Emerging Features of Yemeni "pop"

A young generation looking for a different space to sing
Gamal Hasan
September 16, 2021

Emerging Features of Yemeni "pop"

A young generation looking for a different space to sing
Gamal Hasan
September 16, 2021

Pop music was born in the United States in the early fifties of the twentieth century, and its style was shaped to accommodate multiple musical trends in an endless manner. At a time when pop was introduced with the advent of the seventies in America and the world, as a modern trend - its features began to appear, critically, in Egypt at the end of that decade.

While Arab pop was at its peak, during the eighties and nineties, Yemen remained captivated by tradition, whether in the rhythm of life or singing. And the Adeni renewal of the current was limited to the traditional Egyptian form, despite the emergence of attempts here and there, but they did not continue. In the Gulf region, unlike Yemen, the Gulf people found in the rich Yemeni singing heritage an important reference, as they were able to precede Yemen in this field by stages, which can be attributed to their financial resources which had a significant role in the development of the singing industry there.

Regardless of the exceptional circumstances of the conflicting Yemen, there are young voices suggesting a Yemeni pop style, the features of which are not completely clear. Pop is betting on the multiplicity of musical trends, but it still lacks a clear format, as it depends entirely on individual efforts, and in the absence of music, a more effective vision will not mature.

However, we can catch some of the features that are still taking shape as the concept of Yemeni pop. I mean the concept of pop as a process of merging and expanding on more than one musical style, on this one hand. On the other hand, adapting Yemeni elements according to modern content.

In this context, the young Yemeni artist, Hani Al-Shaibani, re-presented two Yemeni songs: "Aiwa Ala Einak" by Abu Bakr Salem, and "Yamah", but with a new vision that corresponds to his direction. He released the video on his YouTube channel, on July 1 in celebration of the Yemeni Song Day, and he explained in a short comment that the new style he tried to present confirms that Yemeni art can address all tastes of the world. It is an affirmation that these new trends aim to address the world.

Al-Shaibani brings back Al-Mihdar's tune "Aywa Ala Einak" with a mixture of Afro-American music, using the rhythm of rap. Thus, he re-weaves the original scales of the melody, with a slow tempo, to fit the elements of African American music, while creating a space for the original Yemeni features. In fact, heh succeeded in what he wanted to convey from a new musical discourse, by integrating multiple musical forms. While in the song "Yama", the Israeli pop style copied the Yemeni heritage, which is presented by Jews of Yemeni roots, and is certainly less innovative.

In another song by Al-Shaibani, "The Four Seasons Love" authorized by him, he employs Spanish flamenco, in the style of the Andalusian gypsies. Perhaps this trend is no longer a fashion, but for Yemeni singing it is new.

On the other hand, the song "Habash Hayat" by Ibrahim Fadl takes us to a romantic direction that the Yemeni song rarely interacted with. Fadl employs his melody on the Nahawand maqam, with a delicate romantic character, announced by a short entrance to the melody performed by a tonal whistling, in a transmitted manner, followed by classical guitar playing, while there is space for the integration of different musical forms, using a four-way Sana’i rhythm that is fast, through a dubbed voice, with a slow tempo. To break the monotony, he introduces the vocals into the syntax, an electric guitar with the sharpness of a rocker, and soft, flowing vocals dominated by resolution. It is clear that there is a desire to apply the concepts of pop on the widest scale, even if it is limited by capabilities, and there is a desire to expand on more than one musical form.

When talking about Yemeni singing, there is an important issue, which is the multiplicity of colors and dialects, despite the presence of a white accent, but it has not yet been generalized. This - although not an obstacle - surrounds us with the specificity of the plurality that can contribute to the derivation of new forms on which the content of a diverse Yemeni pop is based. The previous song was written by the lyric poet Ahmed Sharaf Al-Matari, who is the same author of Salem Fadaq's song "Walk Your Path". In the style of pop, Fadaq employs with his melody and singing an American musical genre, country, which the guitar explicitly announces from the first moment.

The melody does not continue in this fashion, as the singing moves to a purely traditional Hadrami style, using Yemeni maqam scales, while retaining some features of country in the guitar beat.

And if the previous forms are completely identifiable with the pop style, Omar Yassin presents himself in a direction more connected with oriental music. Yassin has what qualifies him to perform this type with his unexaggerated control over the Arabs or the ornaments, which is a clear trend in the song “My love exaggerating in estrangement” with features that evoke the styles of the Arabian Peninsula. But the musical phrases on the strings refer us to the Egyptian songs of the 1960s. A Mursal string entrance moves to a melody, dominated by strings, paving a percussive bridge over a pipe, while singing brings us to a Yemeni style tinged with a Gulf character.

Is it a pop song? On the eastern level, pop contained many oriental styles, but it also required a variety of forms that could be presented. The matter differs in Ahmed Seif's melody "Shakib Beket". The melody consists of two parts; A coupé and a gilt, and a guitar input followed by an Egyptian keyboard sound on the maqam of the Kurds, which is the maqam in which the singing of the coupe begins, which ends with a very short musical bridge dubbed on the maqam of the bayat, which is the maqam of the madhhab. The musical interlude moves to a dubbed musical sound in the manner of Egyptian folk melodies, at the same level. However, there are remarkable Yemeni features that are addressed by the singing of the madhhab, accompanied by the Sana’a quartet rhythm, with the emergence of the brass plate beats.

This generation openly declares that it is trying to communicate with the modern song form, and perhaps the Internet platforms will be of help to them, so that they can publish their content on it to the public. Contrary to what a generation that emerged in the late eighties and early nineties suffered, it did not find an incubator to absorb its ideas and ambitions and motivate it to publish its contents, as there was no music industry or property rights. Singing remained limited to individual interpretations, although this still dominates the scene.

It seems that it is the starting point, even though young people have taken it upon themselves to announce bold trends, despite the fact that they collide with a complex reality. The musical forms available do not match the possibilities at the center of the Arab music industry in Cairo. Also, the presence achieved by this generation does not support them to produce their work there on an ongoing basis, except in limited cases. It is clear that Omar Yassin produced his work in a studio in Cairo, and it is evident from the presence of strings and their performance in the dress of an oriental orchestra. We can say that the gap between the level of singing in the Arab world and its condition in Yemen still exists.

And despite our different perceptions of Yemeni singing, this generation needs support, encouragement, and sometimes guidance. Perhaps having a music industry accommodating these different voices, capable of forming a vision alongside the available talent, and re-exploring it, will help revitalize modern Yemeni singing that can attend to a broader audience. This requires employing traditional, classic and modern features, as well as creating a space for experimenting with new and innovative musical concepts. And if we review the march of Arab pop, it is in part the transmission of modern musical forms, or which have become a fashion in the world, as well as the derivation of modern features of local forms.

Certainly, there is a wide segment that rejects these trends related to musical modernity, as they corrupt the authentic Yemeni singing. But standards should be changed, or ideas arising from a suppressed freedom trying to explode its energies in one way or another through singing should be accepted.

In an upcoming article, I will try to talk about Yemeni experiences that approached or accompanied the stumbled Pop Era.

Gamal Hasan

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