Yahya Al-Shallal was one of the most famous young singers whose popularity shined in Al-Hudaydah Governorate and various Yemeni governorates in the seventies of the last century, as he excelled in many lyrical colors in terms of composition and rhythms and invented new ideas in Yemeni singing. His songs were characterized by touching on youth issues, and in the mid-seventies, the launch of television broadcasting was announced in Sanaa, and at that time he was hosted in the first artistic TV cultural program along with the great Yemeni poet late Abdullah Al-Bardouni. During that period, he recorded his famous song "Charleston" for the Yemen TV and presented dozens of songs and operettas on national occasions until the early eighties, when he decided to "quit singing."
Our guest is the famous artist and singer: Yahya Ahmed Abkar Al-Shalal Al-Aqili, known as "Yahya Al-Shallal", who is hosted by "Khuyut" in this short interview, and it is his first media appearance since he decided to keep a low profile 39 years ago.
Khuyut: You have grown up within an artistic family which is interested in art and culture, despite the harsh living conditions that surrounded the people of Al-Hudaydah at the time; Tell us more about that upbringing?
The singer: I was born in the bridegroom of Yemeni Tihama, the city of Al-Hudaydah in Al-Soor zone in 1953. This neighborhood is considered one of the oldest zones in the city of Al-Hudaydah, and it is the only area that had a wall and four doors like the old city of Sana’a, and most of its inhabitants were merchants, intellectuals, judges, senior officials and workers in government facilities.
Khuyut: How was your family's condition at that time?
The Singer: I would like to point out that my mother, Amna bint Yahya Abdullah Ibrahim Gilan (may God have mercy on her) family used to be residents of Al-Yaman Zone, and the family of my father, Ahmed Abkar Al-Shallal Al-Aqili (may God have mercy on him), are residents of Al-Sour Zone. When my father passed away, I was nine months old, and my brother, the writer and poet Abu Al-Qasab Ahmed Abkar Al-Shallal Al-Aqili (may God have mercy on him), was two years old; Our uncle, the late Judge Muharram, Abkar Al-Shallal Al-Aqili, took over our upbringing and supervised our education. He worked in the judiciary, and married two women; One of his wives is from Al-Hunud Zone in Hodieda, and her name is Halima, the daughter of the Sufi Clerk Hajj “Ahmed Faqir,” and the other wife is from Sana’a, whose name is “Taqiyya,” the granddaughter of “Imam Al-Mahdi.” I remember that I was studying at the “Al-Wae’i” school in the “Al-Mashre’a” neighborhood, and was registered among the orphan students. I used to receive three French riyals per month [the old currency of Maria Theresa], and the amount of three quarters of Kadah of “wheat,” a type of grain that was measured by “the Kadah.” and two suits a year: a shirt, a Ya;aq [a vest], and a kuffiyeh [a cap].
This monthly quota was cut off from me four years after the revolution [September 26].
Khuyut: What are the works and tasks that Mr. Yahya practiced before joining art?
The Singer: In 1970, I obtained the elementary classes certificate, and I went looking for a job (as a customs inspector) in the port of Hodeidah, which was built by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the era of Mohammad Al-Badr, the Crown Prince of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, and I was not able to obtain that hob, and through my dear friend Issa Ahmed Faqira, who was able to convince the Professor Mahmoud Ketri, Director General of the Economics Office in Hodeidah, to accept me in this post. Indeed, I was accepted and appointed as an assistant to the head of the commercial registry, which was headed by Professor Abdul Qadir Mua'ajam.
Yes, indeed, I was the first singer to be hosted on the Yemen television on the occasion of its inauguration in 1975, accompanied by the great Yemeni writer Abdullah Al-Bardouni, in the “Writer and Singer” program, which was presented by Mohammad Al-Mahbashi. I also recorded for the program and television the song “Charleston”, which talks about youth fashion at that time.
Khuyut: Tell us about your artistic beginning?
