A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
Despite apparent changes happening in Yemeni society about accepting the presence of women alongside men in many areas of life, the arts field – for example, singing and acting – remains the most difficult to enter because of customs and traditions. In fact, only a few women have broken these barriers to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Each one of them has her own story of struggle and suffering because of society and its reaction. However, Methal’s story is completely different: she decided that wherever she can live her dream, that is where her home exists. Therefore, it is no surprise that she left her home in Yemen to do what she loves to do and to achieve her dream.
Al-Madaniya: Who is Methal?
Methal: I am a Yemeni singer-songwriter and grew up in Yemen. I started playing music by ear at a young age and learned to play guitar when I was 19. I started writing songs in 2010, and since then I have been learning and developing my skills in music.
Photo Courtesy of Vanessa heins
Al-Madaniya: What does singing mean to you?
Methal: Music is essential in my life. I am very passionate about it, and I crossed the sea for music.
Al-Madaniya: What was the first work that you considered as the key step for your success? When and where was it?
Methal: ‘You’re a nation’ was the first song I released in 2016 when I was in Istanbul, Turkey, where I also filmed the video. The idea of the song was meant for those politicians who took over the revolution and left all the youth hanging out to dry after they went out to protest for a better future. The song has had over 50,000 listeners on Spotify and 4,000 views on YouTube. Most of the listeners are in Yemen and America.
Al-Madaniya: Throughout your artistic journey, who are the characters that you have been affected by? And who is behind your achievement?
Methal: I have had many influences. Western music I was exposed to at a young age. It was a mixture of classic rock and pop to modern music. I like the storytelling method of writing music, so I combine catchy tunes and lyric writing and a different method of music structure building. People who supported me through it all, even in the days when I wanted to give up, are Abdurrahman Hussein and Reem Jarhum.
Al-Madaniya: As someone who practiced singing in Yemen for a while, tell us your thoughts about singing and music there.
Methal: Yemen has a rich art culture but traditions have restricted artists from practicing and expressing art in public. These restrictions cover gender inequality, race, and also using religion as an excuse to undermine arts existence in the rich history of Yemen. It’s difficult for a female musician to choose this path because not many would encourage girls to sing or play music, because it’s considered forbidden – which is what Yemeni people say when a girl wants to pursue music as a career. Yemeni music needs modernizing, and artists introducing Yemeni music to the world.
Al-Madaniya: Let’s talk about something important for all singers – the audience. Singing in English limits your audience in Yemen, especially as most Yemenis don’t speak the language well. So why do you sing in English?
Methal: Singing in English was an escape from the reality I lived in. In another sense, it seemed like some sort of resistance to a system which doesn’t want change to come, especially for girls. The second reason is the exposure to Western music at young age.
Methal with Sam Harris from X Ambassadors. Photo Courtesy of Vanessa heins
Al-Madaniya: Until today all your songs are only in English. Do you plan for Arabic songs in future? If not, why not?
Methal: There will be Arabic songs when I feel I’m ready to do so. Arabic music is rich, from writing lyrics to music, and I want to do it justice and not mess around with it.
Al-Madaniya: You sing songs that carry political ideas, such as the recent American ban on some countries – Yemen is one of them – refugees, and the how media looks at Yemen. Have you affected any side?
Methal: I’m not sure about the impact I’ve had, but the only thing that I know from the people that I know in the art scene in Yemen is that a lot of girls came out to play music in public after I left.
Al-Madaniya: Art in all its forms is a mission. As a singer, guitarist and writer, what is the message that you wish to send and to whom exactly?
Methal: My mission is to achieve my goal in writing good songs and to study music formally in the near future.
Al-Madaniya: Throughout the ages, Yemeni women in general have faced a lot of difficulties, especially if they decide to go beyond the line of customs and traditions and enter the world of fame. Tell us about your own difficulties, did you experience harassment? How did you deal with difficulties?
Methal: There was a lot of criticism and harassment during my time in Yemen and even now. I still receive messages from people telling me I should quit what I’m doing and it’s not a good example of what girls do in Yemen. And I deal with those things normally, by simply not caring, because when you believe in something so much you don’t stop doing what you love for anyone.
Al-Madaniya: What are the reasons behind your travelling abroad? Do you miss Yemen? What do you miss, and do you think about returning?
Methal: I travelled because I wasn’t able to do what I love there anymore. It seemed like a dead end at that time of my life, but I chose to continue, that’s why I decided to leave. I miss Yemen dearly and one day I hope to go back. I miss a lot of things in Yemen that I don’t seem to find there anymore, such as my friends and the cafes we used to go to. Like the Philippeno restaurant we used to go to and sing karaoke in, in old Sana’a. I miss playing there and the people who always used to attend to see me play. I also miss the Basement Cultural Foundation.
Al-Madaniya: What do you want to say to young Yemeni girls and girls in general coming from conservative societies?
Methal: Follow your dreams and don’t let small traditions tell you what to do and what not to do. Just don’t give up on what you’re passionate about, because life has no meaning if you live for others and not yourself.
Al-Madaniya: Last words from Methal?
Methal: I’m releasing songs soon, and they are going to be new pieces I haven’t released before. I hope people will like them.