Sheikh Qasim Yahya Zubeida is known as the spiritual father of Yemeni munshids because he paved the way for hundreds of people to take up the traditional art of inshad (chanting).
Zubeida, who began his career in inshad 44 years ago, is the founder of the Yemeni Munshid Association. He said the art can be used as an effective tool to educate citizens against negative social trends such as the high cost of dowries, addiction, terrorism and extremism.
Born in Sanaa's Old City in 1951 and educated in its Grand Mosque, Zubeida also formed the Zubeida Inshad Group, which participated in numerous regional, Arab and international events.
Al-Shorfa visited Zubeida at his home in Sanaa and spoke to him about his career.
Al-Shorfa: How important is the art of inshad in Yemeni life?
Sheikh Qasim Yahya Zubeida: Inshad surpasses other arts for Yemenis in terms of popularity and requests for its performance during religious, national and social occasions.
Inshad is a multi-purpose art form and accompanies every circumstance in life, making the muwashahat or the munshid's voice the soundtrack for [Yemeni] life in happy and sad times, whether at weddings or funerals or during national or religious occasions.
Al-Shorfa: Does inshad play a role in addressing negative trends that emerged in Yemeni society?
Zubeida: Inshad has a myriad of multi-purpose muwashahat and can be used positively to address negative social trends in Yemeni society.
On many occasions we prepared special anasheed [songs] that address the high cost of dowries, praise those who sponsor orphans and denounce those who advocate extremism, terrorism and radicalism, as Islam is the religion of tolerance and moderation. Inshad also plays a positive role in strengthening Yemeni unity and rejecting secession.
Al-Shorfa: Munshids refer to you as their spiritual father. Why?
Zubeida: In the past you could count the number of munshids on one hand -- three or four munshids at the most. People used to book me for their son's wedding two or more years in advance.
Now there are hundreds of us in all of Yemen's provinces because I opened the door for many talented people to join us. I trained them at the Yemeni Munshid Association, which I established 21 years ago. The first graduating class included 45 munshids.
I also trained munshids to sing in a group, which led my teachers like Mohammed al-Nomani to say I entered history from its widest door because I was the first to support young munshids. I renewed the art of inshad, by creating its current form, and there are many adult munshids who learned it from my tapes and recordings.
Al-Shorfa: What are your most important works?
Zubeida: I have 192 inshad works and three Ramadan suites, each consisting of 30 [inshad] works. I also have religious suites created especially for hajj, umrah, al-Sira al-Nabawiyah and al-Hijra. I extend an invitation to the various Yemeni media outlets to make use of this body of work, which is archived in the official Yemeni television library.
Al-Shorfa: What are the most important Arab and international events you participated in?
Zubeida: I was the first munshid to introduce the Yemeni muwashah on the Arab stage and the first Arab munshid to introduce it on the world stage.
We performed at the Cairo Opera House, where we won first place in inshad. We also held many inshad events in the United Arab Emirates where the late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan personally honoured us. We also performed in Jordan, and my group performed in France a few years ago, where our authentic muwashahat melodies were much appreciated.
Al-Shorfa: How many forms of Yemeni muwashahat exist?
Zubeida: There are two forms of muwashahat, stemming from two schools: the first is the Zaidi form, which is common in areas extending from Najran in the north to Saadah, Haraz, Sanaa and Dhamar in central Yemen. The second is the Sufi form, which is common from Ibb and Taiz to Hadramaut and al-Mahra in south-east Yemen, and Tehama in Hodeidah province and Jazan in the southern part of Saudi Arabia.
The first type features fast cadences that make you feel as if you are on a military march, and the second features gentle melodies, as if each is the product of the natural environment where it was born.
Al-Shorfa: You spoke about opening the door to inshad to whoever chooses to take it up as a profession. Do you worry about a decline in the quality of inshad as a result?
Zubeida: The problem lies not with the munshids who possess and develop their excellent voices, but with those who cannot find an occupation so they take up inshad as a profession and do themselves a disservice. I blame the Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Intellectual Property Protection because they should test munshids prior to granting them licenses in order to screen out the bad ones.
Some negatives emerged with the entry of amateurs like organs being used to accompany the inshad. This has a negative effect on the munshid because the organ is time-bound while the munshid must be free in his performance and able to control his timing and inshad.