Khalil Mohammed Khalil (b. 1917) was never a professional singer (he was in fact the governor of Aden’s prisons). He did however compose numerous tunes for songs popular in the Yemen and as far afield as Egypt. Typical of his compositions are Al-ward al-hamra (The red rose, tr. 8), or Haram ‘alayk (Have pity on me, why are you standing in the window?!), with words by Mohammed ‘Abduh Ghanem. The style here is very close to that of the Egyptian songs of the 40’s: a deep-voiced singer in the same style as Mohammed Abdel Wahab, songs in couplets with a refrain, the frequent use of the masmudi rhythm, the occasional presence of Western instruments; but always a purely Yemeni touch in the rhythm and the way of playing the lute – no question, then, of putting this music into an amalgam with the Egyptian model. In a world of the more traditional arts, where songwriters quickly fell out of favour, Khalil Mohammed Khalil was one of the first modern Yemeni artists to take his place as a composer, with everything this status implies.
The Egyptian influence is the vestige of a very old current passing from Egypt to the Yemen that has been going on since antiquity, as certain archaeological findings have confirmed; Egypt’s role in the formation of the Yemen as it is now is certain. One example to support this is the existence of common features in the dialect of the whole south-western part of the Yemen.
Translated by Délia Morris
Available album: The Aden Song