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Organizations Take on the Responsibility to Revive Yemeni Musical Heritage

Sawt Al-Amal (Voice of Hope) – Ahmed Bajoaim

Generations have inherited melodies and tunes that express Yemen’s rich history and ancient culture, which the pioneers of Yemeni art, from writers, poets, composers, performers, and musicians, have distinguished themselves with, making the musical heritage a cultural legacy that is unmatched in creativity and mastery of performance. To preserve and revive this valuable cultural heritage, local and international civil society organizations are working diligently to revive the Yemeni musical heritage and protect it from fading away, disappearing, or being violated and stolen due to its authenticity and ancient charm.

Local organizations and institutions play a major role in documenting and disseminating the Yemeni musical heritage; they organize cultural festivals and artistic concerts, whether locally or internationally, document old artistic works, and promote new creativity in the field of music and singing. Thanks to these efforts, the Yemeni musical heritage continues to flourish and spread, preserving its originality that attracts audiences from around the world.

Role of Local Institutions

Shurooq Al-Ramadi, head of Hadhramaut Foundation for Culture, said: “The foundation works in three main areas, one of which is music; the foundation seeks to rehabilitate, train, produce, and perform. The foundation’s most prominent project in music is the Heritage Symphonies project, which has toured many countries around the world.”

She pointed out that the project started in Malaysia, to the Egyptian Opera House in Cairo, reaching the oldest theaters in Paris, and finally in Kuwait; the project worked to connect the Yemeni musical heritage and present it in a global way, which enhanced the dissemination of the heritage in a faster and more effective way.

For his part, Muhammad Bawazir, head of Madarat Foundation, indicated that the foundation plays a pivotal and growing role in supporting musical art, through the implementation of pioneering projects, such as “Al-Musiqa Taud 1″ in the city of Mukalla, and ” Al-Musiqa Taud 2″ in Seiyun District, and those projects that were carefully designed, not only did they focus on training young people on musical performance and reading musical notes, but they also aimed to revive the musical culture and enhance the local artistic heritage. They also helped bridge the gap between young musicians and the global standards of the music industry, which contributed to raising their professional level and providing new job opportunities within the local creative economy.

He added, “The role of ‘Madarat’ stems from its sense of Hadhramaut’s image in the last century as a regional center for art and artists; cultural movement was active in it through institutes, art centers, theaters, and cinemas. Art and artists had great value in society because the cultural and civilizational weight of Hadhramaut was close to that of Aden at that time.”

He pointed out that the project has achieved sustainability by expanding the streams of income generation for the participants after its completion; as their work requests increased, whether recording pieces or playing at musical events. The project made the musicians more distinguished and respected in their communities. Many of the graduates of the two projects trained more than 80 beginner players on the basics of reading music and playing, through musical courses for other cultural institutions or personally.

Bawazir explained that Madarat Foundation has achieved great success on several levels in reviving the artistic heritage in general, the foundation had a great impact on the music scene in Hadhramaut, starting with it being the first academically structured orchestral training in the governorate since the closure of the only art institute in the nineties. Through those projects, the foundation helped, in addition to reviving the artistic heritage, build the artists’ experiences in live musical performances, and present new talents to the public, and enhance cultural and artistic awareness in the community.

“Yemeni House for Music and Arts Foundation” was established in 2007. The foundation aims to preserve the Yemeni artistic and cultural heritage, document folk and classical songs, preserve them from encroachment and extinction, and re-promote them, in addition to reviving the melodies of Mawawil, Zawamil, Ahazeeg, and songs that are concerned with craftsmen and farmers, as well as children’s songs related to the ancient Yemeni environment and supporting talented people in the artistic field.

Yemeni House Foundation also revived, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the death of the great artist “Abu-Bakr Salim Balfaqih”, an event that reviewed the artist’s most important stations in December 2022. The event came under the title “Ant Wala Ana”, and distributed leaflets containing various words from the songs of Balfaqih and his companion, the great poet Husain Abu-Bakr Al-Mihdhar. This event is one of many events held by the Yemeni House to revive the singing heritage and bring it back to the fore.

Main Activities

Al-Ramadi added: “In the recent heritage symphonies project in Kuwait concert, the song was introduced to the traditional music; the great artist Abud Khawaja performed, led by the maestro Muhammad Al-Qahum, the most important songs of the late artist Karama Mirsal, whose melody was renewed by Al-Qahum.”

She explained that Hadhramaut Foundation for Culture was established about two years ago, and these were its most prominent projects that resulted in reviving the Yemeni singing and musical heritage. It also works with serious steps that preceded its founding age, and in the future, its projects in the field of traditional art will be larger and more comprehensive.

Bawazir indicated that “Al-Musiqa Taud 1” project provided training for three months led by professional trainers, such as Haitham Al-Hadhrami and the maestro Ahmad Al-Ahmadi for 23 musicians from the directorates of Hadhramaut coast, and at the end of this training project, an orchestral concert was held for the first time in more than 27 years in Hadhramaut, in which Arab and Western pieces were played.

