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.)