Cuba’s second language is Spanish. Yes. You read it right !
First language of Cubans is music. They speak music, they walk music, they breath music, they live music. If you have any doubts, you need to visit Cuba. Every few hundred meters, just as you find Tim Hortons in Canada, you will find music bands in Havana. Cuban music is influenced by European and African music mostly brought along by people from Spain as conquerors and West Africans as slaves. Am no technical expert on music so i quote from elsewhere:
“SHORT HISTORY OF CUBAN MUSIC: The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves brought to the island. Cabildos preserved African cultural traditions, even after the Emancipation in 1886 forced them to unite with the Roman Catholic church. At the same time, a religion called Santería was developing and had soon spread throughout Cuba, Haiti and other nearby islands. Santería influenced Cuba’s music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion. Each orisha, or deity, is associated with colors, emotions, Roman Catholic saints and drum patterns called toques. By the 20th century, elements of Santería music had appeared in popular and folk forms. Cuban music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica. Reciprocally, Cuban music has been immensely influential in other countries, contributing not only to the development of jazz and salsa, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish “nuevo flamenco”. FOLK MUSIC: The natives of Cuba were the Taíno, Arawak and Ciboney people, known for a style of music called areito. Large numbers of African slaves and European immigrants brought their own forms of music to the island. European dances and folk musics included zapateo, fandango, zampado, retambico and canción. Later, northern European forms like waltz, minuet, gavotte and mazurka appeared among urban whites.Fernando Ortíz, a Cuban folklorist, described Cuba’s musical innovations as arising from the interplay between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms, the most important instruments being the clave, the congas and batá drums. Chinese immigrants have contributed the cornetín chino (“Chinese cornet”), a Chinese wind instrument still played in the comparsas, or carnival groups, of Santiago of Cuba.”
Below are two beautiful videos I have recorded from live performance by an all girl band in the hotel we are staying. Its absolutely phenomenal.
It is a myth propagated by the ultraconservatives that music is haram in the faith.
Another myth propagated by the ignorant is that the songs in praise of Prophet Muhammad PBUH are sung as a biddat( innovative distortion) only in the South Asia and not in the Arab world. On the contrary, my favourite naats are in Arabic and they are called Nasheeds.
Having lived in Saudi Arabia, for nearly 2 decades, and travelled extensively in the Arab world from Egypt to Syria to the Gulf, the overload of beautiful music I have enjoyed is beyond the scope of this post.
Here I wish to share the FIRST EVER Arabic song in recorded history which was sung in 622 AD in Madina when Prophet PBUH entered the city, and he was overwhelmingly welcomed by the Ansars ( the residents of Madina). The singers lined up were women, who played Duff( a hand drum) and sang in his praise.
The lyrics say: Tala’a Al Badru Alaina…The white full moon has arisen….
The one shared below is the modern original version sung by none other than my favourite Arab singer, Um Kulthum, for the film The Message. The video also gives an overview of how the welcome scene may have looked like 1400 years ago.
This is my utmost favourite, and the catchy music still gives goosebumps and serves as a reminder of the hundreds of trips to the tranquil city of Madina from Makkah in our 19 years stay there and numerous weddings we attended in the Arab world.
In a typical Arab wedding even today, the bride-groom are traditionally received in the wedding hall by women singing this very song.
طلع البدر علينا Oh the white moon has arisen over us من ثنيات الوداع From the valley between hills وجب الشكر علينا And we owe it to show our gratitude ما دعى لله داعWhere the call is to Allah أيها المبعوث فيناOh you who were raised among us جئت بالأمر المطاعComing with a word to be revered جئت شرفت المدينةYou have brought to this city nobility مرحبا يا خير داعWelcome best caller to God’s way
EID MILAD UN NABI
Do listen to the song, the music and the powerful voice. Does it feel as a beautiful piece of music as it feels to me?
Sufism talks of losing the ‘self’ to attain the love of God. Here in an unusual Hindi sufi poetry the poet Achal Ram, a Kabir bhakt, describes in simple yet delightful verses how by losing one’s self, he sees the reflection of God within himself and then falls in love with that self.
