It is a Yemeni custom for the men to meet every afternoon to chew the stimulant qhat. They sit round the walls of a large room and chat in a friendly manner, exchanging jokes or discussing political, philosophical or artistic issues, then drift into a state of contemplation before the last rays of the setting sun, as it dies down over the surrounding countryside. The sound of music acts as a commentary to their contemplative silence, the mark of their inner experience known as Solomon’s Hour, where they remain in total silence with all the lights off, so as to stay in the twilight for as long as possible, listening to the music of the world around them.
Mohammad al-Harithi is one of the last authentic representatives of Yemeni classical music. He accompanies himself on the lute; the inspiration for his songs are poems glorifying courtly love and nature.
1 – Li-llah mâ yahwî hadha-l-maqâm /By God, this place has so many beautiful things! – 16’09
2 – Salâm yâ rawdât al-Ahjûr /Hail, O gardens of my beloved homeland – 8’22
3 – Sâdat fu’âdî bi-l-‘uyûn al-milâh / My heart has been entrapped by her beautiful eyes – 16’14
4 – Lî fî rubâ Hâjer ghuzayyel / I have, beside Hajer, a fawn with its neck raised – 4’02
5 – Shaqîq el-qamar asfar bi-dayjûr / The Brother of the lunar star appears at nightfall – 11’18
6 – Rahmân yâ rahmân / Merciful, Merciful – 7’28
7 – Layta shi’rî limeh / Ah if only I knew why – 8’51
Interpreters and instruments
Mohammad al-Harithi (singing, lute)
In the 16th century, Kawkaban was the capital of the Yemen, the city where the Zaydite imams had taken refuge during the Ottoman invasion. A rocky peak situated on the summit of an isolated plateau, it was an impregnable stronghold. Kawkaban was also the home of Mohammad Sharaf al-Din, the greatest of all Yemeni poets and grandson of the imam who had resisted the Turks. Two of his poems are recorded on this disc (tracks 3 and 5).
In the Kawkaban of those blessed times, everybody was partly an artist, so much so that one could compose a collective poem merely by going around the guests in the drawing room. During one such reunion, when the rain was pouring down on the green plains, one of the guests said, in verse: “The rain has written golden lines on the sky.” And as thunder struck, his neighbour continued on the same metre: “And the thunder has read what it wrote.”
Since those days of bliss, Kawkaban has lost much of its magnificence. But the tradition still lingers on in spite of everything, as attested by the rich personality of Mohammad al-Harithi.
Homayni poetry appeared in the 14th and 15th centuries, under the influence of “Andalusian” poetry The muwashshah form, in particular, was brought back from Cairo by the poet Abu Bakr al-Mazzah. For the first time, poetry was written in dialect. This was to be the hallmark of a specifically Yemeni Arab literature. The homayni is also one of the principal sources of the history of music.
Its greatest poets are Mohammad Sharaf al-Din (who died in 1607), a prolific author whose sentimental emotions have nourished the sumptuously florid style (see tracks 3 and 5), Ali al-Ansi (who died in 1726) and Abdel-Rahman al-Anisi (who died in 1834) (tracks 1 and 7).
Homayni cultivates the classical themes of the Arabic ghazal: an impossible love for an unattainable beauty locked in a prestigious castle, but also nostalgia, separation, absence and an intense empathy with nature.
The Song of Sanaa
The Song of Sanaa is the art of the soloist: the singer himself plays the short-necked lute, or ‘ud, in olden times he would play a specifically Yemeni lute, the qanbus. The richness of the Yemeni way of playing is based on the large variety of techniques for the right hand, which make the instrument play every role, successively or simultaneously: melodic, rhythmic, harmonic accompaniment, etc.
The Song of Sanaa has been nourished by several sources: indirect Andalusian contributions, the flourishing of Sufi music under the Rasoulide dynasty in Ta’izz and Zabid (14th and 15th centuries), Ottoman influences in the 16th and then the 19th century. But these diverse influences, by clinging to a very ancient substratum, have fused into an original form where the typically Arabic modal sentiment is nuanced by a unique melodic genius.
The repertory is structured by specific rhythmic cycles. These are arranged in a suite of dances called qawma, a sort of Yemeni nouba that passes from the asymmetrical (7 or 11-part rime) to a binary cycle of 8-part time, and then a more rapid four-four time. To this is added the mutawwal, a local variant of the mawwal: although often not in time, the lute accompanies the voice in an insistent and almost obsessive manner.
Twilight: The Hour of Solomon
It is a Yemeni custom to meet every afternoon to take the qat, a stimulant plant. Seated around a big room, the consumers tell jokes and discuss political, philosophical or artistic issues. Then they drift into contemplation of the last rays of the sun dying down over the landscape. For them, music brings a commentary in sound to this silent contemplation. At the end of the afternoon, the Yemenis live out a sort of personal experience that they call Solomon’s Hour (in his time, the Prophet Solomon had contemplated a procession of horses at sunset). They remain silent, keeping the lights off, staying as long as possible in the twilight, listening to the music of the world. This meditation is interrupted – or revived – by the call to prayer.
