Similarity between Seven Pioneering Women's Experiences in Yemeni Singing

In the early confrontations of society's violence against women's singing
Mohammed Alshaibani
July 23, 2022

Similarity between Seven Pioneering Women's Experiences in Yemeni Singing

In the early confrontations of society's violence against women's singing
Mohammed Alshaibani
July 23, 2022

Many of the conditions of disability for number of Yemeni female singers were similar in their early stage endeavors and attempts to present themselves to the audience as singing voices. Had it not been for their strong determination on continuing the difficult and rugged artistic journey their lyrical legacy would not have survived.

The shameful and the taboo were two aspects of cultural origins that hindered many of them either by the family or the society to which these female singers belong. However, many of them went through a solid confrontation, in both parts of the country; north and the south, despite the wall of isolation, conservatism, and prohibition that surrounded them. They faced the social traditions, either completely alone, so they paid the price for it from families and relatives, or in some cases they received limited support from the parents, who, in turn, were subjected to the boycott from their family relatives. However, these fathers provided a lot of protection for their talented daughters, for their strong belief in the role of art in “humanizing” the rough natures in their preservative communities.

This article provides some overview of written experiences and biographies of Yemeni female singers during fifty years in the north and south of Yemen, elaborated in the book of the researcher Yahya Qassem Sahel, recently published by Dar Al-Sadiq in Sana’a, and bearing the same title: “Women’s Lyrical Voices in Yemen 1950-2000”. The significance of this precious book lies in its documentary nature and was published at this defining moment in the history of Yemen and the Yemenis as an eloquent response to the erosion of cultural and civilizational identity, practiced by religious sects, the tradition and social restrictions especially in semi urban areas and villages.

The personal experiences and stories narrated by those female artists in press interviews, or that were reported by researchers and writers about them, deserve to be studied, as an aspect of women’s resistance to the state of isolation and domination that has been imposed on them in a conservative society. Yemeni women have been suffering degrades and detracts from their initiatives in the transformation process, because they According to the masculine reasoning supported by a fanatical jurisprudential rule, “deficient in reason and religion.”

The suffering of the female popular singer "Nabat Ahmed" began with her insistence on singing while she was accompanying her sister, the singer, "Rawdha Ahmed", and despite her conviction that her voice was normal and unattractive, the singer "Mohamed Al-Awami" stood by her and supported the recording of a song for her and two songs for her sister, and she said about it:

     "I was an unbelievable fond of singing, even though my voice was not beautiful, and I did not think that I would be a famous singer. My thinking was limited to how to sing only, and the beginning was with Sister Rawdha, who at that time was known for her sweet and beautiful voice. I used to accompany her to concerts and I always insist on singing. At one of the wedding parties, my sister started to sing, so I said to Al-Awami and others pioneer artists that I want to record a song of my own but they advised me to forget about this idea by saying to me: “You are not good fit for art, because your voice is inappropriate.” Thanks to artist, Mohammad Al-Awami, who adopted me, gave me a song, lyrics and melodies, and then they allowed me to sing one song and sister Rawdha two songs, when I was twelve years old. [p. 83].

When their father and family members learned that they had become singers, the two sisters have been locked in the house for three days, and in the face of their insistence on continuing their chosen path, the father relented, but lost his brother forever in the boycott for his consent.

At the age of fifteen, Nabat married to the artist "Ahmed Saleh Al-Abrashi", who wanted to monopolize her by writing and composing songs, and during her stay with him in Saudi Arabia where the husband used to lock her in the apartment when her leaves the house because of his jealousy for her. As a result, she finds no entertainment in front of her other than the hum of her husband's oud, and when he returns home and sees her holding the lute playing and singing songs by well-known artists, such as Al-Ansi, Al-Simah and Al-Sunaidar, he begins to teach her to play. He used to tell her that he would teach her how to play well, so that no one else would play for her, even after his death. According to what she told journalist Saleh Al-Hamidi, in an interview published by Al-Jumhuriya Al-Thaqafiya in 1998.

Two years after the death of her husband in a traffic accident, she returned to singing, this time with a women's musical group that she called "Al Muwjawibat"; One plays the percussion and the second the tambourine. They go to the provinces to celebrate wedding parties and record songs for radio and television, before she remarries in Tihama from a son of tribal Sheikh and stops singing at the request of her husband, who only allowed her to revive women’s parties, without appearing in the public nor on television or on radio. But after eighteen years of prohibition, she returns again in a new challenge station, but she will see herself as a stranger in the crowd of new singers, and a different audience than the one who used to call her, while she sings on stage with “sugar, a type of solid sugar, which was often eaten with Qat at the time. 

Abdul Qadir Basudan stood firmly by the choice of his young daughter, Rajaa, and her artistic talent, in the face of the family in Hadramawt and Aden, who saw their daughter's professionalism as a blatant departure from social traditions.

  The singer "Raja' Basudan", who was able with her distinguished voice to end the feud between the fans of Aden divided between the singer Ahmed bin Ahmed Qassem and the artist Mohammad Murshid Naji in the sixties of the last century. As a result, the audience of Al-Murshidi went to the Al-Badri Theater and the Municipal Stadium in Crater to listen to the singer Raja Basudan in concerts that would be organized for star singer Ahmed Qassem.