Mukhtiyar Ali, a renowned Kabir singer adds ecstasy to the soulful words through his rendition. Translation in the subtitles by Kabir Project does remarkable justice to the original verses.
Dekha apne aap ko, mera dil deewana ho gaya, Na chhero yaron mujhe, main khud mastana ho gaya. I saw my own self and fell in love with it, Don’t mess with me friends, I am in ecstasy of self.
Lakhon suraj, chandrama, qurban per hain mere husn per, Adbudh chhavi ko dekh ke, kehne se main sharma gaya. Countless suns and moons bow down to my beauty Seeing my spectacular silhoutte, I am speechless and blush.
Ab khudi se baaher hain, ishq kafni pehen ker, Sab rang chola rangaa, deedar apna ho gaya. I am free of self-obsession after being draped in love shroud, Sporting a dress dyed in all colors, I have come face to face with myself.
Ab deekhta koi nahin, duniya me hi merey siwa, Doori ka parda hata, saara bharam pighla gaya. Now I behold no one in the whole world but my own self The veil of separation is lifted, all delusions have vanished away.
Achal Ram ab khud ba khud, hai mehboob mujh se na-juda Nij noor mein bharpoor ho, apne mein aap samaa gaya. Achal Ram now by itself, the beloved and I are inseparable Suffused with self radiance, I have merged within myself.
Reshma who originally hailed from Bikaner Rajasthan here sings a ‘maand’ or a welcome song in Rajasthani language for the arrival of the beloved. (Have attempted to translate the verses from my basic knowledge of the language).
Kesariya baalam o’saa, padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved, Come to my abode.
Thaare aayo dujaan Barishme mere Your arrival shall bring life in me
Saajan aaye o’ sakhi, Main kayeen manwa vikraan, Thaari paryo gaj motiyaan, Aur ooper nayn dharaan. My beloved shall come my friend How can I keep my mind sane,
I shall spread pearls on the tray, And keep my eyes on them.
Kesariya baalam o’saa, padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved, Come to my abode.
Sajan sajan main karaan Sajan jeev jari Choorley per moondshaan Aur vachaan ghari ghari. I utter “Beloved, Beloved.” “Beloved” is embedded on my tongue, Shall weave his name on my bracelet, And watch it over and over.
Kesariya baalam o’saa, padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved, Come to my abode.
Awan saavan keh gayo dhola Ker gaya khol anek Bin taagan taa gash gayee Mhaari anganiya ree rey. Shall come in the rains, he promised, Played many cruel jokes on me, Without the rope of his swing, My courtyard is deserted.
Kesariya baalam o’saa, padhaaro mhaare des rey
Oh my saffron beloved, Come to my abode.
Towards evening, as the time for Shafqat Amanat Ali’s concert approached on the third day of Mosaic Festival 2012, there was a visible increase in the hustle bustle in the Celebration Square. Before he could even come, the lawns were full.
Dressed casually, Shafqat walked on the stage amidst cheers, after being e introduction by none other than Sohail Rana.
The first song ‘ankhon ke sagar, le doobe humein‘, was enough to drown the crowd into a Shafqat frenzy.
Then followed the khamaj “mora sayyan mo se boley naa,”which transformed the mood of an excited crowd into that of a sombre ecstasy.
Having talked to Shafqat in the waiting room, prior to the show, he had mentioned of his conviction for Indo Pak cross cultural exchange.
He had promised, “As such we artists contribute a great deal towards that, but I would consider myself very fortunate to support anyone who works towards making it into a reality.”
Carrying on that conviction in the crowd, he dedicated the third song, Ye Hausla, towards “India Pakistan Peace” amidst an uproar of applause for his dedication. By just this third song, the crowd had been immensely electrified. The words were powerful and seemed to reiterate his promise even more strongly.
“Ye hausla kaise jhukey, ye arzoo kaisey rukey. Manzil mushkil to kya, dhundla ye saahil to kya…”
I noticed a lady, sitting on the front most rows, reciting every song of his, verse by verse.
“You seem to be his diehard fan?” I asked.
Pat came her reply, “Yes, I love the imagination with which he brings fusion of different genres in his music. Though many of them are coming from Bollywood, but are yet not cliché’ Bollywood. It touches the strings of the heart. “ Sapna, as she introduced herself, is a new immigrant from Delhi, and takes pride, that she knows all the songs he has sung so far.
In the conversation earlier, Shafqat had told about his family’s experimentation with different kinds of music. He mentioned of how his father Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, excelled in Ghazal singing despite being earlier dissuaded as not deemed suitable to his classical background of Patiala gharana. He referenced the experimentation of his brother, Asad Amanat Ali’s with various forms, including Punjabi.
A soft spoken Shafqat Amanat Ali, to me was contrary to the image I had of him through his “Rockstar Ustad” image. I had expected I would meet a loud, talkative, rock star personality. Diametrically contrary to my image, he was extremely soft, and sombre not just in voice, but expressions and body language too.
Most of my questions, some serious, and some not so serious, were mostly answered by him with a uniform sobriety, with just a slight smile on the question, “Why did you take up a degree in Political Science?”
The smile followed with a simple answer, that “he was the first one to go to the University, from his family, and hence, without much direction being given, he followed, what his friends chose to study.”
Being a musician, to him was inevitable, as this is how kids in his gharana are trained from a very early age. “They are left with little choice to do anything else.”
If he is not doing music, what does he do? “I watch a list of movies, and sleep”, replied Shafqat.
We had been told by his manager that he loves food, especially desi food. So came my obvious question: “What’s your favourite food?” “Biryani Saag” , was the instant reply, but with a quizzed expression on me, he preferred to explain, as “a relative unknown dish, being his favourite dish. It is cooked on occasions and in special deghs, by the cooks.”
The manager also revealed Shafqat’s love for nature. He reminisced of the time, when due to a beautiful foggy weather in Malaysia, they went for a walk, and during that stroll composed one of his most beautiful songs. “Tell us something in this blog that you have never shared before, but would wish to.”I asked.
With an expression of hurt he shared, “ I was a rejected singer on PTV, and ….”.
However it hurt me too, to have asked that, so I switched instantly to, “What special message would you give to Mosaic Festival?” And his instantly opened arms and a flying kiss towards all the Mosaic volunteers standing around, did all the talking.
Back to the concert, each song that followed, further mesmerised the crowd . Half way through the concert, the jam packed crowd was completely electrified. The radiation of enthusiasm could not hold back an interactive Shafqat’s energy too, and he chose to come down into more proximity to his fans, shaking hands, giving them hugs and sharing the mic with them to sing.
Before he began the folk song “Main nai jana pardes biharwa’, he paid a tribute to Tufail Niazi, the great folk singer, considering himself fortunate to have re sung the song.
After almost a dozen melodious renditions, and with time to close, the crowd was too charged to let him go that easily. Amidst almost everyone screaming “one more” and “Eid Mubarak”, a bunch of threesome fans near the stage were screaming:
“Shafqat tussi great ho”…and out of modesty with no smiles he replied “Eidi chahiye?”
They were right behind me, so I turned and asked, “Any specific reason you say so, or is it just for more songs?”
Each one of the young girls, Chhavi, Saumya and Esha had different replies, which they literally had to scream out, due to the cheers all around. “He’s versatile and very powerful.”
“Most soulful singer.”
“Kudos to him for bringing classical back to the youth.”
To convince the crowd, that it was time to leave, he even tried to parody “Aaj gaane ki zid na karo, dekho pit jaoge, aisi baatein kiya na karo”,but the verses fell unheard on the screaming crowd.
As I tweeted and posted a picture of the crowd on the face book :
Ilmana Fasih @ZEEMANA Electrified crowd at #ShafqatAmanatAli concert #MosaicFest2012http://yfrog.com/kibnaboj
Almost instantly came a reply tweet from Pakistan:
akeelchaudhry @akeelchaudhry One of the finest singers I must say “@ZEEMANA: Electrified crowd at#ShafqatAmanatAli concert #MosaicFest2012 http://yfrog.com/kibnaboj “
Just the way how an incredibly electrifying evening should come to a close, the last song, which he chose to sing, did actually help to pacify an emotionally charged crowd.
It was perhaps the most touching of his songs, I had ever heard. After hearing it live, at the close, meant, it would linger much longer in the head.
And as I walked back home after the concert, and unknowingly, I kept humming it all the way.
“Kuch ajab khel kartar key, morey Saeen Gharib Nawaz key, Ek ko deeno mulak khajaney, ek bhikaari anaaj key. “
Kabir has hardly spared any animate and inanimate examples to ridicule the bigots who have great illusions about their self image and through their beliefs repeatedly, make a fool of themselves.
In the same spirit, I came across yet another simple yet interest verses.
Apanpo aap hi bisaro. Says Kabir, they fall prey to their own illusions and forget the essence of our existence.
Jaise sonha kaanch mandir me, bharamat bhunki paro. Just as dog who enters the house of mirrors, goes crazy barking at the images, considering them different. This is a very curious satire on those bigots who bark at other bigots, thinking they are different, but in essence are reflections of each other.
Jyo kehari bapu nirakhi koop jal, pratima dekhi paro. A lion looks deep into the well, and mistakes his own reflection as another lion, and jumps into it. This also satires on the ‘lions’ of different faiths, who are such egoists, that they destroy themselves, in challenging other ‘lions’ in the business. The current sectarian bigots could be appropriate here.
Aisehi madgaj phaTik sila par, dasanani aani aro. An elephant, so proud of its strength, bangs his head against the rock, and hits it with his teeth. Here rocks could be interpreted as hard, rock like beliefs which they bang their heads against.
MarakaT muThi swad na bisare, ghar-ghar naTat phiro. A greedy monkey for whom the food in the pot is not enough, and goes from home to home asking for more. This is perhaps reference to looking outwards, though we could easily content with what is with us.
Kah Kabir lalani ke suwana, tohi kaune pakaro. Says Kabir, their logic is as impossible to catch as the parrot of a village girl. Here he gives a satire of those who keep repeating mindlessly like a parrot, with no logic what so ever.
And then in contrast to the satire, many verses of Kabir bring home the message through simple, day to day examples, of how should we be viewing our beliefs, and the essence of our existence.
Man tu maanat kyu na mana re. O’ the wandering mind, why don’t you understand?
Kaun kahan ko, kaun sunan ko, dooja kaun jana re. Who is worth to speak or to listen, when there is ONE truth. Here he refers to perhaps the various claimants of ONE, and give it different names and forms.
( The next verse makes it clearer)
Darapan me pratibimb jo bhase, aape chahu disi soi. He is all round in every atom, the way there is a reflection in every mirror. ( This could be compared to the idea of sheesh mahal—made of tiny mirrors all around one image is seen in each and every tiny mirror)
Dubidha mite, ek jab howe, tau lakh paawe koi. If you get ONE truth, you will get contentment worth a million, and the confusion of mind will go away.
Jaise jal se hem banat hai, hem ghoom jal hoi. The way ice is first made of water, then returns back to the same water.
Taise yah tat wahu tat so, phir yah aru wah soi. In the same way, we are all come from that truth, and unto the same truth we have to return to.
Jo samajhe so khari kahat hai, na samajhe to khoTi. Those who get this, call this a stark truth. Those ignorant who don’t get this, consider it falsehood.
Kah Kabir khara pakh tyaage, waaki mati hai moTi. Says Kabir, one who gives up the essence of truth, his brain is thick ( stubborn).
It is remarkable how Kabir talks of evils of bigotry, unity of mankind and the true spirit of secular spirits, rising above the superfluous divisions in the dark ages.