In 2022, Hadhramaut Foundation for Culture, implemented by Madaraat Foundation, presented the “Musiqa Taud 2” project. The project aimed to train 30 musicians from Hadhramaut Valley and Desert in reading musical notes, techniques for playing instruments, and ensemble performance. The training spanned for four months and was divided into three stages.

The first stage is reading the musical notes led by the musician Tariq Bahashwan, and the second stage is the technique of the instrument led by Abdulilah Baraja on the violin, the player Ali Al-Ahmadi on the oud, and the player Ali Al-Saqqaf on the organ. The third stage: Group playing led by the maestro Ahmed Al-Ahmadi and Haitham Al-Hadhrami, and the project concluded with a live performance of a group of Arabic, Western, and local pieces (old and contemporary) from various musical colors. According to Muhammad Bawazir.

The head of Madarat Foundation, Bawazir, explained that the Hadhramaut Foundation for Culture presented in 2022, and implemented by Cultural Orbits, the “Layali Hadhramia” concert, which was revived by 28 musicians from Hadhramaut and Aden led by the player Samir Ka’ish in Mukalla, and the concert included performances of works by the late artist Abu-Bakr Salim Balfaqih, namely: “Shlon Hal Al-Rabi'” and “Hubbi Laha” and “Ya Nawakhada Ba Ma’kum” and some of the Indian melodies, namely: “Nalat A’la Yadaha”, “Ya Khalil Salam”, In Jakum Yishki” and “Bain Al-Muhibeen”, and the concert concluded with a Hadhrami “Medley” consisting of ten performances of the most famous Hadhrami songs.

Bawazir continued: “Madarat held discussion sessions on music, including the cultural salon (Roohaniat), which aimed to introduce the linguistic connotations of the most prominent religious hymns in Hadhramaut and the musical scales on which they were organized. The salon also included performances of three religious hymns presented by the Al-Mawadda Group for Chanting and Reviving Heritage, followed by another discussion session on Madrasat Al-Musiqa and music education in Hadhramaut, which hosted Tariq Bahashwan, the former director of the Institute of Fine Arts, and the maestro Ahmad Al-Ahmadi, Head of the Music Department at the Ministry of Culture Office in the Hadhramaut Coast.

Challenges

Ramadi explained that Hadhramaut Foundation for Culture is part of the civil society sector and supports the role of the country, but in the absence of the country’s components and its role in the cultural sector, the institution faces challenges in all aspects, whether economic, societal, training, rehabilitation, etc. Despite this, the institution is trying to overcome these challenges, but the governmental vacuum related to the Ministry of Culture is the most prominent challenge facing institutions working in this field in Yemen.

Muhammad Bawazir, head of Madarat Foundation, also listed some of the difficulties and challenges facing the institution or all institutions working in this aspect, the most important of which is the difficulty of obtaining appropriate and continuous funding to support educational cultural projects; since most of the funding directed to culture is not a priority for music education. Additionally, the lack of cultural awareness about the importance of musical art is another obstacle, and some social and cultural restrictions that affect the participation of some individuals, especially girls, in these artistic programs.

Recommendations

Shurooq Al-Ramadi described our country as a fertile land full of many cultural features, heritage, and various arts. Therefore, it is necessary not to underestimate the size of the arts and their impact on society; since many customs and traditions are built on them, and not to look at culture in general as a kind of luxury and prosperity of living, also to demand the activation of the country’s role in this aspect, and to develop cultural heritage preservation processes in general, including the musical heritage that Yemen abounds with, due to the large number of great artists, composers, poets, and musicians, not only at the national level but also at the level of the entire Arab world.

Bawazir outlined several recommendations to improve the role of institutions in promoting musical art. These recommendations include increasing funding and support for music programs after identifying the needs and priorities in the field. The interventions aim to enable the participants to teach more musicians, thereby improving their livelihood opportunities after program completion. Additionally, providing more educational and performance opportunities for young people and encouraging cooperation between cultural institutions so that they can carry out their noble tasks in light of the absence of sufficient government support. These efforts are essential for enhancing the quality of the rich heritage work that Yemen takes pride in.

The head of Madarat added: “The importance of enhancing cultural awareness and appreciating music as a vital element in heritage and cultural identity, as well as improving the capabilities of emerging cultural initiatives and institutions to manage small financial support and develop it to obtain funding and manage projects. Madarat Foundation, through the Mukalla Creativity Center, is ready to provide technical support, training, and guidance to all cultural initiatives and institutions, whether in Hadhramaut Governorate or Yemen in general, in the fields of fundraising and project management.”

Local institutions and civil society organizations have an indispensable role in reviving the Yemeni musical heritage, and their continuous efforts in supporting artists and musicians, and organizing cultural events, have a great impact on preserving the precious musical heritage and renewing it across generations. Therefore, all relevant parties must work together in a spirit of partnership to enhance and revive the Yemeni musical heritage and ensure its continuity; since success in this field will enhance the cultural identity of the homeland, and contribute to building a more cohesive and interactive society.

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