Tag Archives: Yemenite music

Artist Profiles: Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza was one of Israel’s best known female singers. Born on November 19, 1957 in the Hatikva neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, to a Jewish-Yemenite family of 8 brothers and sisters, Ofra was surrounded by traditional culture, music and the beautiful voice of her mother.

Ofra Haza’s talent was first recognized in the children’s theater group she belonged to in her poor Tel Aviv Hatikvah neighborhood. Her manager, Bezalel Aloni, who founded the Hatikva Theater group, discovered her. She earned roles as a soloist from the 1970’s and thereafter her professional career as a singer of popular music was launched.

In 1985 Ofra Haza, released her first international album, Yemenite Songs>, a collection of interpretations of devotional poetry written by 17th-century rabbi, Shalom Shabazi.

Thanks to the vision of English DJs Matt Black and Jonathan More, who sampled Ofra’s voice to add color to the song Paid in Full, by New York rappers Eric B. &Rakim, Ofra’s voice became known worldwide. It was an example of early world beat.

Ofra’s next album, Shaday, continued her international success selling over 1 million copies worldwide and receiving “The New Music Award” for the “International Album of the Year” in New York City on October 26, 1989. Her international tour continuously sold out in Europe, Canada, the United States and Japan. Ofra’s single, “Im Nin Alu,” won 1st place at the Tokyo music festival. In Germany, Ofra won the Tiegra Award (The German Grammy Awards) for singer of the year, and “Im Nin Alu” won song of the year. In 1990 Ofra performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Ofra sang in Hebrew, Aramaic, English and Arabic, covering a wide range of styles, from religious hymns to songs supporting peace in the Middle East peace, with frequent evocations to her people’s past in the Yemenite desert.

In 1992 Ofra’s album Kirya was nominated for the Grammy Awards for the best album in the World Music category.

Ofra’s mystical voice was continuously sought after, as she appeared in many projects including, the soundtracks to the Prince of Egypt (1998), and The Governess (1998), Paula Abdul’s single, “My Love Is For Real,” Sisters of Mercy’s 1992 version of “Temple of Love” (sub-titled—”Touched By The Hand of Ofra Haza”), and the “Give Peace a Chance” video (1991).

Ofra Haza died in Ramat Gan on February 23, 2000 at the age of 41.

Selected Discography:

Ahava Rishona – First Love (1974)
Vehutz Mizeh Hakol Beseder – Apart from that All Is OK (1976)
Atik Noshan – Ancient Old (1977)
Shir HaShirim Besha’ashu’im – The Song of Songs (1977)
Al Ahavot Shelanu – About Our Loves (1980)
Bo Nedaber – Let’s Talk (1981)
Pituyim – Temptations (Hed Arzi, 1982)
Li-yeladim – Songs for Children (Hed Arzi, 1982)
Hai – Alive (1983)
Shirey Moledet – Homeland Songs (Hed Arzi, 1983)
Bayt Ham – A Place for Me (Hed Arzi, 1984)
Yemenite Songs (Shanachie Records, 1984)
Adamah – Earth (1985)
Shirey Moledet 2 – Homeland Songs 2 (Hed Arzi, 1985)
Yamim Nishbarim – Broken Days (1986)
Shirey Moledet 3 – Homeland Songs 3 (Hed Arzi, 1987)
Shaday (EastWest / Sire, 1988)
Desert Wind (Sire, 1989)
Kirya (Shanachie Records, 1992)
My Soul- Kol Haneshama (NMC, 1994)
Golden Album (Hed Arzi, 1995)
Ofra Haza (BMG Ariola, 1997)
Shirey Moledet, Pt. 3 (Hed Arzi, 1998)
Ofra Haza at Montreux Jazz Festival (1998)
Temptations (Hed Arzi, 2003)
Earth (Hed Arzi, 2003)
Broken Days (Hed Arzi, 2003)
Homeland Songs A+B (Hed Arzi, 2005)

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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.)

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Beguiling Gulaza

Gulaza - Gulaza (Gulaza Music, 2015)
Gulaza – Gulaza (Gulaza Music, 2015)

Gulaza – a word that conjures images of longing and despair under a scorching desert sun.

The first time I went to listen to this fairly newly formed band, I went out of intrigue. I came out mesmerized. I never expected them to have such an impact on me. With Igal Mizrahi on vocals, Ben Aylon on djeli n’goni and percussion, Ian Aylon on guitar and Hilla Epstein on cello, Gulaza takes you on a journey deep between Yemen and Africa as it tackles a (hopefully first) collection of centuries-old Yemenite songs, originally transmitted orally from mother to daughter. The album, which bears the same name as the group, includes a hypnotic set of five songs, which are sung for the first time by a man.

Throughout the album, Igal stamps his personality on his sources; his voice being almost erotic as it suddenly drops in range. Whether on the album, or on stage, he brings a fiery passion to these ancient texts, making them sound like poems.

Although unfamiliar with the language, I do not believe the songs’ lyrics are very elaborate. They are simple, yet full of colors, and they often include a repetitive chorus, like the beat of the heart. It is, however, the melodies, unrivalled in grace and sorrow, and the combination of instruments used on each piece which make the album so appealing. The band’s instrumental multitudes, which are cleverly combined together from an indigenous instrument like the djeli n’goni, to the cello and guitar, make these timeless songs, which are raw in nature, suddenly sound contemporary and urgent.

Whether through the djeli n’goni’s gentle or crisp and rapid melodies, the cello’s poignant use of vibrato and pizzicato, the mellow and sensuous guitar or the trance-inducing beat of the percussion, each song’s individual feel is captured. Whether it is the magical and soulful “Al’Chaiba”, the hauntingly beautiful “Salam Ya’bint”, the lyrical and playful “Pisaila”, the uplifting and more modern “Ganantani” or even the warm and soothing “Ayini Bakat”; they all convey images of longing, despair, but hope too.

With each melody, you can imagine nature’s elements veiling distant parched, sand-covered lands and through Igal Mizrahi’s soaring voice, the songs become laments for freedom and yearning for love.

Gulaza – a real little gem of an album and a name to watch out for. You will simply be beguiled by it.

Buy the digital version of Gulaza

Buy the CD edition

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