Or perhaps, we are living in darker ages.
Indeed, it is a long road, before Kabir’s examples and teachings become irrelevant to the current times.
The Kabir bhajan below, again, gives some more examples through which he challenges the bigots. Note the translation subtitles. This is my favourite tranquillising Kabir song.
On 27th January, 2012 India celebrates Basant panchami.
In Pakistan, it is celebrated towards the end of February.
Towards the end of January till early March, the golden harvest of wheat stand tall ready to be harvested sometime in early April. And wheat is our staple crop.
At the same time in Januray February the yellow blooms of mustard ( better known as sarson) sway in the fields, as far as eyes can see. And mustard is a cash crop whose seeds are pressed to extract mustard oil.
To celebrate these awesome blooms as a reward for the fields ploughed and the seeds sown in October, the farmers rejoice, sing, dance and make merry.
Some of them wear yellow turbans, and their women folk adorning yellow ‘odhnis’ come out to join in the celebrations. It is not hard to imagine that they must be celebrating the blooms, ever since they learnt to farm these crops dating back to centuries.
This is the basic root and the spirit of the tradition of Basant in parts of Indian subcontinent where these crops are grown.
Are wheat, or mustard crops Hindu, Muslim or Sikh?
Vasant in Sanskrit or Basant in Urdu mean ‘spring’, which heralds the departure of winter and arrival of spring. It symbolizes the time of rejuvenation and arrival of happiness as flowers start to smile through their blossoms.
Yellow, the color of Basant, inspired by mustard blossoms, which matches the shade of sun rays, signifies life and radiance.
Do rays of sun or radiance of happiness differentiate between Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs ?
Kite flying , another component of basant, has it’s own interesting tale to tell.
“Kite flying also reveals how the tradition evolved over centuries and in a Ganga Jamuni way. Kite flying was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by the Chinese traveller Heun Tsang in the 4th Century. Evolving for centuries, it s modification into its current form and popularisation as a sport was made possible by the Nawabs of Avadh. The kite flying during basant celebrations is believed to have been introduced by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 18th century.”
Yet another evidence of centuries old and secular celebration of Basant come from poets, Kalidas and Amir Khusro, who have written about the celebrations of Basant in their own unique styles.
Kalidas in a poem Spring writes:
द्रुमाः सपुष्पाः सलिलं सपद्मं
स्त्रियः सकामाः पवनः सुगन्धिः ।
सुखाः प्रदोषा दिवसाश्च रम्याः
सर्वं प्रिये ! चारुतरं वसन्ते “Oh, dear, in Vasanta, Spring, trees are with flowers and waters are with lotuses, hence the breezes are agreeably fragrant with the fragrance of those flowers, thereby the eventides are comfortable and even the daytimes are pleasant with those fragrant breezes, thereby the women are with concupiscence, thus everything is highly pleasing…
AmirKhusro pens down:
Aaj basant manaalay suhaagun, Aaj basant manaalay; Anjan manjan kar piya mori, Lambay neher lagaaye; Tu kya sovay neend ki maasi, So jaagay teray bhaag, suhaagun, Aaj basant manalay…..; Rejoice, my love, rejoice, Its spring here, rejoice. Bring out your lotions and toiletries, And decorate your long hair. Oh, you’re still enjoying your sleep, wake-up. Even your destiny has woken up, Its spring here, rejoice.
There is an Indian classical music tune called Raag Basant Bahaar.
Not to forget, basant in the subcontinent is also associated with a special sweet prepared specially for the occaision –the kesar halwa, It is a suji ( semolina) halwa with a soft aroma and yellow shade from saffron and garnished with cashew nuts.
Neither the dessert, nor the poetry above nor the music below suggest if Basant is Hindu or Muslim or Sikh.
The same spirit is also replicated by this beautiful ghazal by Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed
Lo phir basant aayee…
P.S. Special thanks to Sandeep@stwta a twitter pal for the devnagiri text of Kalidas poetry.
