Yemen gets hooked on reggae
BY CECELIA CAMPBELL-LIVINGSTON Observer reporter email@example.com
This is the seventh in a 10-part series looking at the impact of dancehall/reggae culture around the world.
DURING protests last year against the Yemen regime, students used some songs of homegrown reggae band 3 Meters Away to express their discontent.
Hard-hitting tracks such as Inhale Freedom and I'm Staying Till The Regime Leaves, were reportedly heard throughout the unrest.
Led by the dreadlocked Ahmed Asery, 3 Meters Away are among the first reggae musicians in Yemen, a troubled country in western Asia.
Formed in 2010, the group includes Ahmed Asery (singer/songwriter and guitarist; Hassan Elmalik (saxophone and bass); and Conga players Oud and Munzer Abdallah.
According to Asery, 3 Meters Away also has "specially selected" musicians who collaborate with the band.
"In Yemen, we know the pianist Khaled Haidar and rapper Ahmed Sheikh. In Sudan, we jam with the Sudan Roots band, and we have friends in San Francisco and Berlin," he told the Jamaica Observer.
In 2011, 3 Meters Away released their first album, The Beginning of Change. One year later, their second album, Insan (Arabic for Human) was produced by the Arab Fund for Art and Culture.
Asery says the band's latest album, Love World, was inspired by "an amazing socio-anthropological visit to Ethiopia, Germany and Sudan".
He added that though Arabic traditions are strong throughout the country of over 23 million people, western culture is gradually being embraced by a younger generation.
"People interact positively to the reggae beats in Yemen. We sing in Arabic, English and German," he said.
No established reggae acts have performed in Yemen, but Asery says that has not stopped even conservative Arabs from enjoying the sound.
"Music as a universal power travels. It travelled with the ships coming to purchase Arabian incense from Aden at the Indian ocean, and Jamaica's music reached the hearts and minds of the people," he reasoned.
Asery, who rates Bob Marley among his biggest influences, has witnessed the appreciation for reggae in his country grow since 3 Meters Away was formed.
"We gather and watch live concerts, we volunteer and make Earth Day concerts, we travel and meet friends and perform in Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Yemen, and Sudan."
It is not all music. Asery is studying medicine, while his bandmates are involved in Yemen's education and social work sectors.
He notes that 3 Meters Away share a common goal — bringing peace to their country, which has a long history of civil war and conflict with neighbours Saudi Arabia.
"We felt a responsibility to share and initiate youth artistic communities, aiming to recover themselves from war and conflict, as well as building an intact future for us and our children," he said.