Yemen: Can the Sound of Guns be Replaced by an Orchestra?

For the first time in the history of Yemen, Yemeni melodies and musical instruments are being combined with Western instruments and performed in an orchestra that expresses Yemen’s great cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, the only thing Westerners know about Yemen is associated with the country’s brutal civil war that has killed well over a hundred thousand people.

It is hoped that a recently performed musical performance will convey a different image of the war-torn country, as the composer of the composition, Mohamed Salem al-Qahoum, indicated during his speech at the “Yemeni melody on the Nile banks.”

Mohamed directs “Traditional Symphonies,” a project that aims to promote and disseminate folk music, by integrating it into an orchestral performance that combines folk music styles and traditional instruments with Western instruments.

In 2019, Mohamed performed an orchestral concert in Malaysia, entitled “Hope from the depth of pain,” indicating that music can heal the wounds left by war. On March 10th, Mohamed led a second orchestral concert entitled “Yemeni melody on the banks of the Nile” in Cairo, in which he presented Yemeni and Egyptian musical colors.

Each of the nine symphonies tells its own story. The first symphony – for example – entitled “El-Kasir” is a form of marine singing performed by Yemeni fishermen. The second, “War and Peace” expresses a folk dance symbolizing war and reconciliation, and the importance of organizing combat ranks.

Yemen has a great diversity of music and singing styles. This musical diversity is affected by several factors, including the environment itself, where the music of the coastal regions differs from the music and singing of the desert regions or the mountainous highland regions.

Historic relationships and backgrounds influence the arts as well, where we find the port cities enjoying great artistic richness as a result of their interactions with the outside world via trade links.

Just like singing and music, Yemen’s costumes and dances are diverse. Consequently, the stories expressed by all these artistic forms vary, and the occasions in which they are practiced vary, from religious ceremonies to harvest and war seasons to weddings and feasts.

The final result is the presence of singing, dancing, and music in all Yemeni conditions: in the field, on the sea, in the desert, and even after prayer. But if the arts have such a place among Yemenis, then why war and violence? Here comes the importance of reminding the world that the Yemeni people don’t seek wars of conquest, of the great cultural heritage that this country possesses, and how much the world deserves to witness it.

The “Yemeni melody on the Banks of the Nile” orchestra brought together more than 120 musicians from Yemen, Egypt, and other nationalities. While non-Yemeni musicians are professionals, Yemenis come from a country where there is only one music school, and where there is no theater, not even an orchestra. The only strength Yemenis have is practical experience based on listening, and a quick ability to learn basic principles.

The young musicians, who make up most of the Yemeni team, showed great persistence and perseverance, not in pursuit of fame, but rather to project a different image of their war-torn homeland—hoping for a future where the guns are silent, and the music is louder.