his songs to the various towns and settlements so that the whole land remains united to the tune and rhythm of his music and to keep up the flavor of Hadramout. This unity was reinforced by the movement of Al-Mehdar between the different towns of Hadramout, sometimes to participate in the Daan sessions, a highly sophisticated type of music, having felt the necessity for the integration of such a community in question.
It was, as well, a way of rubbing shoulders. Al-Shihr, Seiyun (Al-Taweela) Al-Mukkala, Tarim, Shbiam (Al-Safra), Al-Qatn, and Du'an are just examples of the towns he made lyrics about.
Al-Mehdar preserved the rituals, which date hundreds of years back and other traditions in his music. For example, the Hadrami people are famous for celebrating several ceremonies such as the visits they pay to the tombs of some saints on several occasions where they trade-in some household stuff, socialize and sing in processions.
Such festivals facilitate their communications and safeguard those traditions, the most remarkable to be mentioned is the pilgrimage to the Prophet Hud (Jude) tomb 70 kms east of Tareem . 'The grave is situated on the top of a hill. It was first renovated on the ninth century A.H (fifteenth A.D) and several times thereafter It's present form, with its huge dome, a stone building around a rock called Al-Nagah and the wide staircase dates back to the year 1097 A.H. (1673 A.D) ” ( Your guide to wadi Hadramout: page 54).

Say hello or wave it by hand,
Oh princess of my heart
And take me a slave and hold me in your possession

As you passed by on the visit festival day
You dazzled the whole procession,
He who saw your beauty praised God for his make.

You were the leading beauty of your age,
Maids to your left, right and behind
Acting as servants

The spark of your love ignited mine
Keeping my eyes awake
Sleepless when all are asleep.

Human emotions:
His poetic gift allowed him to dive into the inner life of his fellow people and feel their problems. Therefore, he kept the balance by moving on with the norm and criticizing odds, many couplets the songs end up with have some connotation to wisdom and advice.

“Adhere firmly to honesty”

Abandon and do not water the one who has no sense of honor.

Symbolism is one of the main characteristics of Al-Mehdar's lyrics, for instance, he implied politics and other relevant issues some of which are subject to interpretation depending on the degree of transparency. He for instance predicted the unity of Yemen before it took place in May 1990. In other words. He fulfilled the satisfaction of various people ranging from issues related nomads in the desert to debates and politics at higher levels.
The songs of Al-Mehdar would have not acquired this international recognition without the major part played by Abu Bakr Salem, one of the most distinguished artists in the Arab world.
Who excelled in making words sound exotic. His magical voice and performance turned the lyrics, music into a world of perfection.

One night in Al-Taweelah
One night in Al-Taweelah,
More romantic than those of the Arabian nights
(to the truck driver: “please, slow down”.
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home

No resemblance of that Joy I had that night
She is so precious to give up for all pearls.
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home

The top sights of the city have arisen
women are spreading the word, revealing the secret
And fear's gone
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home
Stop and relax your heart
Before, you get too old to enjoy the scenery of the sweeties

Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home
Had your eye seen what mine saw of her beauty
You would be tempted to seduction
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home

Puzzling when she speaks,
Her height shapes perfect
Her eyes are arrows which, if casted
They never miss the target,
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home

They have proved successful in romance talks
Chuckling one's balance,
Allowing love to go all over the body
Al-Qarn, it is that I wish to have home