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Traditional Yemeni Songs in the Era of Modern Media

Sawt Al-Amal (Voice of Hope) – Hebah Mohammed

In Yemen, traditional musical culture holds a prestigious position and a rich history spanning many centuries. Yemeni musical heritage is one of the most important pillars of popular culture, and its melodies and lyrics carry artistic richness that expresses the identity of the Yemeni people and their long history. With the advancement and development of Yemeni media, the media has played a prominent role in shedding light on Yemen’s musical heritage and showcasing it to the world.

Musical Heritage in Yemeni Media

Yemeni musical heritage holds a unique place in people’s hearts, as it represents a symbol of the country’s cultural identity and ancient heritage. In the age of technology, the media has played a vital role in highlighting this beautiful art form and showcasing it to the world. This role in promoting and enhancing musical heritage is not limited to broadcasting and disseminating it but also includes documenting and preserving it for future generations.

Media figure Ahmad Al-Sharifi says: “The role of Yemeni media in raising awareness about the importance of traditional songs cannot be ignored. It is essential to realize that the majority of songs currently popular are traditional songs, but the difference lies in the variety of artists singing them.”

He adds: “Unfortunately, traditional songs have been reproduced by young voices in a way that distorts the performance and sometimes the melody. Wedding halls have contributed to this distortion, as some young artists cut out some verses of the lyrical poem and then complete it with lyrics from another song, leading to distortion of the content, especially for songs that tell a coherent story.”

He explains: “Regarding the role of the media, we must realize that the current situation in the country has made this aspect almost non-existent in private media. As for government media, it is completely absent, whether in terms of broadcasting traditional songs or organizing programs to raise awareness about the importance of these songs or otherwise.”

For his part, Dr. Ahmad Uqbat, former Dean of the Faculty of Media, says: “Yemeni media outlets spare no effort in presenting Yemeni heritage songs in their programs related to listeners’ and viewers’ requests, as well as using melodies as background music for documentaries and the beginning of segments, which means that presenting the heritage of Yemeni songs automatically raises awareness of its importance on radio and TV channels.”

Al-Sharifi believes that the lack of interest in musical heritage has made it vulnerable to theft by some other countries, as it has been reproduced and exploited without preserving its essence and original spirit. Therefore, Yemeni media should play an active role in raising awareness about the importance of traditional songs and contributing to the protection of this valuable cultural asset.

Regarding the most important satellite channels that broadcast special sessions on musical heritage, Al-Sharifi says: “Regarding Yemeni channels interested in presenting traditional songs, we must note that media outlets, especially in areas suffering from the ravages of conflict, are often non-existent. However, some private channels, such as Yemen Today Channel, provide limited space for broadcasting songs during noon and afternoon. So do Al-Saeeda and Yemen Shabab Channel, but Al-Mahriya Channel rarely broadcasts old songs that are part of Yemeni heritage.”

Dr. Uqbat agrees, saying that some channels, such as Al-Saeeda, Yemen Satellite Channel, Yemen Today, and others, seek to do a daily show during the afternoon time for these traditional lyrical genres, which means that there is wide public acceptance that confirms the viewer’s enjoyment of this beautiful Yemeni heritage at all times. Perhaps these songs unite all citizens across the country in unparalleled unity of listening and enjoyment of the diverse lyrical genres.

Journalist Amin Al-Ghabri says, “Traditional Yemeni songs are an integral part of the Yemeni cultural identity; they embody a long history of Yemen and explain the innocent feelings and good feelings that Yemenis have had throughout their intimate relationship with traditional songs.”

Al-Ghabri pointed out that despite the abundance and diversity of new songs, the traditional Yemeni song still retains its luster and transcendent power in people’s hearts and stands tall and competes with modern songs. He emphasizes its strong presence and cultural value.

In this context, Al-Ghabri continues: “The media comes to play an active role in raising awareness of the importance of traditional songs and promoting their beautiful face as a representative of Yemeni culture; they carry with them a precious heritage that must be preserved and protected from extinction.”

He says: “The media should portray traditional songs with a beautiful and attractive perspective and export them to the outside world as a unique musical heritage that embodies the beauty and culture of Yemen, and that it is a shared responsibility between artists, producers and media professionals to contribute to preserving and enhancing this lyrical wealth to be a legacy enjoyed by generations to come.”

