Mohammed Jomaa Khan & the Golden Age of Hadhrami Songs [Archives:1998/22/Culture]

June 1 1998

Mohammed Jomaa Khan is considered a prominent figure in the development of Yemeni singing. Abu Ali, as he was known to his fans and friends, adored arts and his audience loved him. His songs were sung by Yemeni and Gulf artists, and were hummed by people in the street. At that time, Hadhramaut was going through the golden age of folk songs and dances such as Al-Shabwani and Al-Adaa, which relied on rhythms of drums and reed pipes.
Later on, Qanbous (an old type lute) came to be used with the help of the Hadhrami artist Sultan Bin Al-Sheik Ali, who developed the local folk songs and set them to music in the Hadhrami style. Mr. Khan, on the other hand, was the first to introduce the harmonica and tambourine to Yemen from India.
Mohammed Jomaa Khan was born in 1902 in Al-Mukallah. His mother was from Hadhramaut and his father from Punjab, he was one of those people sent from India by the Sultan Awadh Al-Qaati to fight with his army against the Yafaa and Kathir sultanates.
The famous artist Mohammed Jomaa Khan learned to read and write in Al-Mukallah, where he found himself adoring music since he was in a family that liked to sing. He used to read the Quran and chant school songs before the age of 10.
Khan was brilliant in music and joined the Sultani musical band, which he worked with for 29 years until he became the leader of the band. Then, he was pensioned off when Sultan Saleh Bin Ghalib held the reins of government.
When he was a member of this band, he learned to play stringed instruments. Tunes which were played by the band were mainly Western and Indian. Hadhrami tunes were never played, so it was the Indian tunes that influenced his songs. He also learned to play the Qanbous while he was a member of the band with the help of a student at the Sultani school called Sa’adallah Faraj. His talent helped him to excel in the Hadhrami tunes that he received from his teacher. This enabled Khan to introduce Hadhrami folk tunes to the Sultani musical band. After the sultan had given the Indian players the sack, he replaced them with natives of Hadhramaut who had a positive interaction to their country’s tunes and songs.
Mohammed Jomaa Khan who took up singing as a profession, started performing in public concerts. He received encouragement from the people and became the only artist that had no competition, this being due to his skill in playing and the softness of his voice. He excelled in Indian, Hadhrami and Egyptian tunes. From this he gained more popularity and fame in Hadhramaut and in many other Arab countries. At that time, Hussain Al-Safi sent for Mohammed Jomaa Khan and made a contract with him to produce 30 records. Audiences admired his voice and they were eager to buy his records.
Mohammed Jomaa Khan sang various poems by many Arab poets such as Ahmed Shawqi, Yazid Bin Mawiya, Abi Firas Al-Hamadani and Ali Mohammed Taha. He was the first to compose the poem “You broke my heart when you left me’, before being composed and sung by Farid Al-Atrash. He also performed songs written by local poets such as Abdul Ba Hassan, Al-Muflihi and others.
Kahn was also famous among the immigrant Hadhrami and Yemeni communities in Ethiopia and elsewhere, where he was invited to perform. Thus, the artist was able revive and refine Hadhrami singing. He died on December 25, 1963.
By Saleh Abdulbaqi, musician