Later on at night, the musical session starts again in a more “earthly” manner. It is the turn of the samra where the music is more sensual and the sung poetry more unrestrained. Dancing is quite common. “The night is a veil”, says a wedding song. During this period that stretches from the afternoon, through Solomon’s Hour, and into the night, the musician accompanies the interior state of mind of the magyal participants, under the influence of qat and poetic autosuggestion. The present recordings follow this progression according to the Yemeni tradition which says that “for each circumstance, there is one word” and also an appropriate melody.
Jean Lambert, ethnomusicologist
translated by Mona Khazindar
1- Li-llah ma yahwi hadha-l-maqam/ By God, this place has so many beautiful things – 16’09
poem by Abdel-Rahman al-Anisi)
Instrumental prelude (fertash), mutawwal set to a simple binary rhythm, das’a in 11-part time, wasta, sari’
This poem is often sung first in the magyal session because it celebrates conviviality and contemplation of the landscape.
“By God, this place has so many beautiful things
A good-natured friend, a gracious gazelle
And brothers who flee all nasty creatures
To come and adorn this assembly
These thick clouds that hide the face of the sun
Like the veil on newlyweds’ faces
And the garden that is bedecked with calyx
Every stem is covered with them
Come, let the old men mumble amongst themselves
And do not be thrifty with the cups
Pour me one and then another and yet again!”
2- Salam ya rawdat al-Ahjur/ Hail, O gardens of my beloved homeland – 8’21
poem by Abdel-Rahman Sharaf al-Din
Wasta mutawwala, wasta, sari’
Distant descendant of the great Sharaf al-Din, this contemporary poet celebrates Kawkaban and its surrounding area.
“Hail, O gardens of al-Ahjur, gardens of my beloved homeland
[O eternal gardens
Hail from a bashful lover, just as the Mahjar springs
[Irrigate the valley
Hail as long as your orchards prosper
[And the breezes spread their fragrance
Their fruits attract the gazelles
Up there, Kawkaban stands erect like a column…”
3- Sadat fu’adi bi-l-uyun al-milah/ My heart has been entrapped by her beautiful eyes – 16’14
poem by Mohammad Sharaf al-Din
Wasta mutawwala, wasta, sari’
“My heart has been entrapped by her beautiful eyes
[And her cheeks fresh with the morning
Her eyelids are drowsy, but in her mouth
Runs a river of pearls.”
4- Li fi ruba Hajer ghuzayyel/ I have, beside Hajer, a fawn with its neck raised – 4’02
poem by Al-Sudi
Mutawwal set to a simple binary rhythm
The very slow melody and the theme of the poem make this a favourite piece for Solomon’s Hour.
“I have, beside Hajer, a fawn with its neck raised
[Who breaks all hearts
He took my heart between Ban and La’la’I
[At the hour of dusk
Since he left me, I turn in circles
[All night long
Pity the lover who is wasting away
[For him, all is mourning and sadness.”
5- Shaqiq el-qamar asfar bi-dayjur/ The brother of the lunar star appears at nightfall – 11’18
poem by Mohammad Sharaf al-Din
Das’a in 7-part time, wasta, sari’
“The brother of the lunar star appears at nightfall
His glowing cheeks are in all shades of pink
I die every time his eyelids close
A thousand glories to the One who painted his beauty.”
6- Rahman ya rahman/ Merciful, Merciful – 7’27
Mutawwal set to a simple binary rhythm, then a non-measured mutawwal
The devotional prelude masks an erotic poem of the “descriptive” genre (wasf)
[You who know the apparent and the hidden
Forgive my faults, my worries and my pains
[On Judgement Day in exchange for my faith
(…) She appeared, straight as an arrow
[Like a branch in a garden of reeds
Her smile is as sweet as the honey of ‘Allan
[It is a remedy for he who knows how to taste it
Her torso is an orchard where you find fruits of all sorts
[In profusion, like the delights of Paradise
Bosoms like pomegranates, or just like lemons
[He who brushes against them will strike madness.”
7- Layta shi’ri limeh/Ah if only I knew why – 8’51
poem by Abdel-Rahman al-Anisi
Mutawwal set to a simple binary rhythm, then das’a in 11-part time
“Ah, if only I knew why my friend gave his excuses
[And then why he left me?
My pupils, my mind are blazing with insomnia
[How can the lover take sleep?
I am all afire, my tears are overflowing
[How long the nights seem to me
The birds scare me by cooing until dawn
[The nightingale, the turtledove are lamenting
I said: By God, tell me the news
[And why this moaning?
They answered: May (God) protect you
[The birds are moved by your words
But we advise patience
[It, alone, leads to success.
Thus did they speak
[And then flew away.”
- Reference : 321.032
- Ean : 794 881 639 922
- Main artist : Mohammad al-Harithi (محمد الحارثي)
- Year of recording : 1997
- Year of recording : 2001
- Music style: Music of sanaa
- Country : Yemen
- City of recording : Yemen (city unknown)
- Main language : Arabic
- Composers : Traditional
- Lyricists : Traditional
- Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe