I was struck by the words of the late singer; Mohammad Murshid Naji when said: “Singing and poetry constitute an integrated unit as they constitute one concept, given that the Arabs in ancient times and up to the Umayyad period, used the title of poet to the singer, and the title of singer to the poet” (1). Therefore, it came to my mind, as I prepare for this article, that this textual quotation is a good introduction to approach the topic of the phenomenon of poetic singers in the history of contemporary Yemeni singing, along with composer poets. In this tracing, we have several models that are available to examine this phenomenon, which can become complete geographical representations and cultural peculiarities. In sum, it refers to the diversity and cultural richness that Yemen enjoys.
In the beginning, we will stop at the second part related to the composer poets, on the grounds that this phenomenon refers to the first and is integrated with it, and that well-known song poets practiced composition in an unprofessional and public manner. Technical difficulties, such as poor voice and enthusiasm, and, to a lesser extent, social and cultural obstacles related to shame and social status, prevented them from performing their texts sung with their voices.
Among them is the late poet Prince Ahmed Fadl Al-Abdali (Al-Qumandan), who learned [in his youth] to play the oud and excelled in playing Sana’a and local songs. It does not live and spread, so he mobilized himself from then on to work on collecting the ancient heritage to preserve and consolidate it. And from this great lyrical wealth, he began to formulate his sweet melodies that contained the fragrance of the old heritage and the dazzle of the new art, which was its pioneer and originator” (2).
Additionally, singers such as Mohammad Saad Abdullah, formed an exceptional case in the Yemeni music blog, with poetry, composition and singing in a variety of ways. He is almost the second of the two who performed his songs in all kinds of singing in the history of contemporary Yemeni music after the singer Mohammad Murshid Naji.
Hussein Abu Bakr Al-Mihdar, who formed an inspiring duet with the late singer Abu Bakr Salem Balfaqih, and made the new Hadrami color expand in the folds of the listening map inside and outside Yemen. In their voice representations on instruments commonly used in their daily subsistence, such as (plates and paper match boxes), and in their entirety, they constituted important keys for the artist to be composed musically by modern instruments with small interventions to serve the sung text.
Al-Mihdar is a poet and composer at the same time, and it is known that composition plays a role in shaping the poetry of the colloquial poets in Hadhramaut. (3).
The poet and composer Abdullah Hadi Sbeit was able to add a lot to the Qamandaniya experience, and the cultural renaissance of Lahij during the period of his friend, the enlightened Sultan Ali Abdul Karim Al Abdali in the fifties had its impact on enriching his poetic and melodic experience that emerged from its Lahiji horizon to its Yemeni space through Aden and its great singers.
Dozens of Lahjji songs that were created by words and melodies whose fame exceeded the geographical borders of Yemen, to reach the Arab audience, either via Yemeni or Arabic singers such as; Abdullah, Faisal Alawi, Iskandar Thabet, Ayoub Tarish, Talal Maddah Ahmed Fathi, Saudi Ahmed Saleh, and Ahmed Youssef Al-Zubaidi” (4).
The poet Lutfi Jaafar Aman had high musical interests, and he played the lute with great skill, and that many of his lyrical texts that found their way to the throats of great singers (Al-Murshidi and Qasim for example) he presented with them melodic suggestions, which he believes are the ability to represent the spirit of the texts , that he presented an almost complete melody for the small Fathia song (Its end is the end of our dear love), whose words he wrote, according to the assertion of his son Jihad.
The same applies to the poet Abdullah Abdel Wahab Noaman (Al-Fudoul), who is said to have used many of his songs performed by the artist Ayoub Tarish, and he was consciously interfering with some of the contexts of her melodic sentences, and it is said that he was humming and playing from time to time, according to the accounts of relatives and friends.
The cultural and social background from which the artist Abu Bakr Salem Balfaqih (1939-2017) came from contributed to his poetic formation, and "Abu Bakr's lyrical upbringing goes back to Tarim - Hadramout, where he grew up in a mystical religious environment. He belongs on the father's side to the Balfaqih family and on the mother's side to the Al-Kaf family, both of which are branches of the Ba’alawi family. In this environment, Abu Bakr imbibed poetry and spirituality and practiced religious songs and recitations in their presence and births” (5).
His subsequent settlement as a student in the city of Aden in the mid-fifties and his subsequent work as a teacher of the Arabic language in one of its schools at the height of the city’s cultural and commercial prosperity. Further, its reflection on the musical development, helped him a lot in writing many lyrical texts during his early artistic formation, accompanied by the professors of the Adani Musical Symposium and Al-Murshidi, which he presented for the first time in one of his concerts at Al-Badry Theater, and then at the Radio Concert.
In the early Adeni period, he wrote light texts that fit with the wave of popular composition and reception, such as the poem “O Roses, your beauty is among the roses/ O branch, how sweet your body is when you desire/ My heart is upon you and your soul is afflicted, my mind and your mind are bewildered.”
And the poem "You, my sweet, how beautiful your beauty / How sweet your eyes are dark eyes and brown lips / Oh how beautiful your pampering and how beautiful your body / Oh, how beautiful the red roses".
In the early Beirut period in the mid-sixties, he wrote, composed and sang many texts that brought him closer to the Arab listeners, including "From your amazing look, I tasted passion once/How often people say love is from the first look/But your nature is bad and your friendship once/This is what made me forget you at all." along with the poem "Twenty-Four Hours" and "Have Fun, My Heart".
