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Yemen, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, holds a prominent position in the realm of music, garnering recognition for its distinctive musical traditions. Revered as a cultural capital within the Arab world, Yemen has contributed significantly to the musical landscape of the region.
On November 7, 2003, UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of poetic songs of Sana'a, called al-Ghina al-San'ani, a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The musical heritage of Yemen captivates through its melodic prowess and poetic depth, embodying the artistic vibrancy and cultural resilience of the nation. With their captivating melodies and expressive lyrics, Yemeni musicians have left an indelible mark on both domestic and global audiences, contributing to the music in the region.
Traditional Yemeni music is usually performed in the home, in a window-lined room at the top of the house called a mafraj during a khat chew, in which the performers chew a mildly psychoactive stimulant leaf. This form of performance uses sung poetry and is called homayni; it is a tradition that dates to the 14th century. The urban homayni style known in the capital of Yemen, Sanaani singing, is the most well-known kind of homayni today . There is a large Yemeni-Welsh community in Cardiff and other major Welsh cities. Yemeni folk music has thus become a major part of the Welsh music scene.
Hadhrami music refers to the traditional music of the Hadhrami people, an ethnic group primarily inhabiting the Hadhramaut region of Yemen, as well as other parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Hadhrami community and has evolved over centuries, reflecting the influences of diverse cultures and historical encounters.
History and Origins
The roots of Hadhrami music can be traced back to ancient times, drawing inspiration from the region's rich history and the interactions between Hadhramaut and various civilizations through trade and migration routes. The Hadhrami people have historically maintained close ties with regions such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and East Africa, which has greatly influenced their music.
Characteristics and Instruments
Hadhrami music is characterized by its melodic richness, rhythmic intricacy, and poetic lyrics. It often features a blend of vocal and instrumental performances, accompanied by traditional instruments that contribute to its unique sound. Some of the commonly used instruments in Hadhrami music include:
- Oud: A stringed instrument similar to a lute, played with a plectrum.
- Qanbus: A fretless stringed instrument with a long neck, typically played with a bow.
- Ney / Qasaba: A hollow wooden flute with finger holes, played by blowing into it.
- Mizmar: A double-reed woodwind instrument with a piercing sound, often used in celebratory and processional music.
- Darabouka: made from clay, brass, or metal, consists of a covered side and an open side, played in various sizes, and its rhythmic structure is created by striking or tapping with the hands or drumsticks.
- Duff: A drum with a single goatskin or plastic membrane on a round wooden frame, is played by striking it with hands and fingers, and it often includes metal plates, stitched with a two-threaded thread, and can contain small metal bells or zills, with different sizes such as the Duff and Al-ttar.
- Hajer Drum: crafted from marine teak wood, features a cylindrical body adorned with distinctive rings and a goatskin drumhead, with its size and dimensions tailored to the specific music it accompanies, and it is played by striking it with hands or drumsticks.
- Mirwas Drum: is the smallest drum used in Hadramout, and the sharpest. It is held in one hand and the drummer plays it with the palm of their other hand.
- Marfaa’ / Maten Drum: is similar to the Mirwas in form, but differs in size and quality of sound. Mainly it has a larger diameter and produces a less salient sound.
- Tabla / Banqaz: introduced to traditional Hadrami music in the early 1970s, comprises two wooden cylindrical drums of varying sizes, covered with plastic drumheads, typically measuring 6cm and 8cm in diameter, and it is played by striking the drumheads with the hands or drumsticks.
- Maraqis (similar to Hyōshigi): consists of two flat wooden pieces held in both hands and clapped together to synchronize with the sound of dancers' clapping, serving as a rhythmic element that adds consistent and harmonious musical tones when played alongside other instruments.
- Dan: A genre of vocal melodies, characterized by rhythmic improvisational singing of poets, showcasing range, strength, and clarity of voice in competitive contests.
Genres and Styles
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Rap and Hip-hop Culture existed as early as 2005 but it only achieved widespread popularity in 2008 when the Hip-hop in Yemen took a leap forward and began to spread around the youth of Yemen, especially in Sana'a and Aden.
The hip hop major outbreak in Yemen is often associated to the influence of Hajaj Abdulqawi Masaed (also graphed as Hagage Masaed or best known as "AJ"), an American-Yemeni rapper producing music since 1997. Although he had grown in the United States, AJ has successfully reached Yemeni audience by addressing to local issues and incorporating traditional musical language into his hits. This versatility was also one of the reasons he drew international recognition, since he entered in the Yemeni music scene, he has been partnering up with several Yemeni artists, such as Hussein Muhib, Fuad Al-Kibisi, Fuad Al-Sharjabi, Ibrahim Al-Taefi, Abdurahman Al-Akhfash and others, and helping new ones to develop their talents. He has also played a major role on propagating the understanding of rap as a means of change.
One contributing factor to the development of the music is also the creation of Yemen Music House in 2007 that has been providing assets to the development of a contemporary music scene. In 2009, took place the first Yemeni Rap public festival, co-sponsored by the French and German foreign-missions. Due to the importance of this event, AJ draws a comparison between it and the fall of the Berlin wall.
- "Song Day brings Yemenis together despite war". Arab News. 6 July 2021. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
- Editor, Al-Madaniya (30 April 2019). "Hadrami Music Takes To The Global Stage". Al-Madaniya Magazine. Retrieved 1 July 2023.
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- Haddash, Nadia. "RAP, HIP-HOP, BREAKING AND YEMENI YOUTH". Yemen Times. Archived from the original on 8 April 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Al-Wesabi, Sadeq. "'MUSIC TO BE AN "INTEGRAL PART OF YEMEN'S DEVELOPMENT"'". Archived from the original on 3 June 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "Yemen: Between tradition and modernity". Next Music Station. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "Hip Hop Diplomacy: Yemen". Hip Hop Diplomacy. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "Yemeni-American Musician Tackles Hate With Hip-Hop". NPR Music. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Badley, Bill. "Sounds of the Arabian Peninsula". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 351–354. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
- Yemeni Sacred Music at rootsworld.com