Home Previous Issues Music Heritage in Yemen Yemeni Women: An Ongoing Struggle to Revive the Singing Heritage

Yemeni Women: An Ongoing Struggle to Revive the Singing Heritage

Sawt Al-Amal (Voice of Hope) – Yasmine Abdulhafeez

Many young women in the governorate of Hodeidah are keen to have one of the city’s folk singers perform at their wedding, because it encourages many relatives and friends to attend, as they prefer to have a female folk singer to host the event.

The women stressed the importance of inviting a female artist to any occasion to add a touch of joy and happiness to traditional folk songs, especially since many Yemeni folk singers are keen to present the various Yemeni musical styles that women prefer, enjoy listening to, and dance to, which is a widespread social custom throughout the country.

Women’s Role in Traditional Music

In February 2023, a female musical band was founded in the southern city of Aden. It consists of ten young women who play various musical instruments and is the first of its kind in Yemen. It aims to revive Yemen’s musical heritage, and this step proves that Yemeni women are making great efforts to preserve the musical heritage, ensure its continuity, and protect it from extinction, as it is a cultural legacy that must be taken care of.

This band comes at a time when many Yemeni female voices have disappeared from the art scene due to the chaos of the conflict. Many of those who welcomed the idea of the female band on social media expressed their satisfaction with this step, which they considered an extension of the establishment of similar female bands in other Yemeni governorates, which are rich in ancient musical art.

Many female names have emerged in the field of musical heritage in Yemen since ancient times, presenting various musical styles from different Yemeni regions, such as Sana’ani, Adeni, Taizi, and Hadhrami. Their songs have remained in the minds of Yemenis throughout the years.

Young female voices have also emerged, continuing the legacy of the old female voices and greatly contributing to the revival of the musical heritage on the local and Arab levels. Some of them have appeared in the media and on social media platforms, while others have preferred not to appear and have limited themselves to performing at women-only events and parties. All of them have contributed to the survival, continuity, and preservation of folk singing.

Prominent Female Figures in Yemeni Heritage Singing

In every Yemeni city, there are female folk singers whose singing is not limited to the musical style specific to their region. Rather, they perform all the musical styles that all Yemenis share in listening to and singing. For example, a female folk singer in Tihama sings Sana’ani songs, and a Sana’ani singer performs the Adeni musical style at concerts. All female singers do the same in the various Yemeni regions.

The “Female Singing Voices in Yemen 1950 – 2000” book discusses the most prominent Yemeni female singers in all Yemeni governorates. It is one of the works of the writer Yahya Qasim Sahl, and it talks about the lives of female singers in Yemen and classifies female voices according to specific periods.

The book considers the artists Nabat Ahmad, Kalthum Haid, Fathiya Al-Saghira, Nabiha Azim, Raja Basudan, Sabah Munassar, Bahja Numan, Taqiya Al-Tawiliya, Muna Ali, Maysa Ahmad, Nija Ahmad, Faiza Abdallah, and Rawda Ahmad to be the first-generation female singers in Yemen.

According to the author Yahya Qasim Sahl, the second-generation female singers are Lula Husain, Amal Ku’dol, Kafa Iraqi, Jamila Mar’i, the artist Arwa, Nawal Muhammad Husain, Muna Hamshari, Magda Nabih, Iman Ibrahim, and Wafa Saeed Ahmad.

In his book, the author also discusses the lives of many female singers, including Nabiha Azim, who is considered the first female singing voice in Yemen. She began her artistic career by singing on stage in the city of Aden, where she was born.

According to the book, Nabiha Azim’s singing career paved the way for many Yemeni female singers in Aden governorate, as well as other Yemeni cities. She broke the chains of customs and traditions and entered the singing field at a time when society condemned women’s presence in the field of singing.

Among her most famous songs are “Yalli Gharamak Zad” and “Ana Untha Arabiya”, in addition to the song “Ya Sahir Ya Hajri” and “Ana Khaifa”. She also sang for many Yemeni singers, such as the great artist Abu Bakr Salim, Muhammad Murshid Naji, and the Adeni musician Yahya Muhammad Makki.

The artist Raja Basudan is one of the singers whose career was discussed in the book “Female Singing Voices in Yemen”, which indicated that she is a Yemeni singer who entered the field of singing at a young age. She comes from a conservative Hadhrami family, but her father is a cultural figure who helped her pursue singing after discovering her talent and empowering her.

According to the book, she began her singing career through a trio formed by the late artist Ahmed Qasim, consisting of Raja Basudan, artist Sabah Munassar, and Um Al-Khair. Her participation with great singers in her time was an opportunity to discover her talent in singing, as she sang for many writers, composers, and poets.

The book also discusses the story of the artist Taqiya Al-Tawiliya, who is one of the folk singers in the city of Sana’a, and one of the most important artists who contributed to the revival of the singing heritage in Yemen. She presented many folk songs, including: “Salam Ya Habayib Diratina”, the song “Mabish Naseeb”, and the famous song “Ya Tayr”.

The artist Taqiya Al-Tawiliya began her singing career through various women’s gatherings, then she started singing with the participation of many famous Yemeni artists, such as Ahmad Al-Sunidar, the artist Ali bin Ali Al-Ansi, and the artist Ahmad Fathi, in addition to other poets and composers.

