Home Previous Issues Music Heritage in Yemen Yemeni Musical Heritage: Enhancing Identity and Highlighting Social Relationships

Yemeni Musical Heritage: Enhancing Identity and Highlighting Social Relationships

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

Art and culture play a vital role in building the national identity of people around the world. Yemeni musical heritage, in particular, plays an important role in enhancing the cultural identity of the country. It reflects the diverse history and culture of Yemen, preserving its authenticity. This art form expresses values, beliefs, customs, and traditions that reflect various aspects of Yemeni daily life and aesthetic values.

According to the artist Shakir Al-Kohlani, Yemeni musical heritage is one of the traditional arts that has been nurtured for a long time. It represents a form of cultural expression in Yemen and serves as a tangible experience for previous generations, reflecting the customs, traditions, and values that were prevalent in Yemeni society throughout history. Musical arts represent a part of Yemenis’ daily life, showcasing their deep heritage and cultural authenticity.

He added that musical heritage represents an important aspect of the national heritage. Preserving and safeguarding it reflects Yemeni identity and enables Yemenis to maintain historical connections, traditions, and cultural values that bind them to their national history. Yemeni musical heritage is characterized by its diversity and depth, expressing a wide range of human emotions. Our country is renowned for a large number of musical styles and traditional songs that vary from one region to another. It is characterized by rhythmic and passionate melodies and is often used on religious and social occasions.

In a related context, Rafiq Al-Akwari, the director of the Music Heritage Center, described Yemeni art and musical heritage as a living heritage that adapts to the requirements of the times and is passed down from generation to generation. He emphasized that music and folk singing are among the key determinants of national identity for people, as every community has its own unique music and art that represents and expresses it.

He further highlighted that Yemen is rich in music and songs that reflect daily life and various traditions. Yemen is one of the few nations that has preserved the authenticity of its musical heritage throughout the ages.

Highlighting Relations and Enhancing Social Role

The artist, Suhair Thabit, stated that Yemeni musical heritage consists of various colors and modes, and these colors can be divided into many types, such as traditional folk poems, songs that Yemenis sing in their daily lives, such as chants, religious songs, national anthems, Mawwals (improvised vocal performances), and oral heritage stories.

She said, “The diversity of singing styles in Yemen is significant, with one of the most important being the San’ani style, which is known and widespread in the northern regions of Yemen and has gained popularity throughout the country. It distinguishes itself from other Yemeni songs as it is performed using ancient musical instruments such as the Qanbus, oud, and other musical instruments. Additionally, the Lahji and Adeni styles are renowned in the southern regions and are known for their uniqueness and depth. There is also the Tihami style, which is specific to Tihama, and the Taizi style in Taiz Governorate.”

Regarding the musical instruments used in Yemeni vocal heritage, Thabet says, “Yemeni singing is enriched by a collection of traditional musical instruments, such as the Oud, Qanun, and Daf, which add beauty and depth to musical performances. The oud is one of the most commonly used instruments in vocal styles.”

She continues, “The art of singing has been used as a means of expressing emotions, thoughts, and values in various Yemeni provinces, and songs have been considered an effective means of communication and interaction with others. In addition, songs can play an important role in promoting values and ethics in individuals and society by employing them to achieve a positive impact on the community and contribute to building a better society.”

Hadhrami Musical Heritage

Khalid Mudrik, a researcher, historian, and head of the Hadhramaut Heritage, History, and Culture Foundation in Mukalla, emphasized the importance of Hadhrami singing heritage and its role in highlighting relations, enhancing social bonds, and documenting cultural heritage in Hadramout and Yemen as a whole.

He said, “Singing and music, or vocals and music, are an integral part of the cultural heritage in Hadhramaut and the entire country. They contribute to creating a vast, great, and enduring vocal and musical heritage that encompasses all political, cultural, economic, and social aspects. It intertwines with events and incidents that caught the attention of poets, prompting them to write poetry about them. Then, composers add beauty to this poetry when they compose it. The beauty of poetry only emerges through composition and subsequently singing by the artist.”

He added, “Hadhramaut possesses a great and enduring vocal and musical heritage that relies on the culture and ancient historical background rooted deep in history for thousands of years. It starts with the ancient history of ‘Ad, passing through the ancient Kingdom of Hadhramaut that began around 3,500 years BC, then the medieval history corresponding to Islamic history, and ending with modern and contemporary history.”

Continuing his statement, Mudrik said, “Hadhrami singing heritage, created by poets, composers, and Hadhrami singers, not only documented the events and incidents witnessed by Hadhramaut throughout history in various aspects of life but also helped strengthen social relationships among the Hadhrami community and broaden the musical taste of the people, especially the lovers of singing and music. Wedding ceremonies and other joyful occasions in Hadhramaut or any other governorate in Aden or the entire country are not complete without presenting a variety of rich and diverse singing heritage.”

Mudrik pointed out that Hadhramaut possesses numerous sung poems presented by poets, composers, and artists. These poems addressed and documented many events and incidents in various aspects of life. Moreover, they contributed to reinforcing and solidifying social relationships. Some verses of these sung poems have become proverbs and popular sayings widely circulated among people because they touched upon their concerns, joys, and aspirations. Additionally, many Arab artists, especially in the Gulf countries, have sung numerous poems by Hadhrami or non-Hadhrami Yemeni poets.

He confirmed that Hadhrami artists were among the pioneers in establishing the singing heritage in Aden. The first of them was the artist “Kaoura,” who introduced the oud instrument to Aden. Then came the artist “Omar Ghabi,” followed by the artist “Awadh Al-Musalmi,” “Bamakhrama,” “Salim Bamadahaf,” “Abdulrahman Bajunaid,” and “Raja Basudan.” Recordings of these artists can be found on Aden’s radio and television.

Challenges & Solutions

Despite the importance of Yemeni songs and their distinctive heritage and deep historical significance that reflects Yemen’s identity and history, they face several challenges and difficulties that have affected the arts and culture in general.

Al-Kohlani states, “One of the most significant problems facing artists in Yemen is the financial aspect. Many Yemeni artists working in the field struggle to find sufficient financial support to continue their work and cannot dedicate themselves solely to their artistic pursuits. Most of them seek other jobs due to the difficult situation in the country. Additionally, there is a lack of support from relevant authorities that should support songwriters, which leads to a decline in the quality and artistic value of productions.”

He further adds that, in the age of technological advancements, there is a lack of interest in traditional songs, especially among the youth. They have become more inclined towards listening to international and modern Eastern music instead of traditional songs, influenced greatly by social media platforms that heavily promote modern music.

Al-Akwari agrees, confirming that efforts to develop Yemeni singing heritage are among the greatest challenges faced by the country’s musical heritage. He explains that attempting to develop the singing heritage is a beautiful endeavor and a good way to preserve Yemeni songs from disappearance or theft. However, it requires great caution. Those who seek to develop it should possess the knowledge and artistic culture to avoid distorting the heritage in the name of development and keeping up with the times.

Regarding the most important solutions, Al-Kohlani says, “Efforts should be made to develop new strategies and mechanisms to preserve this important cultural heritage. This can be achieved by organizing awareness campaigns among the youth, highlighting the importance, beauty, and cultural value of traditional songs. Additionally, providing financial support to artists who work towards preserving this heritage, whether through awards or offering training courses to enhance their skills.”

He emphasizes the significance of conducting seminars, artistic workshops, and cultural events that showcase Yemeni songs and their beauty to younger generations so that they can have a deep understanding of their heritage. After all, one who has no past has no present.

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