Long ago, I remember trying to get in touch with Yemenite musical heritage, during which an acquaintance mentioned Sa’adia ben Amram to me. Information was sparse on this 17th century poet from the highlands of northern Yemen (normally, I’d use Jstor for this type of search, but my student access expired…sorry, Google). It didn’t take much longer until I discovered that Orphaned Land, an Israeli progressive metal band that I hadn’t heard from since 2008, made a cover of one of Amram’s renown poems, “Sapari”. Amazing! The hybrid melodies between traditional Yemeni folk vocals intertwining with elements of metal was masterfully achieved (to my ears, at least)—I listened to the track several more times, and still didn’t know how to react!
I was captivated enough to find myself comparing the lyrics and the actual poem side-by-side, with the (limited) Hebrew I understood, whilst picking up new vocabulary in the process. To my excitement, I discovered that “Sapari” is often performed by many other Israeli musicians (whom are not all Mizrachi) in a variety of genres.
סַפְּרִי תַמָּה תְמִימָה
סַפְּרִי נָגִיל בְּתֵימָא
בַּת מְלָכִים הַחֲכָמָה
אָן מְקוֹמֵךְ סַפְּרִי לִי
עָנְתָה יוֹנָה סְעַדְיָה
לִי בְּפַלְטֵרִין עֲלִיָּה
וַאֲנִי תּוֹךְ לֵב אֳנִיָּה
בַּיְּפִי עוֹטָה מְעִילִי
Tell me, O innocent one, Tell me, we will rejoice in innocence! Daughter of wise kings, where is your hiding place? Tell me. My dove answered: Sa’adya, I went up to the palaces. And I, though secretly I am poor, still I am robed in beauty.
If you are reading this post and can point me to credible references or exhibits regarding Sa’adia ben Amram or other Yemenite or Yemeni artists (contemporary or historic), please share! Preferably in English or Arabic, since my Hebrew is weak.