A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff (d. 1969) was known in Hadramawt as a poet, composer and instrumentalist – and had a clear role in developing the poetry and melodies of al-Dan. He created, during a career that spanned almost half a century, many of the best songs of the Hadhrami al-Dan genre in both melody and lyrics, such as Qal Al Ma’ni Bin Hasan, Haya Layali Jamilah, Shil Sawtak Wahkum Al Maghna, Ya Rab Sallak Tikhali Sirana Maktoum, Tab Al Samar Qul Dan Ya Ibn Zain, and other songs that have become well-known and widely performed. Many artists have sung al-Kaff’s songs, with legendary singer Abu Bakr Salem Balfaqih (d. 2017) at the forefront.
Birth, upbringing, religious and educational background
Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff was born in 1907 in the city of Tarim to a family that was educated, wealthy, cultured and artistic. His father was the scholar and poet Hasan bin Abdullah al-Kaff, and although he named his son Omar, he became known by his nickname, also given by his father, Hadad. Like the rest of the children of that generation, Hadad started his religious and educational path by learning the Holy Quran in a traditional school, Almat Saeed, which is located in Al Suhail. After that, his father enrolled him in Rabat Tarim, where he learned jurisprudence, grammar, the phonetic rules of recital of the Quran, handwriting and spelling. In the Al Haq School in Tarim, he learned jurisprudence and Arabic, in addition to the natural sciences and other subjects, like history, geography, math. In this academic environment, his understanding of culture was developed, and he gained a background in jurisprudence that allowed him to become, in the future, one of the members of the Fatwa Council of Tarim. In the libraries of the city, Hadad was able to learn valuable lessons about Arabic literature and history, as the historian Abdulqadir BaMatraf mentions. Hadad lived a wide-ranging life, one that was filled with cultural and innovative activities, before dying in Dawan in 1969.
Hadad, in addition to being fond of poetry, listening to poetry set to music, and religious music, liked music and singing sessions. He was influenced in his musical and artistic background by an artist named Abdulqadir bin Hussein al-Kaff, also known as Saeed, who had a beautiful voice and was one of the most well-known oud players in the city of Tarim at the time. He received a general education, and learned the arts from a knowledgeable teacher with many interests in science and the arts: Omar bin Abdullah al-Hibshi. This was the beginning of his education, and Hadad learned how to play the oud and the violin. He also learned from, it is said, an artist named Omar Ghabah from Aden, and Ghabah taught him the art of playing the violin (rababa, a lute-like instrument).
The sensual poet
Many fans of the al-Dan style of music believe that the poetry of Hadad bin Hasan is mostly about love, and it is a sublime style of love poetry that is full of emotions, an active imagination, tenderness and genuine feelings. Muhammad Abdulqadir BaMatraf says that Hadad was “unique among Hadhrami poets who wrote poems on love, and he had insight and natural aptitude for crafting beautiful images and meanings that contemporary love poets, or even those that have come after him, just did not have. This is what led to the passion and love that his fans had for his unparalleled poems and melodies, and this was why he had such a lofty position among poets that no one has had since.”
In his love poems, al-Kaff would always reiterate that his beliefs were the beliefs of a generous people who adhere to the rules of Islam. Here, he means those “that take a path worthy of praise and stay away from anything that would damage their religion or chivalry”, and “My beliefs are the beliefs of the men of the laws of Islam and generosity”, and when he said, “We ask for loyalty and abidance by laws, because we are of a people who fulfill their promises.”
Al-Kaff’s poems and melodies were clearly influential, not just to the poets that were his contemporaries and those who came after him, but also on singers and artists. Hussein Abu Bakr al-Mihdhar (d. 2000), a poet and composer, recognized the debt he owed to Hadad:
You are owed a debt by artists that we are still paying back until today,
A debt owed by poetry, poets, lovers of song, and singers,
I owe much to you, more than anyone else,
I will always remember what you have done for me, even after my bones have turned to dust,
You taught me how to write love poetry to bring out the best in lovers,
You taught us what is inferior, and what is superior,
You told us that if we were strict in something, we should compensate the strictness with gentleness,
Poetry that has no tenderness does not affect those with emotions.
Women in Hadad’s life were an inspiration for his masterpieces in poetry and melody, and he married several women. His wives were his muses, providing an emotion and feeling to his work, and his best melodies and poems were about them. One of his wives used to sing in a melodious voice, and he wrote a lot of poetry about her. He spoke to her in many poems, such as when he says:
Oh night, sing to me your songs, and repeat them to me again,
May Allah keep jealousy from us, and let everyone with joy in their heart hear your happiness,
Oh moon, you are welcome in your morning and welcome when you set,
Welcome those that are happy, and welcome their families,
Their beauty and grace have exceeded the gazelles,
What is Um Khalthoum to this?