So far this is one the best music post on my blog:
A Masnawi by Rumi
Jelaluddin Rumi was a Sufi mystic poet originally from Balkh Afghanistan, but his family travelled west. First performing Hajj they moved further west to finally settle down in Konya, Anatolia( now Turkey). He spent rest of his life there, composing poetry.
Farsi ( Persian):
Beshno az neychon hekaayat mikonad Az jodaayee ha shekaayat mi-konad
Kaz neyestaan ta maraa bebrideh and Dar nafiram mardo zan naalideh and
Sineh khaaham sharheh sharheh az faraagh Ta begooyam sharheh dardeh eshtiyaagh
Har kasi ku door maand az asleh khish Az jooyad roozegareh vasleh khish
Man be har jamiyati naalaan shodam Jofteh bad haalaano khosh haalaan shodam
Har kasi az zanneh khod shod yaareh man Az darooneh man najost asraareh man
Serreh man az naaleyeh man door nist Lik chashmo goosh ra aan noor nist
Tan zeh jaano jaan zeh tan mastour nist Lik kas ra dideh jaan dastour nist
Aatash ast in baangeh naayo nist baad Har keh in aatash nadaarad nist baad
Aatasheh ishq ast kandar ney fetaad Jooshesheh ishq ast kandar mey fetaad
Ney, harifeh har keh az yaari borid Pardeh hayash pardeh hayeh ma darid
Hamcho ney zahri o taryaqi keh did? Hamchon ney damsaaz o moshtaqi ke did?
Ney hadiseh raheh por khoon mikonad Qesseh hayeh eshq e majnoon mikonad
Mahrameh in hoosh joz bihoosh nist Mar zaban ra moshtari joz goosh nist
Dar ghameh ma rooz ha bigaah shod Rouz ha ba souz ha hamraah shod
Rouz ha gar raft gu ro baak nist To bemaan , ey aankeh chin to paak nist
Har keh joz maahi zeh aabash dir shod Har keh bi roozist, roozash dir shod
Dar nayaabad haaleh pokhteh hich khaam Pas sokhan kootaah baayad, vassalaam
O’ listen to the grievances of the reed Of what divisive separations breed From the reedbed cut away just like a weed My music people curse, warn and heed Sliced to pieces my bosom and heart bleed While I tell this tale of desire and need
Whoever who fell away from the source Will seek and toil until returned to course Of grievances I sang to every crowd Befriended both the humble and the proud Each formed conjecture in their own mind As though to my secrets they were blind
My secrets are buried within my grief Yet to the eye and ear, that’s no relief Body and soul both unveiled in trust Yet sight of soul for body is not a must The flowing air in this reed is fire Extinct, if with passion won’t inspire
Fire of love is set upon the reed Passion of love this wine will gladly feed Reed is match for he who love denied Our secrets unveiled, betrayed, defied Who has borne deadly opium like the reed? Or lovingly to betterment guide and lead?
Of the bloody path, will tell many a tale Of Lover’s love, even beyond the veil None but the fool can hold wisdom dear Who will care for the tongue if not ear? In this pain, of passing days we lost track Each day carried the pain upon its back
If days pass, let them go without fear You remain, near, clear, and so dear Only the fish will unquenchingly thirst Surely passing of time, the hungry curst State of the cooked is beyond the raw The wise in silence gladly withdraw
Cut the chain my son, and release the pain Silver rope and golden thread, must refrain If you try to fit the ocean in a jug How small will be your drinking mug? Never filled, ambitious boy, greedy girl Only if satisfied, oyster makes pearl
Whoever lovingly lost shirt on his back Was cleansed from greed and wanton attack Rejoice in our love, which would trade Ailments, of every shade and every grade With the elixir of self-knowing, chaste With Hippocratic and Galenic taste
Body of dust from love ascends to the skies The dancing mountain thus begins to rise It was the love of the Soul of Mount Sinai Drunken mountain, thundering at Moses, nigh
If coupled with those lips that blow my reed Like the reed in making music I succeed; Whoever away from those lips himself found Lost his music though made many a sound When the flower has withered, faded away The canary in praise has nothing to say
All is the beloved, the lover is the veil Alive is the beloved, the lover in death wail Fearless love will courageously dare Like a bird that’s in flight without a care How can I be aware, see what’s around If there is no showing light or telling sound?