Singer: I remember that during President Ibrahim Mohammad al-Hamdi inauguration of the residential city that he built for workers in the city of Hodeidah, the ceremony was attended by the Egyptian singer Afaf Radi, her band and the dean of the College of Music Education. At that time, my friend Ahmed Fathi and I were the only two Al-Hudaydah singers, who participated in the activities of that concert, which was held in one of the squares of the workers' city. The Dean of the College of Music Education was impressed by Ahmed Fathi’s skill in playing the lute, despite his young age, and advised him to travel to Egypt and join the Higher Institute of Music. I remember at that time that Dr. Hassan Makki, when he was prime minister, came to the city of Hodeidah and the Education Office held a speech and artistic ceremony for him in the same school previously mentioned, and Ahmed Fathi and I were among the participants in holding that lyrical concert, and during the ceremony, Dr. Hassan Makki issued a decree to grant singer Ahmed Fathi, a free scholarship at the Institute of Music in Egypt, and I was given a financial grant of five hundred riyals. As the days passed and my friend Ahmed Fathi and my two friends, Yahya Ismail Mahmoud and Abdel-Wadoud Mahmoud, stayed with them, God bless their lives, as they were good at singing and playing the oud, then I learned to play the oud, and here it must be noted that the father of the famous translator Muhammad Ibrahim Suddam has a big sitting hall "Diwan" that we used to call it “the ferry” in which every official who comes from Sana’a to the city of Hodeidah used to spend the afternoon chewing Qat, and my friend Ahmed Fathi and I were always hosted to sing in that Diwan, and I remember that the Director General of Culture and Arts at the Ministry of Information, Mr. Abdul Samad Al-Qulaisi - operetta composer “Immortal Yemen” - came to the city of Hodeidah and was among the officials who attended the afternoon Qat sessions in that Diwan, and there I got to know him, and he urged me to travel to Sana’a and join the orchestra established by the Ministry of Information in 1973. Although I was comfortable in my job the economy office in Hodeidah, I ventured and decided to travel to Sana’a, which I have never visited before and I do not know anyone there. Despite that, I traveled to Sana’a and joined the band as a singer and artist with a large contractual salary of 45 riyals per year. In 1974 and 1975, where I still keep this contract until today, signed by the Deputy Minister of Information at the time, Professor Ahmed Al-Raa’ini (may God have mercy on him) and when I joined the band, I was good at singing and playing the lute that I memorized many traditional songs of the great ancient singers.
Khuyut: Tell us about the most prominent songs that were the beginning of your artistic career?
Singer: The Sana’ani song was the most prevailing and circulating at that time, in addition to singing the anthems and songs of the soldier, the farmer and the worker only, and the rest of the Yemeni lyrical colors are forgotten in the north. Therefore, with pride, I can say that I was the first singer from the north of the country to sing the Tahami color titled “Wonna Wonna”, and “God be upon you”, and “Wa Jon”, in which its words and melodies were created by me.
Khuyut: You sang the poems of some great Yemeni poets, who are the most prominent?
Singer: I dealt with the poet, Mr. Abdullah Hassan Ghadwa (may God have mercy on him), in a song for the fisherman. In addition, I sang for the great poet, Mr. Abbas al-Mutaa (may God have mercy on him), wrote to me the lyrics of the song “Ghanna al-Mughni”, which is the song in which the oboe was added, as the first singer to do that in the Arab Republic of Yemen, and granted the skilled oboe player Ali Sasa'a a full section “couplet” in it.
Khuyut: In the mid-seventies of the last century, Yemeni TV hosted you, on the occasion of its opening, tell us about your memories in the context of that interview?
Singer: I was indeed the first singer to be hosted on television on the occasion of its inauguration in 1975, accompanied by the great writer Abdullah Al-Bardouni (may God have mercy on him), in the “Writer and singer” program, which was presented by the great media personality Muhammad Al-Mahbashi, and I remember that I recorded for the program and television the song “Charleston”, which tells about The fashion of youth, and it was among the words of my brother, the poet Abu Al-Qasab Al-Shallal.
Khuyut: What are the most prominent artworks that have been a source of pride for you?
