Predicament of Yemeni Music [Archives:1998/27/Culture]

June 6 1998

Saleh Abdulbaqi,
Arts Editor
I really feel sad and disappointed with the decline of the Yemeni song after it was revival and flourishing. Of course, there are some reasons behind this fall. But before enumerating these reasons, I would like to give a view of the Yemeni song’s situation in the past. And thus we can find how wide is the gap between the past and the present Yemeni song.
Yemeni Songs in the Past
It has to be remembered that Aden witnessed a great artistic renaissance during the 1950s and 1960s. It embraced a galaxy of artists who enriched the Yemeni song and were the torch-bearers of the Yemeni muwashha. They spread it among the folk people in the southern part of the Arab world.
Lying under the yoke of the British colonialists, people were comparatively free to hold some intellectual and cultural activities. But the people in the north, ruled by the Imam didn’t have such freedom and songs were forbidden.
Aden at that time was a very important commercial center linking the south with the north. This made trade very active, attracting some gramophone companies from Germany and some local companies were established like Tahaphone and Azizyphone.
These companies played an important role in spreading and documenting the Yemeni muwashha in addition to the songs of Lahaj, Yafa’e and Hadhramaut. Indeed, such lively artistic movement was transported beyond the Yemeni border to the neighboring countries. In this way songs became more widespread.
Moreover, Aden had at that time a good show of Indian and Egyptian films which were received warmly, particularly on the part of the talented Yemeni artists.
Later the Yemeni song underwent some innovation represented by the works of Ahmad Qassem, Al-Murshedi, Khalil Mohammed Khalil and so on and so forth. Poets like Lutfi Aman, Ahmad Al-Jabery and Mohammed Saeed Jaradah played a very good role in developing the style of the lyrical poem.
Ahmed Fadhl Al-Qomendan did the same to Lahji lyrical poems. Abdullah Hady Subait wrote some lyrics that were sung by the young singer Mohammed Saleh Hamdoon, whose songs were famous also outside Yemen. Hence the Lahaj lyrics occupied a good position in Yemen. Mohammed Jumaa Khan added something new to the songs of Hadhramaut due to the influence the Indian music because of his Indian father. All this gave the Yemeni song a pioneering role at that time not only in Yemen, but also in the neighboring countries.
Yemeni Song Nowadays
Unfortunately, in the 1970s the Yemeni artistic movement began to dry and wither, especially in the southern part due to political factors. In other words, the regime there wanted the artistic activities to serve its political ideology. This had a negative impact on the situation of the Yemeni artistic movement. This is after the artistic renaissance that brought many musical instruments into the country like the flute, trumpet, lyre, etc. Traveling to other countries was not allowed. The hard economic situation of the country also added fuel to the fire.
People in the north of Yemen were very conservative where songs were restricted only to wedding parties. Therefore the talented and intellectual figures were forced to immigrate in the hope of finding a greener pasture and freer room to achieve their potential. And thus the Yemeni song was put in the horns of a dilemma where we were not able even to preserve our past achievements in the arena of art and music. This made the Yemeni song unable to produce any echo outside Yemen except only through a select few singers living abroad.
But now the Yemeni song needs our special attention. We have to make analytical studies to evaluate its situation and think of a way-out from this impasse.