Yemeni Singing Heritage: From Dark to Light [Archives:1998/12/Culture]
Saleh Abdulbaqi, musician
One of the most popular Yemeni singing styles is called ‘Yemeni Mouashah.’ This old traditional way of singing, known also as Sanaani singing, is considered to be one of the oldest arts in the Arabian Peninsula, as mentioned in many books and researches.
There are many factors that led to the widespread of Sanaani songs. Outstanding Sanaani singers laid down the foundations for the Yemeni artistic modernizing movement before the outbreak of the September 26, 1962 revolution.
The northern part of Yemen went through social and intellectual deterioration because the backward monarchy forbade performing any form of art on the grounds of spreading anti-religious ideas. Therefore, some artists like Sheikh Qassem Al-Akhfash did not have the courage to sing openly for fear of the Imam’s persecution. Because of this singing taboo, many Sanaani songs found their way down to Aden where they became very popular. Many people would sing these songs at qat chewing sessions along with master singers such as Sheik Ali Abubaker, Sheikh Ibraheem Al-Mass and Sheikh Ahmed Qaatabi.
Ibraheem Al-Mass excelled in singing these songs so much that a record company recorded his songs, which became famous in Yemen and all over the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemeni Mouashah spread all across Aden and gained much popularity among its people. Master singers would often start with Sanaani songs at weddings or at qat chewing sessions, because they were characterized by original and creative elements. Then, they would sing a few songs from Lahaj or Yafi’.
The spreading of Sanaani songs prompted a record company to record many of them on gramophone discs. Masters of the old Yemeni songs contributed greatly to the spread of this creative singing. The Aden broadcasting authority, established in 1954, recorded many songs for the masters, such as Sheikh Awadh Al-Masli and Sheikh Ali Abubaker. Thus, the Aden Radio played an important role in promoting the Yemeni Mouashah. Other master singers, such as Mohammed Murshed Naji and Mohammed Saeed Abdullah played a distinguished role in preserving these songs for posterity.
After the September 26 revolution and the freedom it brought with it, many artists such as Ahmed Al-Sunidar, Ali Al-Ansi and Mohammed Qassem Al-Akhfash excelled in Yemeni Mouashah.
The artistic tone of the Yemeni heritage spread throughout the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi artist, Mohammed Abdu, sang ‘Qal Al-Munna Samaat Al-Teer Yetranam,’ or ‘the tormented said I heard the bird singing.’ This song is based on Yemeni heritage.
It was a surprise when the singer Abubaker Balfaqih performed ‘Wa Mugharred,’ or ‘O warbler.’ This artist is one of the great figures of Yemeni song and is endowed with a melodious voice. The great poet, Al-Baradooni once said, ‘Abubaker Balfaqih presented three different types of Arabian Peninsula singing and that he was smart to keep its originality.’ Abubaker Balfaqih played a big role in adopting Sanaani songs and making them famous in other Arab countries. Through this transition, Sanaani songs took on a new and beautiful musical arrangement.
It should be mentioned here that the Ministry of Culture is playing a positive role in promoting the Yemeni Mouashah by holding art symposiums and seminar. Also, a Yemeni heritage center has been established to conserve our culture and draw a new cultural map.