Sayun Popular Arts performs in the UK [Archives:2008/1169/Local News]

July 3 2008

By: Yemen Times Staff
SAYUN, July 1 ) Sayun Popular Arts returns to the United Kingdom this summer July 9-16 to participate in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales and the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival.

Sayun Popular Arts is a group of eight musicians from Yemen's southern Hadramout region, who perform traditional Hadrami and Bedouin songs on instruments such as the oud or lute, flute and violin, with vibrant percussion accompaniment.

The group is one of the region's best and oldest groups founded in 1963. Led by Shukri Hassan Baraja', it boasts more than 40 musicians and dancers, including both men and women. They've played festivals all over Yemen, as well as international festivals in Jordan, Paris and Zanzibar.

They first visited the U.K. to much acclaim in 2002 to participate in the Diaspora Music Village Festival. Seconds after they started their set at Kew Gardens, the entire audience was up and dancing to the infectious rhythms.

Much of this music accompanies traditional dances at marriages and other social events, so don't be surprised if the musicians get out of their seats for a bit of Hadrami dancing amid the audience.

This year's Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival is particularly significant because the city is the 2008 European Culture Capital.

Sayun Popular Arts will perform at a special family day concert, together with Egypt's the Bedouin Jerry Can Band.

The group also will play for the Yemeni community in the town of Sheffield at the invitation of the Yemeni Community Association and its chairman, Saleh Al-Noud.

Bordering the Arabian Sea, the Hadramout lies along major maritime routes from Africa and Europe to the east; thus, it has absorbed centuries of cultural and musical influences. Within this music, you'll find African dance rhythms, such as Liewa and Bambila, accompanying lyrics peppered with words in Hindi or Swahili.

Paul Hughes-Smith, a music advisor for the London arts charity, Cultural Co-operation, is coordinating the Yemeni group's visit. He was also responsible for selecting them based on their previous visit to London in 2002 to participate in the Diaspora Music Village Festival, organized by Cultural Co-operation.

“They were a great success here then, with such a varied and interesting repertoire of Hadrami music revealing the influence of many styles, including Indian and African rhythms and words reflecting Yemen's position on the sea routes between Africa and India. So, I immediately thought of them again when I was looking for a group to bring to Liverpool this year,” Hughes-Smith explains.

He added that he's also taken them to the Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar in 2005, where their Swahili-tinged lyrics again were a great success. The group also received an invitation from the Welsh festival, Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, a long-running and prestigious festival at which many groups compete for prizes.

The visit of Sayun Popular Arts is being funded by the British Yemeni Society, the Yemeni British Friendship Association in Sana'a, the British Council and the Yemeni Embassy and sponsored by Yemenia Airways.

Hughes-Smith particularly praised the support of the British Council and its director in Yemen, Elizabeth White, and its arts officer, Salah Salem.

He added, “I hope that in the future, some cultural exchange program can be started between the U.K. and Yemeni musicians and artists that would be supported both by the British Council and Yemen's Ministry of Culture.”

The Culture Ministry had planned to support Sayun Popular Arts' U.K. visit this month, but later declined.