 On the other hand, Ahmed Qassem's fans go to concerts that Raja performs with Al-Murshidi and Sheikh Othman's artists in the city's theaters and cinemas. However, this singer has suffered a lot at the beginning of her artistic career, which she started with the nice trio team formed by the artist Ahmed Qassem in the early sixties: from three young girls; Raja and Sabah Mansour and Umm Al-Khair Ajami. Raja was subjected to family pressure to quit singing, and if her father had not stood with her, her voice would have been crippled in his cradle, and he did not feel all that joy and still does.

 Abdul Qadir Khader said that the father of the singer, Rajaa, is the cheerful, courageous and stubborn character (Abdul Qader Basudan), who stood firmly by the choice of his young daughter and her artistic talent in the face of the family in Hadhramaut and Aden, who saw their daughter's professionalism in singing as a blatant relinquish from social traditions and norms.

  Only five years is the artistic experience of singer "Nabiha Azim", but it was enough to register her name as the first artist in the Arab peninsula and the Gulf, ascending to the stage and singing in front of the audience, and making a city like Aden stay up to hear her voice on the radio. But the price was high, as her presence entailed a division in the city’s society, starting with criticism of her bare-faced appearance in the Legislative Council in 1957, and ending with her singing on stage in front of the audience. In 1962, an Aden newspaper published a small news that the beloved artist retired from singing after her marriage and moved to live with her husband in the city of Djibouti.

The singer "Mona Ali" has been approaching the Ministry of Culture for many years in order to obtain a position that protects her against the evil of need, in repeating her suffering as an artist at the beginning of her appearance. Her name has been associated with Yemeni weddings in Central Yemen fifty years ago, and talking about women's singers without mentioning her name has become an unacceptable transgression. Mona belongs to the old city of Ibb, but she has settled in the city of Taiz since the beginning of her artistic career; Her real name is Ghania, and she took up singing field despite the strong opposition of her family, and because of that, her relationship with family members was cut off, and about this dilemma she says:

     "I faced huge and very powerful resistance from my parents - my father, my mother and my uncle - who denounced this new event in my life. I used to say this is an art, they rejected it and did not accept it from me, and they beat me hard, and until now they do not know anything about me, and the reason is that I was a singer. My insistence pushed me to give up many things, including my family and the people closest to me.” [The book, p. 90].

The famous singer "Taqiah Al-Taweelia" also suffered greatly, while founding her personal glory as a popular singer known to many Yemenis since the mid-sixties. She is considered one of the first Yemeni female singers who defied societal traditions and took the path of art. She sang with some of the most famous artists in Yemen, led by: Ali Abdullah Al-Simah and Mohammad Hammoud Al-Harthi, who were the first to compose her songs. 

Taqiya Al Taweelah

Her singing career began in the form of singing in private women's gatherings, but her recorded artistic heritage and fame on the Yemeni art scene were in the seventies. I once read on a friend’s post in which he said: In a radio interview with her, she explained her suffering at the beginning of her artistic career, and she said: “My brother chased me to Al-Harthi’s house to prevent me from singing. One of the times my brother poisoned me so I stayed for four years in the hospital.” She described her enthusiasm for art, saying: “There was no camp left except that I visited it with the singer Ali Al-Ansi, where we encouraged the soldiers and chanted for them.”

The name and voice of the singer, "Kafa Iraqi", who born in the city of Aden in 1953, was associated with the performance of a group of popular songs, including the folk song "Soboha Khutbah Nassib" and the song of the artist Mohammed Saleh Azani, "Where did we meet and where I saw you?"

Attempting to present the challenging aspect of the march of some female Yemeni singers, which was presented in the book "Feminist Lyrical Voices in Yemen", we attempted to draw an image of resistance of art against life, which we desperately need at the present time.

She says about her artistic experience: "Despite the bitterness of the opposition that I faced by family members, who held a conservative view of women's participation in artistic and public activities, my parents' conviction and encouragement for me to continue the path I chose since childhood, gave me the blessing of hope that I can Continuing to perform my artistic mission." [The book, p. 163].

By examining the women’s lyrical map in the Hadhramaut region, we find that there are two outstanding female singers who played an important role in promoting the Hadrami folklore with women’s voices. These two artists are “Fatima Bahdela and Fatima Mansour Al-Shatri (Habbaniyah)”, but the strong suffering of Habbaniyah at the beginning of her artistic life encourages us to study her biography; Who mentioned that she is a popular singer known to the city of Mukalla during the seventies, and she fought the waves that came in the form of criminalization and prohibition, and says in this regard:

     "I was threatened by my family and relatives, and I was the first girl in Mukalla to take off the veil from her face, and then I met threats and insults that no human being can tolerate, but I endured all this and went on this path, because art was in my blood and it is impossible for me to suppress this inside me without presenting it." ', [pg. 203].

The attempt to shed light on the challenging aspect of the path of some Yemeni female singers, which was presented in the book "Women's Lyrical Voices in Yemen", through which we wanted to bring the image of resistance to art for life, which we desperately need at the present time.

 We also need to restore the spirit of the city that allowed such female voices to reach the ears, without the restrictions of shame and taboo, and we mean here the spirit of the city of Aden, which is also has been  recently subjected to a terrible erosion of its civic and cultural identity.

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