In music, in your happiness, there is none like you.
The virtuoso composer
In addition to being a poet, Hadad was a majestic composer. The well-known poet, Saeed Mubarak Marzouq, says: “Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff was a poet and composer, and he used many melodies.” Abdulqadir BaMatraf says: “When I moved from Mukalla to work in Seiyun in the Hadramawt Valley in 1946, I found that the sound of al-Dan music and its lyrics in the Hadramawt Valley were dominated by two legends of folk poetry and melodies, while the rest of the folk poets and composers orbited these two giants. The first was Omar bin Hasan bin Abdullah al-Kaff, known as Hadad, who is from the city of Tarim, while the second was Saeed Mubarak Marzouq from Seiyun. These two giants remained at the top of the pyramid for al-Dan music for around half of a century, until they passed away.”
Among the songs that were mentioned by BaMatraf that were written and composed by Hadad are Yaqoul bin Hashem Bakat Al Ayan Dam, Shil Sawtak Wahkum Al Mughani, and Kharaj Fasl Tab Al Ins.
The lover of al-Dan and melodies
Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff was not just an amateur practicing al-Dan style and music; he had boundless love for and a strong connection to it. Hadad’s love for music was great, and he had a heart that was sensitive to music and ears tuned to enjoying the art, and he objected to any unpleasant voices or sounds. He is the artist whose art became a symbol of love, and the lover whose love became sublime art.
Raise your voice, and master the song,
Adhere to the style of the al-Dan and its melodies,
Today I am in love, and I have a meaning to convey,
So, tune your voice until it is beautiful.
For a long time, singing has had its structure and method,
It has its careful balance and measures,
Whoever loves al-Dan must strive,
Because it has its rules and its measures.
Al-Dan, to Hadad, is a form of art that stands alone and has its own characteristics, rules and principles that are not known to anyone but a loving artist who is loyal to their art and music before anything else.
To Hadad bin Hasan, al-Nasnasahmeans careful, close and gentle singing to the sounds of al-Dan music, as well as going in-depth and thoroughly studying his own world of music. It is like a gentle breeze that comes in softly and leaves a pleasant scent in the area. This can be seen from his repeated use of the verb nasnis, which is used as an imperative, as are many synonyms, in the beginning of many of his poems; such as:
Raise your voice and make it clear, show your mastery,
Because your voice is so beautiful, it has agreed with my heart and affected me.
Bin Hasan says to master your singing the voice of al-Dan, oh beloved,
And let us be happy, it is their loss if they are jealous.
If music is, these days, a cure for many illnesses, then al-Dan was, to Hadad, a refuge from weariness and a ray of hope through every tribulation. He wrote:
Sing it masterfully, oh Ashour,
I have had sadness and troubles enough,
My happiness, when I am sad, comes from your singing,
A branch weighted with fruit, easy to reach.
There is no blame or unease in singing,
Sing the al-Dan music to bring happiness to our hearts,
So that everyone who hears it says, ‘How great this happiness is!’
A branch weighted with fruit, easy to reach.
The sound, or the melody, is always the number one priority for Hadad, because he is, by nature, an artist who loves melody. He wrote:
The boy said, tonight I heard a beautiful sound,
It filled the day with melodies,
Oh, my lord, he heard a tenderness in its voice,
And its melodies filled with longing and nostalgia,
With its song, it has made lovers obsessed with their love, almost uncovered,
Oh, Allah, I ask you to keep it a secret.
Hadad tells us that, whenever he hears a pure melody or singing, he becomes frozen in place, with his heart and mind engrossed by what he hears, while he keeps quiet:
I stood still, and my foot could not move an inch,
Standing in the sun, not being able to do anything else,
Listening to its singing, one note after another,
It is singing from inside a walled garden,
And my heart is with her, flying overhead,
Oh Allah, I ask that you keep our secret.
He prays that he could transform into a part of the tree, between the branch and the leaf, so that he could listen to this mythical bird singing from on the tree until the end of its song: “Praying that I could transform into a part between the branch and the leaf.”
Muhammad Abdulqadir BaMatraf wrote: “My attention was drawn to when he said, ‘Praying that I could transform into a part between the branch and the leaf.’ This is a unique and transparent meaning that is very innovative, creative, and with a deep and intricate imagination. I do not think that I have seen a meaning that resembles this, not in poetry in classical Arabic or folk poetry.”
Al-Dan singers and artists who sang his poetry and melodies
It is known that a poem in the style of al-Dan used to be sung without a cadence or a rhythm, and without any musical instrument. Musical instruments were introduced later, and there were musicians who were specialized in the al-Dan style of music. When the term ‘al-Dan singers’ is used, it means those singers who do not use musical instruments, singing al-Dan songs unaccompanied.
Singers, on the other hand, are the ones who sing al-Dan music with accompanying rhythm and musical instruments, like oud, violins, etc. This is the difference in the al-Dan style of music, between the acapella vocalists and the singers.
Among the most prominent singers of al-Dan music who sang the poems of Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff and his melodies are: Awadh Hameed BaSaeedah, Awadh Obaid Fadhel, Abdullah Bin Bark, Awadh Bin Yaslam Buraik, Hadi Bin Yaslam Buraik, Obaid Mubarak Bani, Saeed Bin Furaij, Ashour al-Shan, Saeed Marzouq, a singer and composer, Awadh BaRamadah.
As for the most prominent singers who sang the poems of Hadad bin Hasan al-Kaff and his melodies, they include an artist who was his contemporary and close friend, Ashour Aman, who sang the biggest share of Hadad’s poems, those that were recorded and those that were written. Together they were an excellent duo. There were also Aidarous and Hussein bin Saeed al-Kaff, Muhammad Jumaah Khan, Sheikh al-Bar, Abu Bakr Salem, Karamah Mirsal, Alawi Abdulqadir al-Kaff, Saleh Abdulqadir, Yaslam Dahi, Saeed Abdulnaeem, Abdulrab Idris, Ali al-Attas, Mahfoudh Bin Buraik, Hasan BaHashwan, Miftah Subait Kandarah, Abdulrahman al-Hadad, Abdulqadir Jumaah Khan, Saleh Mubarak Salmeen, Alawi Saleh Al Kaff, Abdullah Mukhrij, Badawi Zubair and Saeed Abdulkhair.
Hadad’s poems were also sung by a very famous singer, Muhammad Saad Abdullah, as well as Faisal Alawi. There are rarely music gatherings or social get-togethers in Hadramawt that do not have the songs of Hadad bin Hasan, and these songs have become a part of the culture and the heritage. Men and women sing these songs, and they have become, as the poet said:
Songs that live forever Oh, how these songs are eternal,
They will remain alive for eternity As long as there is a soul and life left.
Jilani Alawi al-Kaff was born in 1963, in Tarim, Hadramawt. He is a member of the Yemeni Writers’ Union and the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. He has a number of published works.
- The Master of the Al Dan Style, the Lover of Melody The Tarim Center for Studies and Publishing 2003 (first edition).
- Riyadh Al Ashiqeen (Eloquent and Lyrical Poetry) The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Sana’a, 2004.
- The Al Dan CommunityAl Kaff Center for Studies and Publishing, 2011.
- Al Dan: Creation and MasteryThe Abadi Center, The Al Kaff Center, and the Tarim Center for Studies and Publishing, 2012.
- The Meters and Rhymes of Folk and Popular PoetryThe General Authority for Books, Sana’a, 2012
- Rays of Light from Tarim (Poetry)the Modern Library of Tarim, 2014
Love of the Spring (forthcoming).
Read more about the songs of Hadad al-Kaff in my book, The Chief of Al Dan, The Lover of Melodies, Dar Tarim, 2003.
- The Sensual Poet, Hadad bin Hasan Al Kaff Muhammad Abdulqadir BaMatraf, The Branch of the Yemeni Center of Cultural Research, Archeology, and Museums, Mukalla, Hadramawt, October 1982
- Hadadiyat (The Poetry of Hadad bin Hasan Al Kaff), collected by Alawi Abdulqadir Al Kaff, the Yemeni Artists Union, Seiyun Branch, 1986
- The Poetry Collection of Hadad bin Hasan Al Kaff, Part 1, First Edition, 2003, Collected by Hamid Hadad Al Kaff, Attn: Zain Hamid Al Kaff
- The Master of the Al Dan Style, the Lover of Melody, Jilani Al Kaff, First Edition, 2003, The Tarim Center for Studies and Publishing
- The Composer of Al Dan Compositions, Saeed Marzouq, Abdulqadir Muhammad Al Saban, The Branch of the Yemeni Center for Cultural Research, Archeology, and Museums, Mukalla, November 1979