Category Archives: Music and Dance

Zāmil lives in War-torn Yemen

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Photographic Source: اليمن الجمهوري

by Emily Sumner
Graduate Student in Arabic Literature, Culture & Media
Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
College of Liberal Arts
University of Minnesota

In the celebrated Yemeni novel الرهينة (The Hostage) by Zayd Mutee‘ Dammaj, the protagonist, a hostage of the imam, is greeted by the soldiers living in the governor’s palace with verses of a zāmil:

يا دويدار قد أمك فاقدة لك.

دمعها كالمطر

Oh Duwaydar, your mother misses you

Her tears are like rain[1]

The inclusion of zawāmil in a Yemeni novel is indicative of their place in Yemeni life. Zawāmil accompany Yemen’s poignant historical moments, such as the fall of the imamate and establishment of the Republic. They are a lively component of Yemen’s cultural heritage, shedding light on its people’s social, political and literary history.

The footnote to the above zāmil in The Hostage defines it as a “traditional communal chant,”  نشيد جماعي تقليدي. A reductionist definition, yet it does get at the heart of what scholars have consistently said about this poetic genre: it expresses communal feeling and is performed by a group in response to a social occasion. In the case of The Hostage, the arrival of the Duwaydar prompts the zāmil; other moments that may inspire Yemenis to perform zawāmil are as divergent as the joy of weddings and the trials of war.

In his book Folk Literature Arts in Yemen (1988), ‘Abd Allāh al-Baraddūnī suggests that the zawāmil were dwindling at that time for a variety of reasons, chief among them the advent of modern weapons, which he claims stifle the zāmil’s pervasive sounds and rhythm. He contrasts the days when lines of men marched to battle while chanting a zāmil, their voices echoing in the air and overtaking their surroundings, with soldiers’ voices contained within moving cars. He concludes by asserting the zāmil is being reduced to “merely moral incitement, or the extension of a declining practice.”[2]

Yet the proliferation of zawāmil during the current war indicates their continued salience in Yemeni life and the ways in which Yemenis adapt cultural forms to suit novel circumstances. Al-Baradduni is not wrong—the zāmil is “moral incitement,” but perhaps the term “merely” is misplaced. The various sides of the current armed conflict, whether Houthis, pro-government forces, or supporters of the Coalition, compose zawāmil that are available not only to Yemenis but to a much wider audience on social media. The zāmil reverberates within Yemen and beyond its borders.

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By way of example, below is one popular Houthi zāmil retrieved from YouTube, along with my translation:

أداء: عيسى الليث

كلمات: محمد الجرف

وقت النقا حان ويل المعتدي ويله 1.     إستنفري ياجيوش الله في مأرب
والجن والإنس والأملاك تصغي له 2.     جنود ربي حماة الدار تتأهب
وبندقي في الخصم يدي مواويله 3.     الله أكبر صداها في الحشا يلهب
يابندقي لاهنت سامرني الليله 4.     صنعاء بعيده قولوا له الرياض أقرب
كلاً حزم عدته واسرج على خيله 5.     القوم شبت نكفها للقاء ترغب
حتى ولو في بطون الأرض نأتي له 6.     قولوا لسلمان ماله مننا مهرب
المعتدي يالغبي يبشر بتنكيله[3] 7.     هذا اليمن من تجاهلنا فقد جرب

 

Vocals: ‘Isa al-Laith

Words: Mohamad al-Jaraf

  1. Get ready for war, armies of Allah in Ma’rib!

The time for honesty has come. Woe to the aggressor, woe to him!

  1. My Lord’s soldiers, the protectors of the land, are getting ready.

The jinn, humans and angels all heed Him.

  1. “Allah is great!” Its echo blazes inside [of them].

My rifle in the conflict performs its songs.

  1. Sanʿaʾ is far away, tell him Riyadh is closer!

Oh my rifle  – may God protect you from humiliation – keep me     company tonight.

  1. The people’s disdain blazes and they crave an encounter.

Everyone has fastened their weapon and saddled their horse.

  1. Tell Salman he will never escape us!

Even in the bowels of the Earth we will get to him.

  1. This is Yemen! Whoever ignored us has learned his lesson!

The aggressor – that idiot – heralds his own destruction!

————————————————————————————-

[1] p. 18, translation my own.

[2] p. 147.

