Badavi Zubayr, who sings and plays the ud, represents the urban tradition of the Hadramawt Valley (Yemen). Badavi composes his own melodies as much as he draws inspiration from the rich traditions of the Valley. He is influenced both by the old town’s culture as well as by the surrounding desert that his family comes from. Badavi is especially influenced by the tribal and Beduin tradition of Hadramawt. The tribesmen of the side valleys, like Dawcan, perform the dahifa, where two people dance in a circle, accompanied by mizmar, a double-reed clarinet or qasaba, a straight flute. The Beduin perform the miraikuz dance with hand-clapping and wooden castanets called maraqis.
Zubayr lives in the historical town of Shibam founded during the 9th century. It is also known as the “Manhattan of the desert”. The architecture of this town symbolizes the mixture between the pre-Islamic and Islamic cultures of Yemen
Mina Rad, a Paris-based journalist traveled all the way to Yemen to interview Zubayr. This is an account of her experience: “At the old port of Shibam, we asked a taxi driver about Badavi who proudly brought us to his beautiful house with two floors. There we found Badavi and his musicians. Badavi, a fifty year old man, with a brown face and a deep look, was surprised by the arrival of a journalist who came all the way from the West to find him, welcomed us very warmly. It was the afternoon, the time that the people of the desert get together to chew the qat (the special herb that has a relaxing effect). We were lucky, because Badavi was rehearsing with his musicians. He welcomed us in his big guesthouse, called in Yemenite Mafradj. A beautiful hall was surrounded by the small traditional wooden windows made by the hands of the artist himself. In such a warm atmosphere, Badavi and his group performed an unforgettable concert for us. Accompanied by a rhythmic sound of the waterpipe, while the musicians were chewing their qat, we discovered Badavi. Through his peaceful sound of ud and his deep voice, we entered to the magic world of the desert.”
Ahmed Yaslam Khames Zubier, whose nickname is Badavi, which means the son of the desert, is one of the most popular singers in the valley of Hadramawt, in the South of Yemen. In his hometown, Shibam, with 4 inhabitants, he is considered as the king of the wedding ceremonies.
He was brought up in a family of musicians and carpenters. Since his childhood, he learned the family’s crafts and music from his father. The first instrument that he played was a mizmar (a kind of clarinet). Inspired by his sensibility for poetry, he started to compose poems. “I wanted so much to sing and play music, that is why I gave up the mizmar and learned ud”, with enthusiasm he explained “My life is summed up in my poetry and my music. I let my poetry be rhymed by the sound of my ud”.
At the age of twenty he formed his own group and made his first recording on cassette in 1973, when he was 23. His cassettes became very popular in the region. Since then he has produced dozens of them. Every driver in the desert, has one in his car. As said one of the drivers of a trolley, “the long roads of the desert become more joyful thanks to the melodies of the son of the desert.” The people of Hadramawt like not only his music but also his poetry that describes the everyday life of the Beduins, love and the feeling of being away from hometown.
Badavi is not only a musician but he also makes his own instruments. The originality of his music is based on the mixture between the happy melodies of the coast and the nostalgic ones of the desert. Even though the musical tendencies of the region are to modernize the music with western instruments, he remains faithful to the old tradition of Hadramawt. That’s why the Hadramawt people who emigrated to the Arabic gulf countries, very often invite him to the Gulf countries to sing for them at their weddings and bring them the melodies of the hometown.
Hassan al-Ajami is one of the last players of qanbus, a small lute with 4 strings. He represents the elegant tradition of Sana. He is the third generation of the qanbus player and singer. His peaceful melodies relate the sound of his ancestors from Iran to Yemen.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.