Khalil: Pioneer of Adeni Song [Archives:1998/48/Culture]

November 30 1998

When one remembers the golden age of the Yemeni song during the 1960s, one always fondly remembers the pioneer singer Khalil Mohammed Khalil. He was a major player in the development of the modern Yemen song, especially during the first phase of that process in the early 1950s.
Eighty-year-old Khalil spent the best part of his life, more than half a century, as not only a singer, but also musical innovator. He is also know for his great sense of humor and conversational skills.
I talked to one of his fellow singers and confidant, Jaafar Murshid who gave some very interesting anecdotes about the great Khalil.
Khalil’s start in the world of art goes back to the 1930s, when he used to listen to, then sing, Egyptian and traditional Yemen songs – Sanaani, Yafi’i, etc. His father was a brilliant Oud (lute) player, who liked the songs of the famous Egyptian singer Mohammed Abdulawahab. In addition to playing the Oud – being taught by his father – Khalil also plays the mandolin and banjo.
Khalil & Egyptian Songs
Khalil first started doing Egyptian songs in 1943, when he used to watch Egyptian films in Aden cinemas. Thus Egyptian songs and music had a rather big influence on Khalil’s style. This was helped by his beautiful melodious voice and unique style of playing music.
Adeni Nadwa
In 1948, a group of revivalists got together in Aden to form the Adeni Nadwa. They included several poets, musicians, singers and intellectuals such as Mohammed Abdu Ghanim, Abdullah Hamed Khalifa, Khalil, and others. They all decided to release their artistic creations to the general public as products of the Adeni Nadwa.
Records were released through gramophones shops and cinema auditoria to be played during the intermission. This made people more aware of the Adeni Nadwa and its highly creative members.
British Authority
Also in 1948, Khalil was the governor of the Aden Central Prison in Crater. The Adeni Nadwa used to be convened at the Ihsan Hotel, just opposite the prison. During one such session, the British authorities raided the place under the pretext that the group’s work was a cover for political activity. Being an official himself, Khalil was able to convince the colonial authorities otherwise.
New Musical Instruments Introduced
The Adeni Nadwa was the first musical ensemble to use string instruments, fully utilizing them to serve the group’s unique style of music. Nadwa musicians included violinists Yassin Fari’ and Abdullah Hamed Khalifa, Ali Shammakh using rhythm instruments, Hussain Shawqi on the tambourine and Khalil himself as a lute player, singer and composer.
Khalil’s Colleagues
The Adeni Nadwa set new concepts of Yemeni singing and music. It brought out the Yemeni song from the obscurity of traditionalism to the light of modernism. This also had much influence on Yemeni poetry. It encouraged poets such as Lutfi Jaafar Aman, Mohammed Abdu Ghanim and Mohammed Saeed Jarada to shed the shackles of traditional Arab poetry (rhyme and scale) in favor of the liberated and more expressive Modern Poetry.
Those poets became very active members of the Adeni Nadwa, cooperating with singers and musician colleagues, especially Khalil, to progress with the modernization movement.
Khalil the Composer
There is no doubt that Khalil can be considered as the creator of a whole artistic school – the modern Adeni song. Other singers dearly sought his distinguished musical compositions. Such singers included Mohammed Saleh Azzani, Taha Fari’, Sabah Munassar and many others.
Saleh Abdulbaqi,
Yemen Times Arts Editor