[3] Al-Laith, ʿĪsā, “Zāmil Ṣanʿāʾ baīdah qūlū lahu ar-Riyāḍ aqrab.” YouTube video, 5:36, posted by

Shamūkh Yamānī, December 31, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tRFJdzQwZw. Accessed February 23, 2020.

الإعلان عن إطلاق موقع يمن ابديت اون لين

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الإعلان عن إطلاق موقع  يمن ابديت اون لين

ينشر موقع يمن ابديت اون لاين البحوث والدراسات اليمنية بما في ذلك المقالات المهنية بلغتين العربية والانجليزي و مراجعات الكتب والتقارير التي يصدرها باحثو وزملاء المعهد الأمريكي للدراسات اليمنية. تتم الإضافات والتحديثات على مدار العام بعد تقديمها والموافقة على نشرها من قبل المحررين. وان كانت المقالات اقل من الف كلمة فسيتم نشرها كنص في الإنترنت. بينما يتم نشر المقالات والموضوعات الأطول بصيغة بي. دي. أف لأمكانية نسخها من الموقع. ويتخذ المحررون قرار الموافقة على نشرها. ان رغبتم في تقديم صور او رسومات يجب ان تكونوا اصحاب الحق في نشرها اولديكم اذناً بذل. أما بقية حقوق الطبع فهي للكاتب. التفاصيل على الموقع

Announcing Yemen Update Online

Yemen Update Online publishes research in English and Arabic in any field of Yemen Studies. This includes professional articles of any length, book reviews and AIYS fellowship reports. Items will be added throughout the calendar year as they are submitted and approved by the editors. If the article is less than 1,000 words it will be published as text online, but longer articles will be published as pdfs to be downloaded from the site. Decisions on publication are made by the editors. If you are submitting photographs or drawings, make sure that you have permission to do so.  All rights remain with the author. For details, check out the website.

Why Yemen Matters

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The forum “Why Yemen Matters: The Heritage of a Land in Crisis” was held at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on February 19, 2020, sponsored by the Near Eastern Studies program under the leadership of Dr. Sabine Schmidtke. Speaking at the event were AIYS members Najwa Adra, Nathalie Peutz and Dan Varisco. Present in the audience was AIYS board member Tarek Al-Wazir.

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(left to right): Dan Varisco, Nathalie Peutz, Hassan Ansari, Najwa Adra, Glen Bowersock, Sabine Schmidtke, Christian Robin

Yemen’s war and humanitarian crisis are in the news, but very little is known about the rich cultural heritage of the southwestern corner of Arabia throughout history. Also largely unknown are Yemen’s geographic and economic diversity or their impact on recent events. Yemen’s diversity owes much to conquest, trade, and migration between Yemen and Christian Ethiopia, Sassanian and Islamic Iran, Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt, Ottoman Turkey, the African coast and Southeast Asia. In this panel experts on different periods of Yemeni history and its diverse contemporary contexts probe beyond current politics to share their insights and discuss potentials for future scholarly research on Yemen.

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Dan Varisco speaking on the historical diversity of Islam in Yemen.

Yemeni Musical and Linguistic Heritage for UNESCO

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A three-day international cultural seminar on the Ḥaḍramī musical genre of Dān was held in Cairo on July 5-6, 2019. The Yemeni Minister of Culture Marwan Dammaj contributed to the discussions intended to start necessary preparations for nominating Ḥaḍramī Dān music for inclusion in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Ḥaḍramī Dān is a genre of folk singing that is very popular in the governorate of Ḥaḍramawt, as well as other parts of Yemen and Indonesia. In one session, the Director of the Culture Office in Ḥaḍramawt, Ahmed bin Dowis, provided a presentation of Ḥaḍramī Dān. He described it as a component of Ḥaḍramī cultural identity, involved in praising, disparaging, description and wisdom. Popular bands of Ḥaḍramī Dān can be found in Tarim, Say’ūn , Daw‘ān and Shibām. For examples of Yemeni Dān, click here and here.

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Continue reading Yemeni Musical and Linguistic Heritage for UNESCO

All about Aden

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One of the most impressive Yemeni sites for the culture and history of Aden and southern Yemen is alamree.net. You can literally spend hours exploring this rich site. As you can see in the above image from the main page, there is information on Aden itself, coffee and mountains in Yāfi‘ the Aden zoo and the mosque of al-‘Aydarūs. There is also a treasure trove of images and photographs on Aden, some of which are very old. More photographs and videos are also available on the Facebook site of Hussain Alamree.

