Sam Yemen keeps ’em tappin’ [Archives:1998/20/Culture]

May 18 1998

Between 1989 and 1990 Mohammed Aqeel met Waleed Khaleel who studied cinematography in Cairo and Zakaria Abdulhaleem who studied engineering in Pakistan. They hit on the idea of forming a musical band. The Sam Yemen Band came into being. More musicians and singers joined.
Following one and a half years of successful performances, the group disbanded, each member going his separate way and leaving Mohammed Aqeel to pick up the pieces.
He did not give up. New musicians and singers were found and the band was re-formed, including top electronic organ player, Mr. Dhiaa Jaafar and the players Tawfeeq, Ridhwan, Saeed, Salim and Mokhtar
Ms. Doaa Taha interviewed the band leader Mohammed Aqeel.
Q: Have you studied music academically?
A: Most of the Sam Yemen players have not studied music, but, through practice and contact with professional musicians and music teachers at the Aden Fine Arts Institute, they were able to acquire a lot of musical and vocal knowledge and experience.
Most of us, however, started playing music at school with the aid of our respective music teachers.
Q: Where do you perform mostly?
A: The Sam Yemen band performs at university parties, public festivities, diplomatic functions and sometimes televised parties. We also made contracts to play in top hotels and restaurants in Sanaa and other parts of Yemen. On top of that, Sam Yemen takes part in private parties such as wedding ceremonies, charity bazaars, etc.
Q: Where do you practice playing music?
A: We currently work at a top Sanaa hotel, but the band is really based in a functions hall where we have a space a practice our music and songs.
Q: What musical instruments do the band members play?
A: The electronic organ is played by Mr. Dhiaa Jaafar, who also does the musical arrangement; the bass guitar, by Saeed Mubarak, who also sings Western songs; the band drummer is Salim Ba-Ghawth, who also sings Swahili songs; the rhythm controller is Yasser Taher; tambourine playing and Gulf songs are done by Mokhtar Al-Raboo’i and of course, I am a singer and the band leader.
Q: What kinds of songs do you play?
A: We do all types of songs – Yemeni, Egyptian, Gulf and Swahili as well as Western songs. We usually perform according to the request of our audience. Sometimes in embassy parties we are asked to do songs from that country, which we do obligingly. But of course we have to be told beforehand so that we come fully prepared.
Q: Are you going to release an album?
A: We are now working on producing the Sam Yemen first album, which will include songs with music composed by Mr. Dhiaa Jaafar.
Q: Are you able to make a decent living out of your musical performances?
A: There are two different rewards from our work: moral and financial. The moral and emotional benefits we get through the warm response of our audiences are priceless. Finances are also very important for us to buy new musical instruments. The money that we earn, however, is not equal to the artistic efforts we put in.
Q: Is your work seasonal?
A: To a certain extent, yes, our work is seasonal. During summer and towards the end of the university academic year, for example, there are many parties in which we perform.
Q: Have you made performed abroad?
A: We performed individually in Britain, Jordan, Djibouti and a few other countries where there is a Yemeni community. Some of us also recorded a few songs in Cairo. But as a band we never had the chance to perform abroad.
However, in coordination with music impresarios inside and outside Yemen, Sam Yemen is now discussing the possibility of performing in the Gulf countries, Britain and the US. We have to honor our contracts here in Yemen first, then we can go abroad.
Q: How do Yemeni audiences receive your songs and music?
A: We actually got a great response from Yemeni and expatriate audiences during the last two years. Our televised performances were welcomed by the audience, despite the bad quality of transmission.
Many people from Yemen and from other countries sent messages of congratulations for our performance when we appeared with the famous singer Ahmed Fat’hi on the Yemen satellite TV channel during Eid.
It is very often that during our live performance, the audience merrily sings along with us. Our success has made many people in Yemen believe that the country is not devoid of talent and creativity. We and other highly motivated young people can do a lot, provided that media and other relevant bodies give all possible support and encouragement.