23 June, 2008

Hadhramaut's Voice and the Tune

Abu Bakar Salim Bilfageeh
Anyone, young and old: living in Hadhramaut, or is from Hadhramaut, or is descended from Hadhramis who still hold on to Hadhrami beliefs and culture - would definitely know Abu Bakar Salim Bilfageeh (ابوبكر سالم بلفقيه). Of all the Hadhrami singers and musicians, no other voice is as easily recognizable and loved as that of Bilfageeh's; not only here in Hadhramout, Bilfageeh's riveting voice and unique singing style is loved by millions in the Arabian Peninsular and the Arab world.

Abubakar was born in Tarim in Wady Hadhramout, an only son to his father who died when Abubakar was still very young; and was raised by his mother, grandfather and uncles. In the 1950s, Abubakar moved to Aden and was a teacher of Arabic for a while there; he also got married. But, all along, Bilfageeh's greatest love was music; and it's that love for music, that has most shaped his life. In Aden, he met and worked with - mostly in the background - with some of the greatest performers at that time; performers like Muhammad Sa'ad Abdullah. But Aden and Southern Yemen then, did not offer him the opportunities that he craved and aspired for; and so, in the early 1960s, he moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the largest Hadhrami population in Saudi Arabia were. And as fate would have it, it's during this time, that he began his colse association with the man who would be his greatest strength and inspirer: the late Hussain Abubakar Al'Mahdhaar (حسين ابوبكر المحضار) - Hussain died in 2000, at the age of 69. It's Hussain who would pen most of Abubakar's greatest and most memorable songs; and it's Abubakar who would provide the voice for Hussain's greatest and most memorable compositions. Without Al'Mahdhaar, Abubakar would not have achieved the success that he has; and without Bilfageeh, Hussain's compositions wouldn't have been that successful.

Hussain Abubakar Al'Mahdhaar
Balfaqih was and gave the voice; Al'Mahdhaar provided the words and the tune. Abubakar lived and still lives in Saudi Arabia; and very rarely visits Hadhramout. Hussain Al'Mahdhaar lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries for decades, but spent most of his later years in She'her, Hadhramout; She'her, his birth place and the place he seemed to have loved most . Through music, Abubakar became synonymous with Hussain and vise versa; each became the other's alter ego. And through that association and cooperation, the two have given Hadhramaut, the greatest, most memorable and most loved songs of all; and made Abubakar Salem Balfaqeeeh a household name, and most probably, the greatest singing phenomenon in Arabia.

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