Yemeni song: reflection and expression

Published on 12 April 2012 in Culture
Amira A. Nasser (author)

Amira A. Nasser

Mohammed Murshid Naji, Ali Al-Anesi, Ali Al-Semah, and Ayoub Tarish

Mohammed Murshid Naji, Ali Al-Anesi, Ali Al-Semah, and Ayoub Tarish

On a February evening In Sana'a's national museum, Ahmed, 25, a young musician from Hajja, sways back and forth as he plays songs from the famous singer Abu Bakr Salem. The audience sits smiling, humming along to the song that they all know by heart.

After the concert, Ahmed said that it is difficult for him to improvise while playing the classics. As for composing original songs, he finds it impossible.

According to several poets and musicians, modern Yemeni songs don't reflect real life in Yemeni society.

Fuad Al Sharjabi, an artist and founder of the Yemen Music House (YMH), said that traditional Yemeni songs have a clear and resonant identity among Yemenis. However, young Yemeni musicians these days struggle to remain loyal to tradition, while contributing something new to the country's music.

Moteher Al Aryani, Abdullah Abdulwahab Noman, Abdullah Sallam Naji, and others all enriched classic Yemeni music during its heyday in the 1960s and '70s.

He pointed out that although contemporary Yemeni songs can't stand up to the classics in terms of originality, a number of young Yemeni musicians have recently produced first-rate songs in fresh styles, such as the song Sawa Nebneeha ("Together we build it") by a collection of different Yemeni singers.

For her part, Samia Al-Aansi, a broadcaster at Sana'a Radio, said there is a growing chasm between traditional Yemeni songs and modern ones.

"The youth now are unable to achieve the same level of creativity that you find in the traditional songs," she said.

Love, emigration, alienation, poverty, agriculture and other themes all helped to give the original touch to traditional Yemeni songs. "The traditional Yemeni song gives clear images and presents them in an imaginative way. The music helps you capture the scene as it is, and makes you feel and live its beauty. Its poetry gives a place to the farmer and the laborer," said Abdulqader Al-Shibani, a former broadcaster who is an expert in Yemeni cultural heritage.

The poet Mahmood Al-Hajj said the modern Yemeni song is walking through a smothering crisis, a crisis of creativity, indicating that

"Even if we are going to discuss love, there are no new ways to present that," he explained.

"Presently the number of  modern songs are endless, meaningless and  thus tasteless," said Al-Hajj, adding that the majority of modern songs focus on the emotional, but use a clichéd, monotonous language.

New musical dimension

Since the Arab Spring erupted in Yemen, a dimension has appeared in contemporary Yemeni songs which recalls the old national songs of our memories.

"The contribution of the government plays a big role in developing poetry and music in Yemen through the cultural activities that it organizes," added Al-Hajj.

"Some of the new songs which appear as a reaction to the revolution, have lost the qualities of the traditional song, because of the shallow-meaning lyrics," said Fuad Al-Sharjabi.

"The young artists should be careful with choosing what they write, what they compose, and what they publish, because music is a mirror of society," Samia Al-Aansi said, adding that there are some signs of positive change in music produced by Yemeni youth.