Yemenite Jewish Music

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David Ben-Abraham (Yemenite)

Thursday, September 22, 2005 - 09:57 pm Click here to edit this post
The ritual of singing in Yemen, unaccompanied by musical instruments since the time of the Temple's destruction in 68 C.E., is a thing of art, as well of etiquette. Reminisces of its practice are brought down in the Talmud, namely, in Berachoth 31.a, where we find that when the Rabbis asked of R. Hamnona, the younger, to sing at the wedding of a certain Rabbi (who was the son of Rabina), he opened by singing: "Woe unto us that we die. Woe unto us that we die." Thus, he doubled the verse of his song, just as the ancient custom among Yemenite Jews is to double, or to repeat twice, each verse of the song. For there is a tradition governing the way songs ought to be sung, just as there is a tradition governing the way we pray, or the way we perform other religious functions. This fact, sadly, has been neglected among men, as thinking it unimportant. Moreover, songs of praise (which were of late drawn from the Songs of Shabazzi ) were made in the company of male friends, or family, but were always preceded by a song (or songs) of supplication and of entreaties, known in Arabic as a "Nashid." So, too, a part of the song is sung by the lead singer, while another part is answered by the company, just as we find alluded to in Sotah 48.b. In the course of singing one particular song, the singers may also move from one to three or four different melodies. This was the custom of all Jews in Yemen. But for the Yemenites, we would have long since lost the tradition of this important ritual. (If one either lives in Israel, or plans on visiting Israel, he may visit the Hebrew National Library at Jerusalem's Givat Ram Campus, on the third-floor, in the National Sound Archives, where he can listen to taped collections of traditional Yemenite music. Call: 02-6585008)
Sincerely, David Ben-Abraham

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