There is a fullness to South Yemeni music that translates poverty and richness as equal. For instance, if you were born in one of those societies you could never tell if you are missing anything until you see the other side, so every style feels full and complete just the way it is.
Each style has its own uniqueness but in the Yemeni one the feel of the beat is very different than in other Arabic styles. It has an emphasised layback, the drums are sometimes played on metal plates or other copper objects and the Oud almost escorts the drum section. The focus is around rhythm and much less about solos or virtuosic vocals.
For me I get the biggest impact from very simple Yemeni compositions, specifically ones from back in the 60s and 70s. They usually have poor quality recordings that have little information about the music or there aren’t any credits, so you don’t really know who they are. For that reason, I can’t point out a particular track that has had an impact on my music but those recording stimulate my imagination which creates another layer of depth and mystery.
Alongside a mix of Southern Yemeni music, from the streets to the royalty, I’ve picked some videos of musical traditions and instruments, as well as songs from some of the country’s most prominent musicians.
Singing and drumming on a metal plate in the Yemeni tradition is one of the unique marks for this culture, both in Islam and Judaism. Sometime it’s a result of a lack of resources, other times it could be a custom you carry with you for hundreds of years. The charm is hidden in its simplicity.
A handmade DIY Oud is the typical Yemeni groove you can constantly hear coming from drums in big ensembles. The instrument is made out of wood timber, an aluminium body and the strings are metal. It creates beautiful tunes and nothing is missing.
Yemeni MCs and march musicians
Yemeni MCs and march musicians play outdoors, usually for celebrations, so more drums escorted by the ‘Mazmar’, which imitates the singing (or the opposite). But the special thing is the improvisation in the lyrics, the tunes are usually quite known and if you listen carefully in this video you can hear a very popular song ‘Chatar Ghusn alQana’ but in their own unique way.
Mohammed Salem Bin Shamekh
Mohammed Salem Bin Shamekh (born in the 1930s) is a Yemenite singer and Oud player from Hadhramaut. A son of second generation musician, his father (Salem bin Shamikh) was a known folk singer of the Shabwani style. Since the early 1970s he has been living in Aden where he became a professional singer for the Ministry of Culture of the then People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen performing with large ensembles in countries nearby.
It’s hard to pick a favourite Yemeni musician but I can defiantly say that Faisal Alawi is one of the artists I’m most inspired by. There is freedom in his music – he is a story teller. The beat is rich and tense but yet quite spacey at the same time.
Nicknamed ‘the king of Oud’, he is one of the most prominent artists in Yemen; the most present audience, heritage and diversity, after his songs reached most Arab countries and the Arab Gulf, especially after he moved between Yemen and more than one Arab and Gulf country, where he revived many concerts and artistic evenings in front of his large artistic audience over there. He tweeted the Haji song to the limits of heaven.
Amal Kaadl is a Yemeni artist from the city of Aden, and she was born in the Sheikh Othman area of Aden. She is one of the beautiful voices in the Aden Chanting Ensemble. The composer, artist Ahmed bin Ghodel, presented her with many melodies that jumped Amal Kadel to the front row among the singers of Yemen in that period, and the artist Amal Kaadl participated in many Arab and international music forums and orchestras.
El Khat’s new LP, Albat Alwai Op.99, is out now on Glitterbeat Records.