A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
In Ayoub’s hands
It’s very hard to write about Ayoub Taresh: he’s a public icon with a long creative life, whose tales were scrutinized by fans until everything available was known, but at the same time he remains a mystery because he guards his privacy. He’s one of the few Yemeni artists who is adored by everyone, and continues to be adored year after year.
Taresh started training his voice by performing Mohamed Abdelwahab’s songs and reciting traditional Yemeni songs. He then went on to explore his inner voice, specifically his passions. This is epitomized in his song ‘A lover’s letter’, marking him out as a distinguished songwriter and composer.
Over the course of 40 years, Taresh was keen to become the voice of the Republic, regardless of the situation and events around him, wanting to transcend all differences and biases with his art. He expressed this to Yemenis, singing, “Fill the earth with smiles, hold up into the sun what is important, and be careful of divisions under the sky in your ranks, rise above the forenoon, beyond all harm”.
Art work courtesy of Basma Rawi
Ayoub and the curious poet
Abdullah Abdelwahab Noman, known as the curious poet, was a revolutionary, politician and journalist – as well as being a poet. Taresh was known for his melodious and intimate voice before meeting Noman. Their meeting marks a historical shift in the Yemeni music scene, the birth of Taizi music. Before their collaboration, Taizi music wasn’t well recognized as a strong linguistic and melodic school, but due to their efforts Taizi music became equal to well-established musical schools, such as the Sanani, Lahji, Hadrami and Adeni schools. The pair produced many famous songs, drawing attention to this unique musical style.
Art is a letter
Everyone knows Taresh as a very polite, kind and humble person. He never sought stardom – and it never changed his personality. Although he has been given many great names and nicknames, and people showered him with praise, he never fell into the void of narcissism.
All listeners are moved by his words, which invoke deep feelings – as if Taresh is singing for or about you. For this reason, everyone regards him as their favorite artist. Many political parties tried to exploit the people’s love for him by asking him to run as their candidate for parliamentary elections, but his unhesitant response was: “I am an artist and can’t offer the people anything in terms of politics, this responsibility is not for me and I’m not for it.”
Despite the poverty and difficult living conditions that he endures, Taresh remains humble. He never used his art in any opportunistic way. In an interview, he was quoted as saying: “Singing is a message before it’s a beautiful melody, words hold meaning to every heart and are translated by your senses.” This quote is reflected in everything he sang and composed, as well as his relationships with everyone.
The singing context
Taresh continuously evolved, and sang hundreds of songs that are played daily because they are pillars of love and affection, imprinted in people’s hearts and minds, forming the collective soul of Yemeni people. It is very difficult to highlight one of his subjects without mentioning the others. It’s worth noting that the word ‘subject’ is in reference to the content of the songs he sang, for example, national songs, Sufi songs, emotional songs, displacement songs, and earth songs.
In Taresh’s voice the difference between political and national music is unmistakable, because he never adopted a political ideology or followed any political trend. During the course of his artistic career, he remained independent and stressed the importance of artistic freedom.
He had a very clear stance on national issues: always siding with the people. He sang hundreds of songs, aiming to raise the collective awareness of people about many national issues concerning them, focusing mainly on their love for the country.
Many Yemenis recite the song ‘My country, my country Yemen. I salute you my home forever’. And to his melodies, students chant the national anthem, which he composed, singing, “Repeat, O World, my song. Echo it over and over again. Remember, through my joy, each march. Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals”. This song is considered a binding contract for all Yemenis and a de facto constitution. It continues, “In faith and love I am part of mankind. An Arab I am all my life. My heart beats in tune with Yemen. No foreigner shall dominate over Yemen”.
During the revolution of 11 February 2011, known locally as the popular youth peaceful uprising, Taresh’s songs summoned the Yemeni collective consciousness to express its emotions. It was as if he had written revolutionary decrees through his voice and music, fueling the people’s revolutionary sentiment and rejection of injustice. His words healed the revolutionaries wounds, as he sang, “We gift you valuable blood, but is there blood too valuable for you? Your glory will be prolonged, in a new beginning woven by the pen”.
If you recall the revolution days, you will remember Taresh’s voice gathering masses and flaming their excitement, preparing everyone to make a sacrifice, and uniting people with love for Yemen while they recite, “Here is every believer with a conscience, you are their alcove beloved country, here our souls will not submit, here our stature will not bend”.
