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Yemeni Traditional Songs Mirror Culture in Rural Society

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

Traditional songs are an integral part of the culture of peoples, carrying within them a rich heritage that spans decades and centuries. Among these songs, Yemeni traditional songs related to rural life stand out in particular; their melodies and lyrics carry the spirit of the earth, nature, and simple life.

The old traditional songs hold a unique influence on the course of rural life. They are not merely composed words and cheerful melodies; rather, they serve as powerful tools that convey the history, identity, and deep values of the rural community. These songs reflect the emotions of love, joy, pain, and hope experienced by individuals in various rural regions of Yemen.

The Reality of Traditional Songs in Rural Areas

Yemeni singing in the countryside is a unique expression of the culture and heritage of rural communities. It is not just an entertaining art form, but an integral part of people’s lives and a means of communication and expressing feelings and daily experiences. Yemeni singing in the countryside is passed down from generation to generation, preserving the authentic spirit of heritage and the legacies of the ancestors.

The dean of Diwan al-Tarab, artist Razzaz Amin, talks about the reality of Yemeni singing in the countryside and its distinctive aspects in its simplicity, saying: “Old Yemeni singing in the countryside is characterized by simplicity and spontaneity; it is transmitted and learned orally and spontaneously between generations, and is sung in the streets, fields, and beautiful natural spaces. Its beautiful melodies echo throughout the villages and valleys, and this singing reflects rural life in all its details, from working in the fields and farms to social occasions, weddings, and celebrations.”

He continues: “In the countryside, we find farmers, workers, and young people gathering to enjoy the melodies of our folk music, in moments of joy and hospitality; everyone responds to the melodies, exchanging dances and joys, and singing and traditional music form an essential part of rural culture and identity.”

The artist Abdul Basit al-Harithi says: “The continuity of chanting traditional songs at official and popular events in the countryside is an integral part of Yemeni culture; the songs are played with pride and honor and carry within them a rich cultural heritage that extends through them across generations, and the Yemeni people connect with their roots and history, and reflect their feelings, hopes, and sorrows.”

Meanwhile, the artist Azal al-Maghlis says: “The reality of traditional songs is still alive and has a greater place and respect among the people of the countryside than among the people of the city, and rural folk songs play an important role in the continuity of our heritage, and in creating a conscious generation that has tasted art and culture.”

The artist Ahmed al-Haylah points out that the Yemeni countryside embraces many beautiful melodies that are still circulated in weddings and various occasions to this day, and the rural community proudly preserves its musical heritage and continues to chant it on every occasion. However, we notice a change in the current situation, as youth songs have invaded the singing scene, despite their superficiality and lack of artistry, and they have spread and flooded the large space, and those songs have become the most popular in the countryside and the city.

Al-Haylah believes that despite this, the rural community is still distinguished by its folk songs, which have their own character and differ somewhat from Sana’ani or Hadhrami songs; each region in the countryside has its own distinctive mark and strong expression through music.

As it indicates, folk songs in the countryside express our deep emotions and reflect our life experiences. They convey glory, tales, and dreams, playing on the strings of our hearts with their melodious depth. These songs also mimic the breathtaking nature and the hard work in the fields, narrating stories of love, joy, and pain.

Artist Sharaf Al-Qa’idi adds: ‘Our fathers and ancestors in the countryside preserved traditional songs, which you find in all their happy occasions, daily lives in the fields and farms, and even while tending to animals. They never ceased to sing their heritage songs during the harvest season (known as “Al-Sarab”), which refers to agricultural crop gathering.’

Al-Qa’idi continues: ‘They would sing, addressing the sun and clouds, asking them to ease their heat on the farmers. How beautiful are the words of the late poet Mutahar Al-Iriani, which the late Harithi sang: ‘Ya shams ezz aldhuhr honi qaleel , khiffi ala alzarea shuwaya, alzaraei qidees mithl alkhalil , ya shams kuni bardiya.’”

Sharaf Al-Qa’idi pointed out that Yemeni farmers in various rural areas used to address the ox while plowing the land and sowing seeds. They would encourage it to strengthen its resolve so that they could finish plowing the field before the rain fell. Naturally, rain would hinder completing the field plowing. They would say, ‘ya thor ya abyadh ya qawi alsai’d, mud alqadam wasmaa daneen alrai’d.’ It’s as if they were saying, ‘Don’t you hear the sound of thunder? This is a sign that rain is approaching.’

Artist Yusuf Al-Zuhairi confirms this by saying: ‘Traditional and folk songs are beloved and cherished in the countryside. They play a significant role in the lives of farmers during agricultural work, reflecting their stories, experiences, and carrying their emotions and hopes.’”

The Most Famous Traditional Songs

Among the most famous and powerful Yemeni heritage songs that gained popularity in both rural areas and cities, the artist Al-Haylah mentioned a collection of remarkable works. These include the song ‘yiqrab Allah li bilsalamah wilafiah,’ which expresses sincere wishes for safety and good health. Another notable song is ‘Tarab Sijouah,’ reflecting a state of longing and anticipation. Its sweet melodies and emotional lyrics captivate listeners, describing feelings of love and separation.