Seek the love that cannot be confined Reflection in the mirror is object defined Do you know why the mirror never lies? Because keeping a clean face is its prize Friends, listen to the tale of this reed For it is the story of our life, indeed!
Another version by Farid Ayaz & co which has it’s own desi touch and charm:
Ya Habeebi, My sweetheart. Illeil wi samah, wi ingomo iw amaro, amaro wi saharo. The night and its sky, its stars, its moon, moon and keeping awake all night. Winta wana, ya habeebi ana, ya hayati ana. You and me my sweetheart, my life.
-And the closing lines:
Ya habeebi yalla in3eish fi 3yoon illeil, . Winool lilshams ta3ali, ta3ali ba3di sana, mosh abli sana. My sweetheart let us live in the eyes of the night and tell the sun come over, come after one year not before. Fi leilate hob hilwa, bi alfi leila iw Leila, In a sweet night of love, in one thousand and one nights. Bikolli il3omr, howa il3omri eih ghair Leila zayyi illeila. They say it is the life. What is life, but a night like tonight, like tonight.
Fortunatley I grew up listening to Umm Kulthoom and the tales of her live performances from my Professor father. I saw my father 90% times surrounded by books, but whenever he played Umm Kulsoom’s audios on the deck, in his leisure time, it was hard to envision he was the same man. I feel the poverty of expression to describe my feelings…
He would often exclaim that he got three things from his stay in Cairo in the early sixties—his PhD, a knowledge of Arabic, in the flawless Egyptian accent and love for Umm Kulsoom.
In the 1950s and 60s her concerts were broadcast once a week on Radio.
“On Thursday nights, the streets of Cairo would empty as people gathered around radio sets to hear the great singer.” I heard my father repeat this a countless times said with a twinkle in his eyes.
And infact, in honour of those broadcasts, Radio Egypt still broadcasts her songs every first Thursday at 10 pm.
It is hard in words to describe her charisma. But listening to her enchanting Enta Omri, Alf Leila o Leila and other songs over and over, it wasn’t hard to imagine the euphoria that was created in her concerts.
Umm Kulthum was, indeed, a master at casting a spell over her audiences.
Maker of a documentary on her, ‘A Voice Like Egypt ’ Virginia Danielson says “Umm Kulthum’s concerts were famous for the spontaneous cheers that would break out whenever her performance seemed to close the gap between poetry and emotion. Poetry is a deeply revered art form in the Middle East.”
She gives an example. “When you hear Umm Kulthum sing, “I’m afraid your heart belongs to somebody else,” in the song “Ana Fe Entezarak,” she nails that anguish. And the way she treats the word ‘somebody else,’ which is ‘inse’en,’ is just heartrending. You can hear the feeling of the poem come through in the way that she sings it.”
Her music had a unique quality called ‘tarab’ ( best translated as enchantment).
“Tarab is a concept of enchantment,” Danielson says. “It’s usually associated with vocal music, although instrumental music can produce the same effect, in which the listener is completely enveloped in the sound and the meaning in a broad experiential sense, and is just completely carried away by the performance.”
Part of tarab is the idea that listeners are as important as singers; that there’s a powerful, spiritual exchange between them that is crucial to the performance.
“But what it refers to is the experience of really being carried away by the music. People would tell preposterous stories about getting up and leaving the house and not knowing where they were going, and just all kinds of experiences of completely forgetting your troubles, completely being outside yourself, having been transported by the experience.”
Bob Dylan remarked; “She’s great. She really is. Really great.”
She was referred to as the Lady by Charles de Gaulle and Salvadore Dali, Jean Paul Satre, Bono were among her fans.
Lastly, do envy me for having been nourished on this music since very young :).
You must be logged in to post a comment.