He sang The return of Sinbad, a poem by Ali bin Ali Sabrah, chronicling the revolution of 26 September 1962. In September, the anniversary of the Yemeni revolution, he sang Othman Abu Maher’s poem, ‘September my dawn’: “Oh the people’s revolt in September, serve me justice and feed my age with peaceful revolutionary victory”. He sang from Abas Aldailami’s poems The liberation convoy, and from Creation and perseverance: “On a road constructed by Dhi Yazan, delusional are those who think that we’ll submit, my faith is a hand building tomorrow, and another guarding my country’s glory”. He also sang from Noman’s poems, including a song titled ‘This is my day’: “This is my day so walk during the sunrise of the revolution, weaving flags from its light, underneath it we boastfully stride”.
Furthermore, he sang about Sana’a’s defense battle, the newly born capital of the Republic after the revolution. He also sang about unification before it was realized, covering poems by Noman and Maher. He continued to lobby the people in order to achieve unity. His song ‘Lovers rendezvous’, by the poet Ibrahim al-Kadrani, was his most famous song at the time, resonating with a longing for all parts of Yemen to meet. When unification became reality on 22 May 1990, Ahmed Jubary wrote, “Who are all these lights for?”, which became the song embodying the celebrations for unity.
His connection to Yemen’s history grew when he started to search for traditional Yemeni songs. He went with his friend Maher to document the history of Yemen’s traditionally melancholic songs, covering shepherds’ folk music and local farmland songs, which are usually sung during the cultivation season. He was immensely influenced by these types of songs and incorporated them into his music glorifying the earth and farming, summarizing the social messages he wanted to spread – describing landscapes fondly and recalling memories of places while recollecting their historical importance.
Art work courtesy of Basma Rawi
Immigration is one of the most used words in Yemeni society, whether it is inside or outside of the country. And in this context, Taresh’s songs resonate greatly with immigrants, expressing their suffering outside of Yemen and that of their families inside the country. He attempted to bridge the gap between immigrants and Yemen through his voice, singing various songs, amplifying the suffering and reasons for people abandoning their birthplace in search of a decent living in major cities inside the country; songs which include: ‘I urge you o traveler’, ‘On the day of my trip, I said my goodbyes to the family’, ‘The post man’, ‘The sound of birds’, and ‘The breeze’.
Taresh has an enclave of emotional music, focusing on lovers’ meeting, breakups and connecting with loved ones, filled with noble lyrics, touching the hearts of those in love, sometimes unveiling the emotions of cold hearts. It is very difficult to single out which of his songs to classify as emotional, as he has covered many life scenarios and contexts in his music. You can now see his lyrics on walls, cars and posters, from the sheer fame of his lyrics.
He also sang about love and its dreams, particularly weddings and the wedding night, when love is sealed. He sang three songs in this style, known as Zafa music. These songs have become the anthem for weddings, and the soundtracks of the heart for Yemeni society.
Taresh’s voice is also full of spirituality, embodying the spirit of Sufi mysticism and symbolizing selflessness, even when he sings about nationalism or love. However, many of his songs with Sufi or religious connotations represented a new experimental curve in his career; these songs can be referred to as the Sufi songs.
In the sum of all music
It has been noted that Taresh was known as a composer since the release of his first song. His voice was solely used for his compositions, and he never composed for another artist. His tunes received much praise, and are known to listeners immediately. He is the commander of tunes, and the master of musical performance. It’s also worth noting that one of his characteristics was the use of dialect – in particular, the Taizi and Tahami dialects.
His performances highlighted his awareness of dialect characteristics; he showed this in his vocal expressions. The beat had always been hostage to his voice and mood; even covered melodies were dominated by his voice. It’s noticeable in his songs where he abandoned the Oud for modern compositions, in songs such as, ‘The wander’, ‘Parting the city of light’, ‘Move out of my way’, and ‘Live your life’.
In conclusion, what makes Taresh unique is the characteristic of his voice, which allows him to command the listener’s soul, heart and imagination. He embodied Yemeni sensations and united the feelings of all Yemenis, even though his voice could be viewed as representative of Taizi music. What is incredible is that his melancholic voice was always a cause of joy to everyone.