Tag Archives: Yemen

Artist Profiles: Mohammed Al-Qa’atabi

Mohammed Obaid Al-Qa’atabi is one of the greatest Yemeni singers who made significant contributions to Yemeni art. Al-Qa’atabi is considered by many music historians as a pioneer of the Yemeni old traditional song (Mouashaha in Arabic).

Born in Aden Mohammed Al-Qa’atabi was taught early in his life the principles of traditional Yemeni singing by his father Hajj Obaid Ali Belabel. His father also received good training in singing and music by Sheikh Mohammed Dhafer a Sanaani singer at whose hands several Yemeni singers were taught.

Due to the fact that singing was frowned upon in Sanaa during the reign of the Imam Sheikh Dhafer had to stay in Qa’ataba before leaving to Ethiopia. During that time Hajj Obaid Belabel Al-Qa’atabi’s father tried to get from Dhafer a good knowledge of Yemeni singing learning by heart as many lyrics as he could.

Mohammed Al-Qa’atabi said his brother Abdullah was an uneducated man who despite of his father’s and teacher’s efforts refused to study. As Al-Qa’atabi was fond of singing his father decided to teach him how to play the lute. In a short time our singer was able to handle this musical instrument. Step by step he learned by heart all the old lyrics and compositions.

According to the lyricist Ahmed Abu Mahdi Al-Qa’atabi began his career as a lute player for some Yemeni singers like Ahmed Al-Jarashi and Awadh Al-Mosallami. When he appeared on the stage as a singer he was admired by all. Among his contemporaries he was the favorite of people in wedding parties (called almakhader in Aden). Being influenced by Sheikh Saleh Al-Antari his music playing and singing performance was highly harmonious and well-organized.

Moreover Al-Qa’atabi successfully presented Indian musical compositions accompanied by Arabic lyrics. This raised his popularity and made him even more famous. Al-Funoon newspaper has published a poem by Abdulmajeed Al-Asbah in which he eulogized Al-Al-Qa’atabi’s voice and brought the significance of his poems.

Al-Qa’atabi had recorded some of his songs at Taha-Phone Record Company. The distribution of his records brought the company and Al-Qaatabi a huge income. Unfortunately as a young man Al-Qa’atabi spent all his money on his personal pleasures legal and otherwise. This made him suffer from several diseases and so he stopped singing for some time. When the radio station was opened in Aden 1954 Al-Qa’atabi re-recorded some of his songs. Later his health began to deteriorate and he could not sing any more which led to his untimely death in 1969. Despite of his short life he was one of the greatest singers people in Yemen and in the Arab Peninsula have ever loved.

Saleh Abdulabaqi, Musician

(This article appeared in the Issue 16 – April 2nd thru April 26th 1998 Vol VIII of the Yemen Times, Life of Genius Cut Short. It is reproduced here courtesy of the Yemen Times.)


Artist Profiles: Badavi Zubayr

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.