Sunday, April 07, 2019

Jewish Contributions to Middle East Music, March 28-29, University of Arkansas

Our Middle East Center organized a great conference, plus a keynote and a concert, last month at the University of Arkansas.

It featured (1) a keynote by Jonathan Glasser, College of William & Mary, entitled '“More Than Friends?” On Muslim-Jewish Musical Intimacy in Algeria and Beyond'; (2) a concert performance by Galeet Dardashit and band called Monajat; and (3) a full-day's conference, with presentations from Joel Beinin, Galeet Dardashti, Sara Monasseh, Edwin Seroussi, Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Hisham Aidi, Jonathan Glasser, and Chris Silver. The titles of the talks plus abstracts are here; bios of the speakers are here. Special thanks goes to Nani Verzon, program manager of the Center, for all her hard work.

I was somewhat remiss about remembering to take photos, but here are two:

This is Galeet Dardashti performing Monajat, and her percussionist, Philip Mayer, who took a break from his regular job as percussionist for the Tony award-winning Broadway musical, The Band's Visit, to be with us.

And Chris Silver, talking about the great Algerian Jewish musician and scholar, Edmond Nathan Yafil.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Report on American Research Center in Egypt conference, "Egyptian Soundscapes: Music Sound and Built Environments"

 I gave a paper at the conference last December, and posted last month a bit from my paper, about Khidr and his song, "Ismi Hunak."

Here is a report on the conference from the online Cairene culture magazine Scene/Noise. It was posted in January, but I just now ran across it. There were many excellent papers presented at the conference, but the author, Tucker McGee, who I met, chose to provide summaries of just three papers: mine, Mark LeVine's and Michael Frishkopf's. Too bad he didn't cover more.

One small error in his report on my paper: I never saw Hamza El Din at Cairo's General Nubian Club, but I did see him perform at the Opera. (And I met him several times in the US, after I left Cairo.)

Monday, March 18, 2019

RIP Dick Dale/Richard Mansour (and Dale & Stevie Ray Vaughan)

Here he is doing a fabulous medley of "Misirlou" and "Malaguena" in 1963. For more on Dale, check out my earlier post on "Misirlou." I don't know if this version actually exists anywhere on record.

And, I only just found this out, Dick recorded "Pipeline" with Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1987!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Nubian songs of the bitter migration: Khidr al-'Attar

Khidr al-'Attar

When I lived in Cairo (1992-96), and once work on my book on Palestine was wrapping up, I started doing research on Nubian music. This involved hanging out at the General Nubian Club, conveniently located right off of Tahrir Square, and right across from the campus of AUC, where I taught at the time. The friends I developed at the Nubian Club were all very engaged in Nubian culture, some were musicians themselves or belonged to folkloric troupes, and they invited me to lots of weddings, which always featured live music from Nubian (and sometimes Sudanese) performers. I also made one trip to New Nubia, near Kom Ombo, the area where Nubians were resettled when the High Dam completely flooded their villages, in 1963-64. And I returned to Cairo for more research on Nubian music, in the summers of 1997, 1998 and 2000. 

Then I stopped going to Cairo, not returning until March 2011, for a very short visit. I was back again in Decembers 2017 and 2018, again for very short visits. There was not time to pick up my Nubian research during those very short visits, but on my last trip I did make a presentation on Nubian music, based chiefly on my research during the nineties, at a conference, “Egyptian Soundscapes: Music, Sound, and Built Environment” put on by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE). (You can see a report on three of the presentations at the conference, by me and Michael Frishkopf and Mark Levine, here.)

One of the musicians I discussed in my talk was the late Khidr al-‘Attar, who passed away in 2014. I saw him perform at several weddings, and here is a photo from one of them, probably taken in 1995.

Khidr was born in 1962 in the village of Ibrīm, in Old Nubia, and one or two reports I’ve read report that he lived there until age five. (Frankly, this doesn’t seem quite right, as his village would have been re-located in 1963 or 1964.) He was a Fadikka speaker, but he sang in both Fadikka and Kenuz (Faddika and Kenuz are the two Nubian languages.) He was a great artist, who released lots of cassettes, and I collected most of them when I lived in Cairo. (Nubian musicians released many, many cassette recordings between the 1970s and the 1990s, and this was an important means by which their music, which for the most part did not get aired on TV or radio, could be circulated and disseminated.) (Three of his cassettes are listed at; and you can also hear him on that great, 1999 world music collection of Egyptian popular music, Yalla - Hitlist Egypt).

