x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Blast from Yemen's past

A British hobbyist who found almost-forgotten recordings in Sanaa reminds us that history is everywhere.

As an ancient site of human settlement, Yemen is rich in antiquities, despite the depredations of time, war and looters.

It does stretch the definition of "ancient treasures" to include long-play vinyl records from the 1960s. But one man's dusty rubbish is another man's beloved cultural artefact.

By digging out, cherishing and assembling LPs of Yemeni music from a generation or two ago, British music enthusiast Chris Menist has done a great service to Yemen, and to world-music fans everywhere. He has also evidently had a lot of fun.

As The National reported yesterday, Mr Menist prowled Sanaa's antiques' stores to find records made during Yemen's improbable golden age of recording. When he did the same sort of thing in Thailand, CNN called him the "Indiana Jones of Thai folk music".

Musicologists and Yemen experts will relish Mr Menist's revival of mostly forgotten music, but his joyous adventure in cultural history also carries a lesson: music, like all art, belongs to its time and place, and can be valuable in helping us understand other times and places.

So what recordings are lying forgotten in your old cardboard boxes?