Furthermore, the song ‘Li Fi Rabi Hajr Ghuzil’ became well-known in the deserts and urban areas. It has been sung by renowned artists, including Ayoub Tarish. Additionally, ‘Ya Mustajib Al-Da’i’ and ‘Wamugharrid Bawadi Al-Dawr’ are also among the most famous Yemeni heritage songs. Another powerful piece is ‘Sadaftt Fu’adi Bil-‘Uyun Al-Milah,’ along with ‘Lillah Ma Yahwih Hatha Al-Maqam.’ One of the strongest heritage songs is ‘Ya Sariq Al-Barq.’

Al-Maghlis also pointed out that there are numerous musical styles and diverse heritage songs across every Yemeni countryside. Each region has its unique artistic and cultural approaches. Among these variations, we find the Hadhrami, Jamaliya, folk, Taizzi Malalah, and Bedouin songs, among others.”

Sharaf Al-Qa’idi also mentioned the traditional songs that are well-known in Yemen’s countryside, including ‘Al-Mahajil,’ ‘Al-Mahabed,’ and ‘Al-Ahazij.’ Each season has its own specific songs. The rural community uses these songs, along with their ‘Zawamil,’ during various occasions. Different regions are characterized by their unique heritage expressions that reflect their customs and traditions. For instance, ‘Al-Mahajil’ and ‘Al-Mahabed’ are associated with agriculture, while some ‘Mahajil’ are reserved for special events, and ‘Zawamil’ are used during celebrations and to welcome guests while addressing community issues.

Al-Zuhairi also highlighted some famous rural Yemeni songs, such as ‘Ma Adnash Jamal’, ‘Ma Ajmal Al-Sabah Fi Rif Al-Yaman’, and ‘Al-Balah Wal-Layl Hal-Baal’. These old musical heritage pieces resonate throughout every corner of Yemen’s countryside.

On the other hand, researcher and folklorist Ahmed Al-Ma’tari believes that there are folk songs performed specifically in rural areas during celebrations and events. These rural songs differ from urban songs. Among the rural Yemeni songs are the ‘Zaffa Al-Udayniya’ and the song ‘Ahlan Biman Das Al-Uzul’. Additionally, the song ‘Khatar Ghusn Al-Qana’ and others are part of this rich musical heritage. However, the Sana’ani and Hadhrami songs are not typically sung in rural areas due to their mismatch with the rural cultural context.

He also clarified that one of the most famous ‘Zaffa Al-Udayniya’ in Al-Udayin district was the song ‘Sa’at Al-Rahman’. It was first popularized by an artist named Bint Sharyan from Al-Udayin, and later, the artist Ali Al-Ansi also sang it. Additionally, there’s another song titled ‘Ana Wahdi Ana Wahdi’, and songs related to agriculture, such as ‘Mahjil Laylakum Laylakum Al-Seel Jana Wajakum’.

Continuing the discussion, in Al Hujariya region of Taiz city, the ‘Zubayriya’ is one of the most well-known folkloric forms. Among the famous songs in Hujariya is the processional song ‘Rushu ‘Utoor Al-Kadhia’. In Haraz region, there’s a different flavor of songs, including those sung by Ahmed Al-Sunaidar and Ali Al-Ansi.

Challenges and Recommendations

Amin Razzaz states that Yemen’s heritage faces challenges, such as the theft of melodies and songs by some foreign countries. There are also misguided attempts to modernize old songs, affecting their original melodies and rhythms. It is essential for everyone to preserve the flavor of the melodies and maintain their authenticity.”

From his perspective, artist Abdul Basit Al-Harithi states: “Yemeni heritage songs in both rural areas and cities face significant challenges. These challenges include the government’s lack of attention to their preservation and development. To address this, we should document them scientifically as musical works. These songs should be treated as national treasures and protected from extinction and theft, which some Arab artists have attempted by claiming them as their own.”

Al-Harithi believes that many Yemeni songs have been subject to distortion and theft by other artists. Therefore, he recommends serious efforts to protect and promote Yemeni heritage songs. This can be achieved by recording them both audibly and visually, sharing them widely through artistic channels and social media, and giving them the recognition they deserve. By doing so, we can prevent their disappearance and safeguard them from exploitation and theft.

Al-Maghlis also points out that Yemen’s musical heritage suffers from neglect by both the state and relevant authorities. Sometimes even society views it as mere memories or a past that will fade away. It is crucial to preserve this rich and significant cultural treasure by documenting and organizing events and festivals dedicated to heritage songs within Yemen and beyond, ensuring proper promotion. Responsible institutions should take charge of caring for this valuable cultural heritage, whether in urban centers or rural areas.

On the other hand, artist Sharaf Al-Qa’idi offers a different perspective. He says, “Yemen is going through extremely challenging times due to conflicts, and undoubtedly, this will negatively impact the arts in general. People’s priority in such harsh conditions is to seek livelihoods and secure their daily needs. They may overlook the importance of cultural heritage, which is an integral part of their identity.”

He adds, “We must recognize that Yemeni heritage is unique and distinctive. It possesses a specificity unlike any other heritage worldwide. It stands out with its diverse lyrics, melodies, and rhythms, carrying deep historical roots. Safeguarding this exceptional cultural heritage is a civilizational and humanitarian task, reflecting our identity, history, and culture.”

The artist Al-Zuhairy says: “Yemeni heritage faces serious challenges as a result of conflicts that threaten its extinction. Therefore, Yemeni heritage songs should be documented and renewed in order to preserve this important cultural heritage by the country, local and international organizations, and the community. They should also be disseminated in the media, such as radio and television, to enhance communication and introduce the culture of the Yemeni countryside and its musical heritage to future generations.”

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