Impact of Old Songs by Female Voices on Society

Taha Al-Rajawi, Head of the Yemeni Artists and Writers Forum, says: “Old songs by female voices play an important role in preserving national identity and strengthening the feeling of national belonging. Old songs are also used to celebrate social occasions, such as weddings and religious occasions, which gives them an atmosphere of joy and celebration.”

Al-Rajawi adds in an interview with Voice of Hope newspaper: “Old songs contribute to strengthening social communication between members of society, exchanging feelings and ideas, and inspiring new generations and encouraging them to hold on to their cultural heritage.”

He pointed out that women have played an important role in preserving the Yemeni singing heritage and passing it on through generations, starting with their “humming” at the heads of children and while performing their daily tasks at home, and ending with their participation in social and family occasions. Thus, the Yemeni song became inherited across generations through mothers.

He explained that despite women’s great contribution to the Yemeni singing heritage, they still face challenges in participating in its revival due to social customs and traditions, in addition to the difficulties of lack of support and promotion opportunities.

For his part, the artist Sami Ghalib says: “There is a type of old folk literature in Yemen called ‘Al-Ghanawi’, and its singular is ‘Ghanawia’. This type is almost specific to women, unlike ‘songs’, which are specialized for men.”

He explained that in ‘Ghanawi’, women sing in agricultural fields, on the outskirts of mountains, in wedding ceremonies, mourning councils, or even in crises, so women express through ‘Al-Ghunuwia’ what they feel of love, hatred, or sorrow. Unfortunately, it is often passed on by tongues, and this type goes the way of proverbs as poetry by an unknown speaker that is not recorded in a book, but it is immortalized on tongues, and in reality, it comes from a female voice, and this loss is due to the weakness of recording and documentation in Yemen since ancient times.

He adds: “Women have helped revive the singing heritage in Yemen for many years. They have been and still are reviving this heritage by performing traditional songs and poems in agricultural fields, wedding ceremonies, and national celebrations.”

Challenges and Difficulties

In a previous statement, the Yemeni artist Arwa indicated that many Yemeni singers left Yemen and were forced to change their nationalities and that others deny that they are of Yemeni origin because they did not find care and encouragement in their country, and found it in other countries. She stressed that she found support from countries other than her country, Yemen, which summarizes the situation of Yemeni artists inside the country, who need to be taken care of and provided with the necessary support to continue their singing careers.

The evidence for this is that many Yemeni singers who left Yemen and settled in other countries have achieved tangible successes, have been able to make an artistic name for themselves, and have formed a popular base; Through their participation in many Arab and international festivals and celebrations.

A young artist (who requested not to be named): “The singer in Yemen faces many challenges, starting from the family, reaching the community, and even the relevant authorities; As she and the singers and artists, in general, are not given the necessary care and attention, they face many difficulties; Some of them can overcome them, and some of them give up and stop continuing their artistic journey.”

She adds: “Society views me as bold because many people hear my voice, and I mix with men, and I travel from place to place, and I return from the evenings that I host late at night, and I have faced many harassments, in addition to the problems that I am exposed to during my work; As a girl.”

The matter is different for the singer “Ammun Baakim”, who is one of the popular artists in Hadhramaut governorate; She says: “I faced support and encouragement from the community, and I did not find any challenges or problems during my singing career.”

She adds: “My family gave me support and encouragement, and I did not face any obstacles during my singing career, as well as every artist who knew me encouraged me, and I benefited a lot from artists, such as the artist “Qamar Saeed Baharish”, and I formed a band that I named after this singer from whom I learned a lot. “

In a previous interview with Voice of Hope newspaper, the popular singer “Muhammad Shagun” said: “The challenges facing Yemeni women working to spread the singing heritage in Yemen are many, due to the wrong view of society towards art; due to the lack of awareness of the importance of this distinctive cultural heritage.”

He added, saying: “Despite the development that many Arab societies have reached, and from which women have set out to achieve their ambitions, women in Yemen, especially singers, suffer from their families to society, as many forget the role of art in addressing many issues and its importance in preserving the country’s singing heritage.”

He believes that providing financial resources helps female singers obtain the necessary tools to practice any artistic activity. Stressing: “In addition to the availability of art institutes that aim to refine talents, in addition to spreading awareness of the importance of supporting women in intensifying their roles in spreading the singing heritage and encouraging them.”

The statement by artist Sami Ghalib underscores significant challenges facing women working in Yemeni singing. He highlights the absence of a supportive bloc or association that could formally showcase their talents and provide structure to the artistic field. Additionally, Ghalib points out the overall deficiency in artistic education and experience, which contributes to the proliferation of low-quality art and jeopardizes Yemeni’s rich cultural heritage.

He emphasized that art has become a significant economic driver, as evidenced by South Korea’s economic resurgence driven by its art and artists. Yemen possesses abundant artistic heritage that could similarly elevate its global standing in this realm. To capitalize on this potential, responsible authorities should establish colleges and institutes to support and expand the artistic field, ensuring that artists receive the necessary scientific and academic qualifications. This investment could foster the development of Yemeni artists and contribute to the country’s cultural and economic advancements.

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