“Mus’id and Mus’idah”: Yemeni radio’s most public and famous program for 18 years [Archives:2006/978/Reportage]

August 4 2006

Interviewed by: Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

Abdurrahman Mutaher has been an artist, writer and famed radio broadcaster for 40 years. He's known as “Baba Abdurrahman” for his great efforts in preparing and presenting numerous children's programs and songs like the famous program, “The Best Tale.”

Mutaher also is known as Mus`id, a beloved radio character reflecting the nature of Yemeni man – both his positive and negative aspects. He has received several international, Arab and local prizes for his great radio work.

Please briefly explain “Mus'id and Mus'idah” and how it began.

“Mus'id and Mus'idah” is an accomplished experience in 40 years of radio broadcasting. It began in 1988 during a health campaign about six children's diseases in Yemen. Various media outlets were to prepare a special program about the diseases to enlighten the nation on their dangers and how to deal with them.

I started to arrange a program with the idea of presenting a dialogue between a wife and her husband, portraying them while they were discussing the diseases and how to handle them. When those in authority and international organizations like UNICEF heard the program, they commented that it was simple and sought to present the message to the nation easily. So, it has continued ever since.

What kind of issues does “Mus'id and Mus'idah” discuss?

Generally, the program discusses all social problems relating to local Yemenis like motherhood and childhood, the relationship between husband and wife, youth issues, farmer's lives, etc., but it also attempts to tackle new phenomena that come into view in society.

How does the program cope with new progressive development and changes in society?

I believe the essential problems are the same but the difference is in the style of handling them with the changing issues in society. For example, when talking about marriage problems, such problems were just as present in the past as they are now, but how to solve them is something different. Everything was simple in the past and marriage requirements were simple too. But now, many things are passed down to society and marriage requests are more, so we must discover the change or the problem and try to solve it.

Throughout its long history, have just the two of you presented “Mus'id and Mus'idah” or have other actors participated?

Only I have presented Mus'id, while Mus`idah`s character has been acted by four famous actresses and broadcasters: Safah Hazam was the first, then Ahlam Al-Ansi and Zahur Nasser. However, Habibah Mohammed has played the role for the past 15 years and has made a mark on the audience.

What's audience reaction to the program both inside and outside Yemen?

Yemenis are nice and their reaction is instinctive. The audience is vast, so you can go out and ask people about it. Also, many studies and surveys are made about the program and how it affects Yemenis' daily lives. The studies say the program echoes among the people and is near to their simple life.

Regarding its audience outside Yemen, “Mus'id and Mus'idah” is translated into English and spread among Yemeni immigrants in the U.S. via cassettes and books with little change, except in the program's title. Instead of “Mus`id and Mus`idah,” it's called, “Nadi and Nadia.” Yemeni student Eman Barkat also prepared a study on the program, receiving her M.A after investigating its effects upon the audience. Moreover, British university professor Janet Watson visited Yemen, translated “Mus'id and Mus'idah” and published the transcripts in a book.

Why did Watson select your program and what was her goal in visiting Yemen?

Professor Janet Watson was assigned to study Yemeni life in general, its local dialects and their changes. She came to Yemen, spent two years researching changes in Yemeni dialects and then published a book. While here, she was surprised to hear about “Mus'id and Mus'idah” and concluded that by listening to it, it was easy to learn everything about Yemeni life and simple to dig deep into Yemeni social life.

Therefore, Watson translated approximately 200 episodes and selected 50 to publish in a book. The university now considers her book a bridge between cultures via their languages and includes a huge number of local dialect vocabulary translated into English and not found anywhere else.

Habibah Mohammed, as a senior radio broadcaster, what motivated you to work in media?

As you know, women's opportunities were few and it was rare to find women working in media. Fortunately, my husband was a theater director. He was preparing a play and looking for a woman to play the heroine, when he discovered my artist talent in acting. My first media role was in the play, “Everything has an end.” After this theatrical role, I played many roles on TV, radio and in the theater. I also participated in many Radio programs, but I continue working in radio until now.

When did you begin playing Mus'idah and what are listeners' reactions when they learn you're Mus'idah?

I started playing Mus'idah more than 15 years ago until now. Actually, I feel shy and happy at the same time when people learn who I am. They always call me Mus'idah and not by my real name. When I go to parties or weddings, women crowd around me and start asking me personal questions, always asking about Mus'idah, how we prepare the program and many other questions. You know, I must answer their questions because Yemenis are kind and simple but they're quite curious.

Do you participate in preparing episodes of “Mus'id and Mus'idah”?

Absolutely not, I'm just a presenter and only play the role of Mus'idah. I wish he'd give me a chance to prepare some episodes, but he rejects this. However, he's amenable to any suggestions I have and he accepts changing something if necessary.

Abdurrahman Mutaher, you've been the only actor and preparer of Mus'id since 1988. Do you accept participation from others?

Candidly, I've been the only presenter of Mus'id for 18 years and I don't accept any participation from others. This isn't because I'm selfish or others aren't qualified enough to prepare “Mus'id and Mus'idah” episodes, but I believe everyone has his own talent and his own style of presenting to audiences. However, I may accept ideas from others and then write the episode my own way.

Is the program critical?

Without a doubt, it's completely critical. I use different styles of criticism depending on the topic and the audience to which I'm speaking. Sometimes, I have to be strong and my speech has to be dry, as the Yemeni proverb says, “Hit him and then he'll know you;” whereas at other times, listeners need nice criticism to attract them to the topic and the problem.

Do you discuss political issues and can we consider “Mus'id and Mus'idah” a political program?

No, absolutely not. I hate politics, I'm not interested in political issues and I don't accept programs led and directed by political ideas. I refuse to present ideas that form listeners' opinions. Generally, I like to get ideas and problems and search for solutions from citizens themselves.

After such a long time, why is “Mus'id and Mus'idah” still presented on radio and not developed into a TV program?

First, the program's current format as a radio program is more related to and closer to listeners – it's easier to hear because everyone can listen to it wherever they are. Secondly, the dialogue style and way of performing affects the audience more when it's easy and simple. Additionally, since there are only two characters, they can discuss their daily problems in a few minutes.

However, presenting “Mus'id and Mus'idah” on TV would require other characters, tools and elements and the program might lose its specialization. I'm seriously thinking to present it as a one-act play on a 10-minute show and that's enough, but it'll require more facilities and characters. For example, when I talk about my aunt Tashah or my sons, they would have to be there. The Minister of Culture has discussed the idea of producing “Mus'id and Mus'idah” for television as a cartoon or a 30-episode Ramadan serial in coming years.

There are rumors that Mus'idah is your wife. Is this true?

She's my wife only on the program. In reality, she's not. Some listeners think this and many ask me about Mus'idah and how she deals with me in real life. These rumors sometimes cause problems for me.

For example, one day I was walking on the street and someone stopped me to comment on the previous day's episode, saying, “Yesterday's episode was great and nice.” He then started asking personal questions about my wife, saying, “You know it's a shame for men to talk about women in our society.” I angrily replied, “Whose wife is she? Why put your nose in my personal life?” to which he replied, “I'm asking you about Mus'idah. She's your wife, isn't she?”

I then understood that he thought Mus'idah was my real wife. I explained to him that she's a good friend, a great actress for the role of Mus'idah and that she's married and has children, as I do.

Habibah Mohammed faces the same situation.

Everywhere I go, I have to explain that I'm not a wife of Abdurrahman Mutaher. I only perform the role of Mus'idah. I'm married and have my own life with my husband and children.