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