Jamil Othman Ghanim was born in Aden, Yemen in 1941 into a cultured family. He was introduced to music by his maternal uncles, the oud players Ahmad, Taha and Khalil. In 1960 he became a primary school teacher in Aden and put together some musical ensembles. His only musical knowledge was from the Yemeni oral tradition, experience of local oud playing, and Egyptian music from popular films and songs. With a desire to improve he accepted a scholarship to the Music Institute in Baghdad, Iraq. He was amazed by the flamboyant style of Jamil Bashir and discovered more about this music under his guidance and that of Salman Shukur. After five years his technique had improved enough to allow him to play the 'Caprice' of Şerif Muhiddin Targan. However, at the time there were few audiences prepared to listen to solo oud recitals, so Ghanim returned to Yemen in 1968 and became a teacher of music history at a college. The Yemeni public were also unreceptive to his sophisticated oud solos, so he began to work with the Ministry of Culture to safeguard the ancient music. He was invited to Germany by the musicologist Jurgend Elsener and travelled to East Berlin, where he was introduced to the European lutes. Ghanim subsequently acquired a French lute and performed a recital for television. He then returned to Aden to set about practising both Eastern and Western lutes, and he subsequently developed a great mastery and unique style. From 1971 he managed the National Institute of Music in Aden and toured in numerous countries.