In his first settlement in Saudi Arabia in the mid-seventies, he sang from his words and melodies the song "Oh, traveler to Taif via the path of Hada/ See my heart from yesterday with you is restless/ How calm and you are his identity/ And you are the most beautiful and most beautiful of those I have seen".
In his artistic career spanning sixty years, he wrote, composed and meant dozens of texts that did not leave the ears of listeners and lovers of his different art, including: The first time, the fire of longing.” The poem “My Mother of Yemen” remains one of his immortal songs.
Moreover, the singer, Mohammad Saad Abdullah, formed an exceptional case in the Yemeni music code, with poetry, composition and singing in a variety of ways, and he is almost the second of two who performed his songs in all kinds of singing in Yemen (Al-San’ani, Al-Lahji, Al-Hadrami, Al-Yafi’i, Al-Adani) after the artist Muhammad Murshid Naji. However, he distinguished himself from Al-Murshidi by the fact that he wrote the lyrics of many of his songs, which with time became a prominent title in the history of contemporary Yemeni music.
Furthermore, he succeeded in achieving a state of artistic/cultural/national/social/intellectual and creative (contact and uniqueness) with the various segments, groups and classes of the Yemeni people. He translated that poems and melodies infused with the highest and greatest of the vibrant and deep human feelings and feelings that he presented during his rich, full and renewed artistic career. Thus, he has made the lovers of his art the happiest among the listeners who are connoisseurs of high-end and authentic singing and rap, inside and outside the homeland” (6).
Among his popular songs that he wrote, composed and also performed are: “Oh beautiful, hand me your hand, and I will hand you my hand my ove, your life is lost, and you are alone, and my life is over while I live alone.” / Patience in your eyes..for the sake of your eyes / I wish my heart is open to you for a lifetime, and the song “Salvation of your senses, you flock to the soul.. Shepherd for me and for your sake / I am bored and my heart no longer have an empty place for you / Enough, go and find someone else sing to him your mawwals”, and the song “Just a word, even if it is a thought, or even say hi from a distance / Otherwise, send me a message, O Hajar, by the hands of the postman.
The artist poet Ali Abdullah Al-Sema is the most struggling model in building his lyrical and melodic experience that was based on his poems and the poems of other poets. If Abu Bakr Salem came from a cultural background that helped him highlight his voice and lyrical energies - Sufi chanting in the city of Tarim, in which he was born and raised - and that the city of Aden, at the height of its musical activity, opened its arms to Ibn Saad’s multiple talents, then a closed city like Sana’a, in which Ali al-Smah was born in the year 1935, and (he was killed) in the year 1984, it gave him nothing but misery and gloom. However, he entered into a great challenge with himself to make his name as a renovator artist. He began his life as a driver of goods transport vehicles like his father, but his self-taught, awareness and high political sense led him to be one of the renovators of the traditional song.
Among his well-known songs, of which he wrote the lyrics: “Separation with loved ones is a deadly poison/ And you’re a medicine that not found in pharmacies/ Here I have a lover with a miserly connection/ He left my tears on the cheek like floods,” and the song “You are my destiny and life and you are the light of the eye/ You are the world of passion, love and comfort/ That O Hajiri, you disappeared from my sight for two days/ I stayed on you and the eye was swimming in my tears,” and the song “Let me let me in passion complain of my torment. And the song "Let me let me in passion complain of my torment. Let me / in Al Hada my longing increased, and woe to the one who tasted parting."
In addition to these, the names of well-known singers who wrote, composed and sang their written texts are present, such as the artist Ali bin Ali Al-Ansi, who some translations, including the Encyclopedia of Yemeni Singing Poetry, indicate that he composed a group of lyrical texts, including his masterpiece “Layl Al-Layl Ya Lail / Layl Keln Tarouh” Night and I'm in my place.
And the artist Iskandar Thabet, to whom many of the texts he composed and sang, are attributed to him, including the lyrics of the song “O ascenders of the mountain of patience” convey my greetings / to the beloved who, when he passes, how beautiful his eyes and body shape / and call to him and see, perhaps he will have some words for me” (*).
(1) Mohammad Murshid Naji, The Ancient Yemeni Singing and its Famous, Dar Al-Hamdani Aden - 1983, p. 16.
(2) From the testimony of the poet Abd al-Hamid Abd al-Karim, which he presented to the first Al-Qumandan Festival in November 1988, entitled “Al-Qamandan: Qabas from his memory” - Publications of the Yemeni Writers Union 1989, pg. 46.
(3) Al-Mihdar Poetry, Anthem and Art, Dr. Abdullah Hussein Al-Bar, Books of the Ministry of Culture, Mukalla, 2011, p. 140.
(4) Mohammad Sultan Al-Yousifi, Abdullah Hadi Sbeit, the artist’s tenderness and the poet’s genius, Peace Horizons news December 13, 2019.
(5) Jamal Hassan, the suit and the headband, the singing career of the artist Abu Bakr Salem, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, February 22, 2019.
(6) Issam Khulaidi, 20 years after the death of the great artist Mohammed Saad Abdullah, Aden Al-Ghad, April 16, 2022.
(*) Poetic texts from (Encyclopedia of Yemeni Singing Poetry in the Twentieth Century), first edition 2005, Moral Guidance Department