A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
Poet, composer and singer, Abdullah Hadi Subayt (1918–2007) was a pioneering Yemeni figure, in written word and original music composition. He was born in al-Hawtah, Lahj governorate’s main city. His talent was nourished in an environment filled with songs, dance, music and breathtaking natural beauty. He was surrounded by the fields of al-Husayni and was enchanted by the scent of roses; the beauty is reflected clearly in his poetry and songs.
Subayt’s exposure to poetry started early. His father used to take him to local literary sessions in al-Hawta, where poetry was recited. There, young Subayt used to listen to everything around him, pushed by his strong passion to imitate and rival the poets he encountered.
He began with writing Yemeni folk poetry, Humini poetry, and then he mastered classical Arabic poetry. He worked as a teacher in al-Mouhsniah school in Lahj. Then he was appointed Lahj’s cultural deputy in 1948. During these years, he wrote a set of poetry collections, Crying Tears (1963), With the Dawn (1963), The Peasant and the Land (1963), The Silent Ones (1964), Songs of Life (1964), and Return to God (1974).
A lot of us knew Subayt as a poet, but not as a composer and a singer. Unfortunately, many of his lyrics that were sung by famous singers in Yemen and the Gulf countries were attributed to other poets and composers.
Many of Subayt’s verses and melodies traveled through the geography of Yemen, towards the Arab world. They were performed by many famous Arab and Yemeni singers, including Fadil Mohamed al-Lahji (d. 1967), Mohammed Saleh Hamdun (d. 2003), Mohammed Mourshid Naji (d. 2013), Mohammed Sa’ad Abdullah (d. 2002), Faisal Alawi (d. 2010). Iskander Thabet (d. 1996), Ayoub Taresh, Talal Maddah (d. 2000) and Ahmad Fathi.
Well-known singers that were inspired by the rich Lahji arts owe Subayt in one way or another, because he contributed to establishing the Lahji singing style. This was made possible by his mentor, the Lahji poet and prince, Ahmad Fadl al-Qumondan (d. 1943). The Lahji singing style was later adopted by many singers in Yemen, such as Fadil Mohammed al-Lahji, Mohammed Saleh Hamdun, Saudi Ahmad Saled, Faisel Alawi, and Ahmad Yousef al-Zoubidi (d. 1990).
One can sense in Subayt’s words and melodies traces of sadness, pain and suffering. Anyone who reads his poems realizes that he embodied a lover with heartache as well as a hard-working peasant. His soul was filled with love and beauty, his lyrical poems melt the hearts of those who listen.
Subayt’s work represents the tenderness of a singer and the genius of a poet, both features making his lyrical poems enchanting and his melodies soft and compelling. If one listens to the song ‘I asked the eye’, that he composed its music, one realizes from the first tone the creative power he had. One also sees that it is the work of a sensitive artist who finds melodies in his soul, melodies that will become an immortal hymn in the memory of existence and the hearts of every lover.
The song ‘I asked the eye’ is always present in our hearts as Yemenis. It gets its liveliness and immortality by its melody, and its simple tender lyrics, especially when we listen to it performed by the late singer Mohammed Saleh Hamdun, the best among those who performed it. After him, many voices from the Gulf area and Yemen [i.e. Talal Maddah, Abubaker Salem (d. 2017), Ahmed Fathi and Ayoub Taresh] sang the lyrics whether in private sessions or in recording studios.
The poem was written by the Lahji prince Muhsin Saleh Mahdi (d. 1977). The prologue says
I asked the eye: where is my lover… my tears answered: she went away
Your lover never asked about you… and left your heart in flames.
Among the famous poems that were arranged for music later by Subayt, one reads:
Oh one with beautiful forehead, the night went by as I was asleep,
Oh where am I where am I, oh God I didn’t leave him,
I remembered him with the breeze,
Oh the moon reminds me of you, the morning star,
Oh darling, I love you and my tears witness…
Some of these song lyrics were written by Subayt and some by others.
All Subayt’s lyrics have dance rhythms, inspired by Lahji culture, and all his poems are filled with love and beauty, tenderness and romance, such as:
You asked about my love… so I became shrapnel
Don’t you know… that love, sickened my body
Oh Eve I have a heart… melted in my chest
Ask my tears about me… they can tell you about tragedies.
Subayt was not only a genius lyrical poet, who mastered the Humini lyrical poetry, he was also a great writer of traditional Arabic poetry. His collections are filled with poems that bear witness to his excellent usage of classical Arabic language. One of his classical poems, ‘Oh neighbor of the valley’, written in five verses, references a poem by the famous Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi (d. 1932):
I almost forgot love until she visited me… A phantom that recalled my passions
When I called him I wish he answered …
Oh neighbor of the valley I am enchanted
Your memory brought to me sweet dreams
Your phantom shook between my running tears… I was afraid that it might hit the ground
So I locked it in my eye so it froze …
I lived your love in my memory and sleep,
Yet memories are the echo of the tear’s speech.
Homeland as a theme is dominant in Subayt’s poetry. He wrote revolutionary poems that speaks to people’s spirits and invites them to go out to fight the British occupation. We read in one of his poems:
Blood is the water for these roses… and those flowers grow with loyalty
Oh people, conquer this horizon with light… and days will pay you back with independence.
Homeland has a holy place in Subayt poetry, since it represents glory and pride, dignity and high morals; he writes:
Our homeland is our heritage… a heritage of pride and glory
In it we find dignity and morals… and enemies find their graves.
For the sake of his homeland, Subayt finds pleasure in suffering, he writes:
My homeland is a beloved… her love fills me with immortal suffering
No matter how hard I suffer… I always ask for more.
Anyone who studies Subayt’s literary work will know how rich it is; it varies between lyrical, national and Sufi poems, all distributed in the six poetry collections he left behind. In addition, he left tens of composed songs that are sung at different occasions, happy or sad.
 This famous song, which was sung by many singers, is classified as Sahili seashore poetry, well known in Abyan governorate. Its lyrics were written by Sultan Abdulqader ben Ahmed al-Fadli, one of Abyan’s sultans, he was in power between 1924 and 1927, and the poem was written as part of a poetic dialogue between the Sultan and the poet Ahmed Moubark.
 This poem was written by the poet and historian Prince Ahmed Fadel al-Abdali, who is also called al-Qumondan d. 1943.
Mohammed Sultan al-Yusufi was born in 1992, a poet and writer interested in Yemeni singing, art and literature. He studied media at the University of Sana’a. Al-Yusufi is a member of the Yemeni Writers League and the Yemeni Story League. With his friends, he founded ‘The forum of modernity and cultural enlightenment’. He published The Silence of Lights (Oman, 2019) and Country of Broken Windows: A Collection of Poems (2019) featuring a group of young poets, which was translated into English and German. Mohammed worked as an editor on Songs of Sun and Alphabet of Nation: Essays About Abdullah Abdulwahab al-Fadul, Sultan al-Suraymi, Ayoub Taresh and Abdulbaset al-Absi. His book Yemeni Personalities of Art and Literature is to be published soon. He is a regular contributor to several local newspapers.