Following a long-lasting trend, Yemeni singers continue their exodus

Published on 6 March 2014 in Culture
Ali Abulohoom (author)

Ali Abulohoom

For generations now, Yemeni singers have been leaving the homeland to find fame and appreciation abroad.  One motivating factor is finances. Singers can do well in the Gulf, where they say they can perform at a party everyday.

For generations now, Yemeni singers have been leaving the homeland to find fame and appreciation abroad. One motivating factor is finances. Singers can do well in the Gulf, where they say they can perform at a party everyday.

Yemeni singers have been emigrating abroad for generations, and each generation has its reasons for leaving.

During the rule of the imam at the beginning of the 20th century, singing was considered by the imam himself to contradict Islamic values.

A wave of Yemeni siners such as: Abu Baker Salem Belfaqeeh, Mohammed Sa’d Abdulla, Salem Bamadhaf, and Mohammed Abu Nassar left Yemen in the early 60s. Ahmed Fathi and Karama Mersal departed not long afterward.

Another wave of singers left Yemen following the 2011 youth uprising because of the economy and the political climate.

In 2012 Mohammed Sharaf left for Qatar. He justified his decision by saying that the cultural environment in Yemen is not supportive of artists.

“I would hold at least one party per week in Aden prior to the 2011 revolution, and I would make about YR50,000 (about $250),” he said.

Attendance decreased following the uprising as a result of the deteriorated security and economic situation, so he decided to move to Qatar, where he organizes parties for its Yemeni community and for Qatari fans of Yemeni music.

“I have been in Qatar for over two years now and I have never regretted my decision [to leave Yemen]. I believe I should have [left] earlier because I can organize parties here almost daily. Some singers followed suit and came to reside in Qatar because the environment here encourages singers.”

Singers Fuad Al-Kibsi and Hussein Mohib also moved abroad in late 2013.

“The environment in Yemen doesn’t encourage singers and this forces us leave to other countries,” said Mohib, who now resides in Qatar.

“I chose Qatar because the environment there motivates singers and the Qatari people adore Yemeni music,” he added.

Mohib is well-known for his original songs and his voice. He also covers tunes from late Yemeni singers such as Hamoud Al-Harethi.  

Mohib, who is very famous in Yemen, is regularly invited to sing at wedding parties in the country.  

“Yemen’s Ministry of Culture is no longer organizing parties and cultural events since the events in 2011, so singers resort to only singing at weddings,” Mohib said.

“Although singing at wedding parties is nice, and it makes people happy, my goal is to reach the entire Arab world through my songs.”

Mohib’s migration wasn’t financially-motivated, he said. He intends to introduce Yemeni songs to the Gulf countries as Belfaqeeh and Fathi did before him.

Fuad Al-Kibsi, a popular Yemeni singer, used to record his songs on cassettes and sell them directly to the public.  

“It’s difficult for Yemeni musicians to protect their copyrights with MP3s. Singers have received no support from the Ministry of Culture. Yemeni singers used to sell cassette tapes as a main source of income. They now depend on wedding performances for their livelihoods,” Al-Kibsi said.

Mohammed Al-Saleh, a 25-year old student at Sana'a University, is a big fan of Al-Kibisi. He believes Yemen lost a great singer and many more will follow suit if something does not change.

A recurring complaint from singers who have left is that Yemeni society does not value musicians.

Singer Jabir Ali Ahmed, an advisor to the minister of culture said the musical environment in Yemen is weak, and the Yemeni government neglects the arts.

Ahmed said that the government should implement music into school curricula so that children are exposed from an early age.

It is also time for the Ministry of Education to establish music institutes and the option to study music in universities, he said.

Though he produces music, he has not released his songs because he is afraid of piracy.

For Nizar, Yemen is not a hospital place for a musician and he is considering leaving.

"The lack of a music industry in Yemen has frustrated Yemeni singers, driving most of them to leave,” he said.

