Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Mass: Master Yemeni Singer [Archives:1998/13/Culture]

March 30 1998

By: Saleh Abdulbaqi, musician
Yemeni master singers or sheikhs, as they were known then, played a major role in enriching the Yemeni artistic movement. One of the greatest singers in Yemen’s artistic history is Sheikh Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Mass.

Sheikh Ibrahim was born in Aden where he received his public education. After finishing his study, he worked in the public sector until he passed away in 1966. His father who died in 1953, was a famous singer whose songs were recorded on gramophone records. He descended from a tribe in Shibam, Kawkaban in Northern Yemen. Because singing was forbidden by the Imam in pre-revolutionary days, Mohammed Al-Mass and other singers moved to Aden. That made his house a gathering place for some of Yemen’s outstanding singers. Mohammed Al-Attab was one of those who frequently visited Al-Mass’s house bringing with him different traditional songs.

Ibrahim Al-Mass, still a little boy, was brought up in such atmosphere that he very much loved. That created in him a deep desire to learn how to play the lute. His father started to teach him to play the lute as well as the principles and methods of Yemeni traditional singing. In addition, the boy listened to some Egyptian singers like Salamah Hijazi, Sayed Darweesh and Mohammed Abdulwahab. He recorded Hijazi’s song Mata’a Hayatak (enjoy your life) which was mentioned in Dr. Mohammed Fadhel’s book about Hijazi’s life and works.

Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Mass aimed to maintain the originality of the Yemeni traditional song. Dr. Mohammed Abdu Ghanim wrote: ‘Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Mass was the one who combined the songs of Al-Madaheen (eulogists) and the Sanaani songs in his recorded songs. A common mistake is that those songs were attributed to the Tihami lyricist Jaber Rizq.’

Thus, Al-Mass made the greatest favor to the Yemeni song heritage in performing Al-Madaheen’s songs. Ibrahim Al-Mass rebelled against the high-class society’s viewpoint concerning the traditional arts. They regarded those arts as backward practices, a concept Al-Mass would never accept.
As Mr. Fahmi Abdullateef describes them in his book “Styles of Traditional Arts,” Al-Madaheen (eulogists) had very distinguished artistic practices. They depended totally on their personally acquired artistic skills in playing the tambourine, their only instrument. The tambourine is used to regulate and control the rhythm of a musical troupe’s. performance. Arab people used the tambourine in announcing eulogies and elegies. Some mystics still use it in their religious ceremonies.

Al-Mass did not take singing as a profession from the beginning, though he was quite famous as a good singer. He started by singing in family and friends’ gatherings. As the breadwinner for a 10-member family, he finally agreed to record his songs on disks. According to Hajj Awadh Al-Ajami, Ibrahim Al-Mass was a Yemeni singer who gained great popularity all over Yemen and the Arab Peninsula.