By Tamjid alKohali
“Don’t be absent; stop emigrating, Yemen is waiting for you.” These were words from the song “immigrant’s Nostalgia” by famous singer Ayoub Tarish, in which he called emigrant singers back to their homeland, after they leaving Yemen looking for artistic chances elsewhere.
For the past century, emigration has stolen singers away to abroad, which has led to the loss of the Yemeni song. The reasons are obvious: security, economic, and artistic situations have forced singers and artists to leave. Recently, the Yemeni artistic community was surprised to see the singer Fouad al-Kibsi leave for Doha.
According to al-Kibsi, there are no rights for singers and producers in Yemen, and there isn’t even interest or support. There are barely even concerts, festivals, and other events that allow singers to reach their audience. The deceased singer Mushid Naji would have agreed. During his funeral last year, the Culture Minister, journalists, and any person working with the Yemeni government was forbidden from attending, because they did not offer any help during his illness.
Youth singer Najib Mokbily, who won the Gulf Star title in 2011, spoke about the difficulties that Yemeni singers face.
“The negligence of Culture Ministry and Information Ministry to the singer has led to the migration of many great singers from the country. Comparing with the great artistic heritage in Yemen, the Culture Ministry is full of people who don’t deserve their positions, while media ignores the all the problems of actors or singers. Therefore, living abroad is the only solution for them.”
Mokbily now lives in the United Arab Emirates, and does not want to return to Yemen because of his career aims. Al-Kohali agrees, but emphasizes that there aren’t many venues for singers in the country. The only large hall is the Cultural Center Hall in Sana’a, and that is mostly used for speeches. Al-Kohali added that finance and sectarianism are also problems.
“Other thing is that singers can’t produce a song by themselves because they don’t have the financial support. Those who want to help cannot because of the deteriorated financial situation in the country. And if there are private companies that produce songs, the channels won’t buy those clips. Singers loves their talent. They need to refine their talent, and exchange experiences in order to innovate more and more and appear more before the audience. But singers do not find this support because of national preoccupation with political conflicts.”
Al-Kohali blamed a lack of cultural awareness as well. Yemenis have a feeling and love for art in all its forms, but they do not value the Ministry of Culture, partially because major politicians don’t realize its importance either.
Art critic and journalist Mohsen Jamil is less upset about this, though, arguing that the migration of singers abroad has made Yemeni music more popular in the many countries. During the 1960’s, he singers Abu Baker Salem Balfaqaih, Mohamed Saad Abdullah, and Awad Ahmed found audiences throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. More recently, the Yemenite Jew singer Ofra Haza has been extremely successful, being called the “Madonna of the East.”