Old Yemeni Folk Songs on  Old British Gramophones [Archives:1999/47/Culture]

November 22 1999

The artistic and cultural revival witnessed in Yemen in general and Aden in particular at the beginning of the 20th century laid a lot of social and cultural conventions. In this article I will talk about Yemeni folkloric songs and how they have spread outside of Yemen. 
Folkloric songs were popular in Yemen during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. They reflected various social images of the time and were composed by great poets who have been forgotten. However, their poems are still remembered as they have been communicated from one generation to another in the form of songs. 
Folk songs are considered to be the reflection of people’s feelings in a very simple way, free from ambiguity or complexity. Long ago Yemeni people used to know nothing other than these kinds of songs in their various regional forms: Sanaani, Lahgi, Hadhrami, Yafe’aee. They were passed on by great Yemeni singers, especially in Aden. Wedding parties and social gatherings (maqials) have contributed much to the spread of these songs among Yemeni people. During this time no sound recording systems were available. There were only radios and British gramophones. Interestingly, singers at the time used to have strong voices that could be heard from outside the maqials. Two of the most distinguished singers at the time were Ali Abu Bakr Bashraheel and Ibrahim Al-Mass who where famous for the Sanaani and Yafa’aee songs. They were both elevated to the stage of stardom. The rest of the article will be centered on Ali Abu Bakr Bashraheel. 
Bashraheel had a very melodious voice. He used to sing Sanaani songs in a professional way. He practiced singing to earn his living and this was one of the reasons that made him very close to people who loved him very much in return. The tradition at wedding parties of the time was to invite at least four singers to every wedding ceremony. No wedding party was held without Bashraheel being there at the top of the list. This habit helped create a competitive atmosphere for singers. At these parties Bashraheel used to sit in front of the other singers wearing his white gown and accompanied by his oud. He never allowed any other musical instrument except his oud to accompany him while he sang. At midnight the bridegrooms used to come to the stage and dance to the rhythm of Bashraheel’s songs. 
In all the parties he attended he never specified an amount of money before singing and he used to accept whatever was given to him thankfully. 
The popularity of public songs in Aden led British gramophone companies to record most of these songs and distribute them in Yemen and the Gulf countries through their branches there.