A documentary on music of the Yemenite Jews and how their music influenced that in Israel.
The video on Youtube does not include closed captioning so if anyone is hard-of-hearing and in need of captions, I’ve transcribed some of the audio below. The video is at the end.
Name: Yemen Music of the Yemenite Jews
Abstract: Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The rhythms and traditions of Yemenite music.
The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive –
The 500 films, selected for the virtual cinema, reflect the vast scope of documentary material collected in the Spielberg Archive. The films range from 1911 to the present and include home movies, short films and full length features.
“A century ago the remnants of an ancient Jewish tribe, living echos of a bygone age, began their return to the land of Israel. The sense of togetherness and an abundance of musical talent are the unique traits of the Yemenite Jews.”
“The Israeli composers who until then had drawn their musical inspiration from their birthplaces, mainly Russia and Germany, were seeking new sounds to reflect those of ancient Israel.”
“The Yemenite sense of togetherness in everyday life and in music was well suited to the atmosphere of camaraderie that typified the early days of settlement.”
“The Yemenites were perceived as a perfect blend, combining the ancient world with a new one. Their influence is evident in all the arts: drawing, painting, jewelry, dance, and of course music.”
“Songs were always accompanied by dance. Styles varied with the different regions of Yemen. The Habani from the east and those from the center near Sana’a. Drumming was used by all. Mourning the destruction of the second temple resulted in the prohibition of using musical instruments. The Yemenites, stringent in their observance, accepted this ban literally. Instead of developing the playing of musical instruments, they perfected singing and rhythm.”
“In Yemen, the Jews could be distinguished from the Arabs by their simanims (sidelocks). They are still part of their traditional costume.”
“When the atmosphere becomes charged, the singer switches the melody or changes the rhythm. The more switches there are, the more successful the event and the more esteemed the singer. Most lithurgical hymns are sung in Hebrew or Arabic and some in Aramayic. The dancers also express the content of the hymn. The singer is in constant contact with the dancers. The dance fulfills a cultural custom and is not merely performed for its own sake. The music never slows down, but rather accelerates constantly.”
“Folk tradition links the origin of the Jews in Yemen to the period of the first temple’s destruction. Ancient Jewish customs which have nearly vanished have been passed on due to the Yemenites who preserve them with utmost accuracy. Yemenites were always known for their precision. ”
“Yemenite Jews have not closed themselves off from modern civilization. Their culture allows them to accept innovations while preserving their own lifestyle. This is a living, breathing, and persuasive culture. Along with the rigidly structured songs of men, another singing style exists which allows freedom to improvise, but all remains within the boundaries of ancient tradition. The music of Yemenite Jews is not considered part of oriental Jewish music. It is a separate and unique tradition. Even among the Arab people, Yemen is esteemed as a country possessing the finest and most original music.”
“The women in Yemen did not know how to read or write and were exempt from prayer and Torah study. Since they could not sing from the Diwan, they invented their own songs. These songs voice simple human emotions to the love of man for woman, of mother for child, a woman’s feelings towards her husband, jealousy, themes that are not found in the songs of men.”
“Weddings in Yemen took about two weeks and included six banquets and three breakfasts, two parties that lasted until dawn, three special celebrations for the bride, five ceremonies for the groom and seven for the bride, seven processions for the groom and three for the bride. The culmination was the Henna ceremony, the only tradition that is still practiced in Israel today. A Yemenite proverb says, ‘The wedding is for two, but the joy is for thousands.’ The Henna ceremony is as popular today as it was in the early days. The day after the Henna ceremony is the wedding day.”
“With the establishment of the state of Israel, most of the Yemenites came in Operation Magic Carpet. There were more than 1000 Jewish communities in Yemen. The largest one in Sana’a had about 5000 Jews. The total number of Jews in Yemen was estimated at 70,000.”
It was between 1948 and 1950 that the vast majority of the nation’s 48,818 Jews departed the country. They piled aboard 430 flights for the young Jewish state, prompted by a lethal pogrom in Aden that followed the 1947 UN vote on the partition of Palestine. Today, there are estimated to be fewer than 400 Jews still living in Yemen. The Yemenite exodus is better known by its nickname, “Operation Magic Carpet.”
“The contribution of Yemenite Jews to Israeli music is immeasurably greater than their relative proportion to the population. The Yemenite culture flourished precisely because they held on to their uniqueness and authenticity. The ethnic dances of the Yemenites also continue to exist.”