Al-Ghabri stressed that radio is the oldest media, and has worked extensively to spread Yemeni traditional songs, such as Sana’a Radio and other local radio stations, and some of them still remain committed to Yemeni songs, broadcasting and preserving them with passion.

Al-Ghabri believes that despite the decline of the presence of the authentic traditional voice in the artistic scene, some Yemeni screens are committed to allocating programs to broadcast Yemeni traditional songs; to fill their programming space with this authentic art, as an important move to move away from the noise of the descending songs that have invaded the artistic scene and possessed the hearts of many in the Arab world.

Social Media Channels and Musical Heritage

Al-Sharifi says: “Social media channels and applications, such as Facebook and YouTube, play an important role in preserving Yemen’s heritage and raising awareness about it. The channels and applications are run by individuals interested in Yemeni culture and heritage and have now become major sources of knowledge and education related to heritage.”

He continues: “These channels are witnessing many views that exceed the views of government and private satellite channels. Some interested and amateur young people were able to reproduce some of the traditional songs with their voices, and due to the great demand for these works, they became a primary source of livelihood, in addition to being a personal hobby.”

Al-Ghabri believes that in the past, there were few Yemeni newspapers and magazines that published articles about Yemeni traditional songs, before social media platforms replaced the era of newspapers and magazines, which are no longer available today. Some of them have transitioned and updated to electronic format to align with today’s current trends. Unfortunately, few online platforms focus on traditional songs, making information about them scarce.

Traditional Song and Social Cohesion

Al-Sharifi stresses that the lyrics of traditional Yemeni songs have become part of the heritage that carries concepts that are consistent with the cultural identity and enhance the cohesion of society. He illustrates this with wedding songs, also known as ‘Zaffa’, as the lyrics of the heritage recommend the bride to be chaste, respect her husband, and keep secrets. In contrast, modern art calls for taking selfies with the bride, which expresses the superficiality of such awareness on this occasion and is a challenge to the traditional values ​​that were promoted by traditional Zaffa songs.

Challenges and Recommendations

“The media faces multiple challenges in promoting traditional songs; the challenges are not limited to legal aspects, but also extend to the current situation in society. We can say that these challenges are represented in the social and cultural changes that society is witnessing, as technological development and the spread of social media affect traditional values and traditions and may lead to a change in preserving those values,” according to Al-Sharifi.

Despite this, Dr. Uqbat believes that there are no serious challenges facing the highlighting of ancient traditional songs in Yemen through the media, except for the attention paid by the Ministry of Information and the encouragement of those in charge of this type of folk art, indicating the need to pay attention to our cultural heritage that reflects interest in history, originality and contemporary relevance.

However, we cannot ignore the obstacles that may hinder the promotion of traditional songs through the media, as Al-Sharifi explained other challenges represented in the lack of support and interest from some concerned parties, and this may result from a lack of full awareness of the cultural and historical value of this heritage. Traditional songs may also face challenges in adapting to the digital reality and rapid changes in public taste.

Al-Sharifi pointed out that promoting traditional songs through the media requires joint efforts from government institutions, civil society, artists, and media professionals, raising awareness of the value of this heritage and directing appropriate support to promote it through various media, and that there should be a balance between preserving authenticity and traditions and respecting contemporary social and cultural changes.

He recommends the need to support and encourage young artists and musicians in Yemen to draw inspiration from traditional songs and present them in contemporary styles and trends, and to organize competitions and awards to encourage creativity and enhance interest in new traditional songs.

Al-Ghabri points out that traditional songs are a unique cultural treasure that is affected by several factors over time, including cultural and qualitative levels, the political events that the country is experiencing, and the state of political polarization. As a result, according to Al-Ghabri, the modernization that the old songs witnessed has emptied them of some of their fragrance and beauty or erased many of their traditional elements. Although this modernization has found favor with some of the current generations, it has angered previous generations who cherish their authentic heritage.

He also pointed out that singing sessions can contribute greatly to promoting the old Yemeni traditional songs and attracting the new generation that is looking for modernity that it does not find in the old heritage. Holding traditional singing sessions to sing old songs plays an important role in reviving this authentic art and attracting attention to it. Through these sessions, the new generation can listen, learn about the beauty of musical heritage and connect with past experiences.

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