4 Response(s) to “Following a long-lasting trend, Yemeni singers continue their exodus”

  1. Adam Taha 30.03.2014 at 19:50
    A M Baggash. Qualification means nothing today. It may mean so for the elite but not so for the smart of today. THey mean nothing if you don't know how to position yourself through marketing. This isn't 1980s. This is the 21st century and by Allah, I am so glad I took a different route than 98% of Yemenis. I learnt marketing, branding, and became a strategic creative strategist that even british, americans around world hire me. Alhamdillah, I discovered it is has nothing to do with qualification. The challenge the musicians in Yemen have is more than qualification. Qualification is not even in this equation anyway. It's a myth when it comes to creative arts like music. In fact, qualifications is nothing compared to the knowledge and skill of marketing and branding. There is much more to making it in the music world. It's going to take marketing and unfortunately, most Yemenis did not step into such world. Music isn't just about music. It's about first developing a brand, a story, a hook of image, and positioning with the market that most cannot match. This is called strategy. It's about strategy, about creating a concept, a personality, an archetype and understanding how to position yourself in the world of digital age. There is no excuse for anyone to say, the reason why they cannot make it is due to the city or country. That is a lack of leadership. The true reasons is they lack marketing and sales skills. Most haven't the knowledge, skills in identifying the market, what music type i.e. genre is hot, what is not, how to position oneself in this market, stand out and develop an online base. God willing, whoever reads this, do not lose hope. Learn marketing, branding, strategy. The internet has opened doors for you. You don't need the government helps. You need a network of your own and develping your own strategy, a story that compels and influences your targeted audience to believe you, and be with you. Invest in this knowledge for everything now, if you wish to influence MARKETING.
  • Salah Al-Sanea 14.03.2014 at 12:08
    A M Baggash has no idea what he is talking about. Please A M Baggash read what you have written and kindly remove your comments as there is no truth at all. Yemeni singers are by far the best and if I am not wrong many singers in the UAE are copying if not releasing old Yemeni songs.
  • abdi rahman 10.03.2014 at 08:35
    I think music and Yemeni culture do not mix. because to be musician you have to ambition and looking forward by your own hand to leap to next step, but in Yemeni culture its always blame game waiting for others to do the job for you. If this musicians were truly artist and wanting to widen their audience why can they explore the world of internet. why can they spend little bit of their OWN money and taste people of their talent.
  • A M Baggash 9.03.2014 at 04:30
    I do not want to be too harsh on Yemeni Singers, but as a lover of my beloved Yemen and a passionate lover and listener of Yemeni music, I must emphasis on the facts the Yemeni singers are unable to keep up with other Arab singers due to a number of reasons, including: 1 - Apart from three or four living Yemeni Singers, all Yemeni singers are not academically qualified, but were only able to learn to play the Oud during Qat sessions and force themselves into our ears. 2 - The reason why Yemeni singers were unable to gain Pan-Arabic spread is because they are not qualified and they know that. They know that if they go to the Gulf of Cairo or anywhere outside Yemen, they will be outclassed by miles and they will tremendously fail because of their lack of invention and or come up with something new. 3 - Yemeni singers can only sing traditional wedding songs in wedding parties or folk songs in general qat sessions. They lack artistic imagination and are not inventive. They can only sing songs on the menu since the 20s and 30s of the last century, song that were sang by Ahmed Obied Qaatabi, Mohamed Jumaa Khan, Ba-Makhrama, Al-Aantary etc etc. 4- Fuad Abdulwahid won a prestigious music award three years ago, where is he today? The sad facts are that Fuad is in Taiz singing wedding songs day-after-day when the Moroccan girl who won the same award a year before him has already made tens of millions of dollars selling her songs and viewers can see her around the clock on different TV channels. Since Fuad won the award he only recorded three old Yemeni songs that do not belong to him for Wanasah TV station. Another Yemeni young singer won the same award the following year. Where is he today? The same thing, he is singing 70 and 80 years old songs in weddings in Aden and the southern parts of Yemen. 6 – Some of the Arab capital cities hold annual event every year, Yemeni Singer are usually not invited because they have nothing new to offer. As a person from Tunis or Kuwait or UAE why should I listen to some Yemeni singer I never heard of before? I know that he is not a qualified singer, I know that 99.9% of the songs he will sing are not his own songs and I know that the songs he will sing are nearly a centaury old. 7- Yemeni Singers usually talk about the Yemeni traditional songs and that it has a great reputation and it came at a period when other Arabs have never heard about music. They also lie to themselves by saying that the Yemeni music library is so rich with old beautiful songs, but they never made any attempts to improve these songs by adding something to them like modern musical instruments similar to the Moroccans and Algerians . I am not under any circumstances trying to say that every singer is academically quailed; we know that thousands of singers around world or the Arab world came to the stage through personal talents and hard working. Singers such as Elvis Prissily was a truck driver and became know as ‘The King’. Mohamed Abdo from the Arab world was a worker in Jeddah seaport but made a name for himself by singing beautiful modern songs written for him by top class song writers and composed by the best composers in the Arab music market. In our country singers like Mohamed Saad Abdulla, he was a singer, song writer and a composer. He lived and died and people in the countries next to Yemen never heard of him when we considered him a living genius. Ahmed bin Ahmed Kassim is the first Arab singer to hold a PhD in musical studies. He also lived and died unheard of like Mohamed Saad when I think he could have been far much better than Mohamed Abdulwahab. Simply, we lack passion and desire to succeed in something we claim that we were the best a hundred years ago, now we are unfortunately a thousand years behind the rest. And I really mean a thousand years.
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