In spite of his young age, Hasan al-‘Ajami is the direct heir of some of the greatest masters of Sanaan singing, all of whom died during the sixties. Salih al-‘Antari who recorded some 78 r.p.m. during the thirties and completely won over the Yemeni public with his brilliant playing; Ahmed Fayie’, nicknamed “the mouse” because of his slight frame and humble bearing. He remained unknown during his lifetime because he did not leave Sanaa when music was banned by the imam Yahya. Hasan, himself the son and grandson of musicians, had the good fortune to hear both these musicians as well as his own grandfather whilst they were all still alive and he was still learning to play the instrument. Though this crucial period was shortlived, these people and their music had a lasting influence on Hasan that still endures.
Thanks to Hasan’s particular experience, every aspect of this rich tradition has been preserved. During the sixties the form of the ghina’ san’ani became more decadent, no doubt partly because the qanbus was being abandoned in favour of the oriental lute. Then followed a long empty period that lasted for more than thirty years before the authentic tradition miraculously re-appeared in the form of Hasan al-‘Ajami, who gave his first public performance in the Institut du monde arabe in January 1998.
Hasan al-‘Ajami is the only Yemeni to play the qanbus according to the traditional method. His style is quite different from all the others, similarly he has a very distinctive style on the oriental lute which he also plays superbly. The nuances in his playing are produced by his right hand, the one that holds the plectrum and can thus vary the strength of his grip; whereas with his left hand, a gentle touch with no plucking is more often than not quite sufficient, thanks to the natural resonance of the instrument.
Translated by Délia Morris
Available album: Sanaa Singing