By Tamjid Alkohali
Most social, religious, and national occasions in Yemen can’t be held without the attendance of a chanting band, or Enshad band as it’s called Arabic, a band that chants religious songs without music. It’s a custom over 1,000 years old.
Osama Al-Amir, the head of the Sana’a Enshad band, spoke about what distinguishes the Enshad in Yemen from Enshad in other Arab countries. He said the Enshad in Yemen varies according to the provinces. The best are from Sana’a, Hadramawt, and Tihamah. It also varies according to the kind of occasion. For example, at weddings the tone and words would be different from a death anniversary.
“Yemeni Enshad is considered a religious ritual and a way of soliloquies with God,” he added.
The voice of the vocalist is the only element in Enshad. The vocalist doesn’t use any kind of musical instruments while he is singing. Their throats are a natural musical instrument. Therefore, every member of the band should have a beautiful voice with a long breath.
The band also sings using poems in classical Arabic with deep meaning in which they mention God and his blessings as well as the Prophet Muhammad and his advice for people.
Vocalist Walid Mriqan is one of the members of the Sana’a Enshad band. He says that Enshad contains a Semitic message that carries Islamic history and civilization. “The poems, which Enshad contains, usually begin with pleading God, and then recommendations for people and expressions about the love of God, Prophet Muhammad, and the greatest people in Islamic history. Finally they end with prayers for the Prophet Muhammad,” he stated.
Often, Yemeni Enshad, especially the San’aani kind, wins in Enshad competitions in various Arab counties.
Recently, the official Enshad band, under the auspices of Abdullah Aubl, the Minister of Culture, won second place among 62 countries in 2014 in Turkey. “The main reasons are the beautiful voices of the members’ band and the deep meaning of the anthem itself as well as the featured performer,” said the Director General of the National and Religious Enshad, Ahmed Shathan.
While much Enshad is performed by men, there are also Enshad peformed by women. However, it’s not presented in the media. It takes place in the home. Female Enshad bands are very small, usually no more than three women. People call them Nshadh and give them no more than 10,000 Rials for an occasion.
“People call us for female occasions because in Yemen women celebrate alone, especially in births. Women like to mention God to bless the new child,” said Nshadh Araw.
Despite the religious and cultural significance of Yemeni Enshad, it has decreased in popularity and what is performed today is a repeat of works from the past, which makes Enshad bands demand that officials document their works.
Kassem Zubaydah, a famous vocalist in the history of the Yemeni Enshad, said that the television and media have neglected their works and have became busy with publishing the political news which worsens the situation and problems in the country. “I have recorded more than 272 television works, but I don’t watch any of them today. Even the new bands repeat past works,” he claimed.
The manager of the Yemeni music house, Fouad AlSharjabi, works hard to document the different kinds of the local songs, Enshad being one of them. AlSharjabi has documented about 46 local songs so far. According to him, the social, political, and economic situation is unstable. The people in general and singers in particular are lost among difficulties.
“Yemeni songs today in all its forms is just a repeat of the past. There isn’t any new production because of the situation of the county. Therefore, I always try to document the past works to maintain Yemeni culture, hoping the situation will improve again the culture will regenerate again,” he said.