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Tawāhī in the 1960s

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Ma‘alā sūq, 1920

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Local dance in Shaykh ‘Uthmān, 1947

​Modern Yemeni Theatre: A Brief History

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Yemeni novelists and playwrites  Nadiah al-Kokabany, Wagdi al-Ahdal, Ali al-Moqri and Samir Abdul-Fatah

by Sara Forcella

Over the past two centuries, Yemen has been the scene of an important literary flowering. Despite the never-ending struggle of play-writers against the socio-political difficulties of the country, the emergence of the Modern Yemeni Theatre doubtless represents an example both of an innovative and high value literary production. Continuously facing social, political and cultural problems, Yemeni authors and players have always shown a great capability of keeping up with the times. Their works talk about doubts, questions, passions and issues of the modern man, going beyond the “local” dimension and constantly dialoguing with their Western counter-parts.

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Sa‘īd ‘Awlaqī

According to Saʿīd ʿAwlaqī (Sabʿūna ʿāmān min al-masraḥ fī-al-Yaman [Seventy Years of Yemen Theatre], 1983), the first information available about the early Yemeni dramas dates back to 1904 when the Indian acting company of Jamlat Shah came to Aden. The company went on stage with a mostly musical performance involving all its members, namely actors, dancers, musicians and circus animals. However, it was not until 1910 that the first Yemeni theatrical company was established in Aden, consisting of students that acted out a western play, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in Arabic. As al-Mubarak (Arabic Drama, A Critical Introduction, 1986) wrote, these first companies adopted the western model of playwriting once they came in direct contact with it during the 19th century, both in Greater Syria (the ancient region including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestine territories till the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918) and Egypt. Western models melded with previous forms of Arabic art performances, spanning the traditional shadow play, storytelling and poetry recitation.
Continue reading ​Modern Yemeni Theatre: A Brief History

An Iraqi Heart in Yemen

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Qalb al-Yaman (The Heart of Yemen) is a book published in 1947 in Baghdad by the Iraqi military advisor Muḥammad Ḥasan. This is a fascinating account of Yemen about an Iraqi Military Mission to Yemen in 1940-1943 with details on Yemen at that time under the rule of Imām Yaḥyā.  It is now available for reading online and downloadable.

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first page of the author’s text

The text consists of 256 pages with a detailed table of contents, illustrations and a large map. The major chapters deal with Yemen’s geography and resources, history, the author’s travel experience to Yemen, the capital Ṣan‘ā’, Imām Yaḥyā, social life, major routes, local medicine, the government and soldiers, social and regional groups, women, marriage customs, festivals and greeting behavior, Yemenite Jews, the Iraqi advisors in Yemen, diplomatic relations and correspondence, Islamic sects, and his return to Iraq. There are numerous photographs, which unfortunately did not reproduce well in the publication.

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photograph of Imām Yaḥyā (who did not want his image copied as noted in the bottom left)

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beheading of soldier overseen by Sayf al-Islām Ibrāhīm

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one of the earliest photographs of Yemeni bara‘

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respective genealogies of Iraqī King Faysal and Yemeni Imām Yaḥyā

Yemen’s Culture at Risk

Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Dan Varisco discussing Yemen’s rich cultural heritage at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019

On Saturday, February 24, The Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. hosted a seminar on “Culture at Risk: Yemen’s Heritage under Threat”. This was jointly sponsored by the Sackler Gallery, CAORC and the Antiquities Coalition. The speakers included several AIYS members, including AIYS President Dan Varisco, Noha Sadek and Krista Lewis. Also speaking was Zaydoon Zaid of the American Foundation for the Study of Man and Gerald Feierstein, of The Middle East Institute and a former US Ambassador to Yemen. Information about the event is posted online and a video will be available in the future.

Below are some of the photographs of the event.

Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Noha Sadek at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
CAORC Program Director Glenn Corbett introducing Krista Lewis at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Zaydoon Zayd at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Luigi Marini, Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN,  Ambassador Wafa Bughaighis of Libya to the U.S. and former U.S. Yemen Ambassador Gerald Feierstein at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019

[Photographs provided by Cory Grace of the Smithsonian.]