Singer: During the era of President Ibrahim Muhammad al-Hamdi (may God have mercy on him), I was chosen by the officials in charge of the Ministry of Information to sing in the Sudanese color to welcome Sudanese President Jaafar Muhammad al-Numeiri, entitled “September’s Land, O Glory of Ages,” the words of the poet Ali Hammoud Afif (may God have mercy on him), and tuned by the famous radio broadcaster Abdul Rahman Mutahar (may God have mercy on him), and the South Korean media mission filmed this song within the reportage about the achievements made during the era of President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, entitled “Yemen is building a new society”, and participated in all the festivals and media convoys that the Ministry of Information and Moral Guidance used to organize in many military and civilian sites. Moreover, I had participated in the national and official celebrations that the Ministry of Information held in the provinces and in the southern part of the country at the time.
Khuyut: Surely you have a lot of stories in your pocket during your artistic career? Tell us about the administrative and technical positions you occupied during that era?
Singer: In the seventies of the last century, I was appointed as an assistant conductor with singer Mohamed Ali Barakat band, and when he traveled to study in Egypt, I was appointed as the leader of the orchestra instead. When the Ministry of Information and Culture established the Conservatory, the ministry brought in music some teachers from South Korea, and my friend singer Ali Ahmed Al-Asadi was appointed as the director of the Music Institute, while I was appointed as Secretary of the Music Institute. Additionally, on February 28, 1978, I was appointed as Director of the Music Institute replacing my friend and former director artist Ali Al-Asadi, who traveled to Egypt to study music. On June 7, 1977, I was the cultural and artistic official of the Palestine Club in Sana’a, whose headquarters was located under Al-Ajami’s house, while the club’s director at that time was Abdel-Wahhab Al-Rumaim (may God grant him long life).
Khuyut: Tell us about the most prominent artistic contributions that you made outside Yemen?
Singer: I represented Yemen at the foundation conference of the Arab Music Academy, which was held in the city of Rabat in the Morocco in late 1977, which was attended by great artists from different Arab countries headed by the most skilled oud player in the Arab world, the great Iraqi musician Bashir Munir (may God have mercy on him). I was also, the first singer from the north of the country to sing in 1971, on the East Cinema theater in Al-Hudaydah, for Palestine, from the words of the Palestinian poet Hassan Radwan, and tuned by Abdullah Ali Al-Mashdali. In fact, I was able to visit many Arab countries in the East, the west of Arab world and some Western countries, to participate in the cultural weeks that Yemen was holding abroad, and I witnessed closely how in those countries they celebrate the humanity of their retired people.
Khuyut: To what extent did political affiliation have an impact on the artistic career of the singer Yahya Al-Shallal?
Singer: I was not affiliated with anyone or any political party, and my long services were performed with honesty, integrity and honor to best of my heart.
Khuyut: It has been said that the singer Yahya al-Shalal did not take full opportunity in artistic industry; What do you think that?
Singer: This is true, and the reasons are many that are almost known to many interested people in the Yemeni artistic industry. I retired from singing and art for good in 1982, and devoted myself to administrative work in the Ministry of Information, where I was appointed director of the secretariat of the Ministry of Information. Later in 1994, a decision was issued to appoint me as director of the Equipment and Maintenance Department in the Ministry of Information, then Deputy Director General of Financial Affairs for Equipment and Maintenance Affairs in the Ministry. In 2014, I was referred to retirement without receiving my job retirement dues and my long government service period was not appreciated.
Khuyut: How was your relationship with the press?
Singer: It was good relationship, and I was the first singer to write in many newspapers and magazines and had a weekly art column on the art page of Al-Thawra newspaper while it was edited by journalist Mustafa Al-Absi ] , and also during the time when it was edited permanently by journalist Riad Shamsan.
Khuyut: Are still in contact with your colleague artists and your singing friends?
Khuyut: What about your personal life?
Singer: I got married in Sana’a to Mrs. Nabila Nasser Muhammad Hassan Magneis, the twin of my soul and my life and the mother of my three children (Mohammad, Munir and Mazen), may God bless them all.
Khuyut: How satisfied are you with your family life?
Singer: Praise be to God, we live in a decent living conditions, and we try to create happiness in our lives. My family and I live in a rented house, and we share life with its ups and downs like the rest of Yemeni families at the present time.
Interviewed by: Ala'a Mohammed (A Journalist with a BA in Mass Communication - Sana’a University, a Director of many documentaries on tourism and Yemeni society issues, and worked as a reporter and editor for a number of Yemeni and Arab newspapers and news sites.)