The music played at weddings was for the sake of entertainment, for dancing. Songs for the bride and groom, popular songs dealing with themes of love, and so on. At the same time, the practice of music on such occasions was a time for the celebration of Nubian culture – modernized, for modern times – and Nubian community, as these were gatherings that brought together Nubian Egyptians, and few outsiders – other than invited guests like myself.

At the same time, everyone gathered together was well aware of the tragedy that had befallen the community of Nubians as a result of the total inundation of their homeland by the Aswan High Dam. One elderly Nubian I met in Cairo described the event as the equivalent, for Nubians, of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. In the political atmosphere of the time, however, expression of such public sentiments needed to be kept muted, and so, to a great degree, Nubian political issues were to a great degree expressed and kept alive through cultural and musical means.  

 At many of the weddings I attended, a song would come on, which I came to know as “Al-Higra al-Murra” (the bitter migration). It was principally performed by and known as Khidr’s song, but if my memory serves me, other artists performed it as well. At the time, I was never able to find any recordings of it. 

When song would come on, everyone would get up and dance, and chant along with the song, especially the lines, “faradu ‘alayna al-higra al-murra,” or, “they imposed the bitter migration upon us,” referring to the displacement of 50,000 Nubians by the High Dam. The wedding, for the period of the song, would turned into something that resembled a political rally, and often people in the crowd would break into tears. 

Last year, while teaching about Nubia, I came across a video on YouTube of that Khidr song that I used to see performed during the nineties. There are several versions on the web, the first one I found was this one, available here. It's not an "official" video clip for the song, but is an interesting one, full of nostalgia-inducing photos of Old Nubia.

I learned from the YouTube vid that the song is actually called “Ismi Henak” (My name is there). Below are the lyrics (by Khidr, I believe) and the translation, on which Elliott Colla did the bulk of the work. The lyrics are fairly straightforward, but just a couple of observations. Note that Khidr refers to Old Nubia as a “civilization,” not just a bunch of agricultural villages, and the reference to the waterwheel or saqiya, the ancient mode of irrigation used by Nubians, which serves as a key symbol of Old Nubia in contemporary Nubian cultural expression. “Kom Ombo” refers to the space of New Nubia, which the Egyptian regime in the era of Nasser promised to those who were moved would be a “new dawn,” where life would be much improved, with modern housing and electricity.  

O people, they've erased an entire civilization
  شطبوا يا ناس حضارة كاملة

And killed the hopes of a black Nubia
واغتالوا اماني النوبة السمرة

The sighing of the waterwheel calls me back
بتنادي عليا انين الساقية

As they've ground up what's left of my forefathers' bones  
    وطحنوا عظام اجدادنا الباقية

My name is there, my homeland is there
اسمي هناك بلدي هناك

I myself am there, and Nubia is there
انا ذاتى هناك والنوبة هناك

Standing witness, O people, behind the dam
    شاهدة يا ناس خلف السد

Come, O Nubian man and woman!
    هيا يا نوبي ويا نوبية

Bang the drums of the coming return
    دقوا طبول العودة الجاية

They imposed the bitter migration upon us
    فرضوا علينا الهجرة المرة  

They said Kom Ombo was the verdant heaven
قالوا كوم امبو الجنة الخضرا  

We’ve lived sad nights there
    وعشنا فيها ليالي حزينة

We've walked for years, and our exile has been long
   مشينا سنين والغربة طويلة

My name is there, I myself am there
    اسمي هناك ذاتي هناك
My homeland is there and Nubia is there
    بلدي هناك والنوبة هناك

I hope in future to post some more bits from the paper I gave in December. Inshallah.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Songs of the Sudanese Uprising: Surrender the Keys to the Country -- Muhammad Wardi, Zoozita

On March 3, NPR's Eyder Peralta reported on the song that is the anthem of the protesters in the current struggle in Sudan, aimed at taking down the regime of Omar Bashir.

The song was recorded by Sudanese singer Zoozita, who is based in the UAE, in January. Here's the video.

The song was composed by the late great Sudanese Nubian singer and composer, Muhammad Wardi. According to Peralta, it was composed in 1997, to perform at the Hague. It just so happens that I saw Wardi perform it on June 14, 1997, at a banquet at the Cairo Hilton, for the Sudan Studies Association banquet. Wardi only performed two songs, the first one about Sudanese living in exile, the second, "Sallim Mufatih al-Balad." I'm not sure exactly why he was only allowed to perform two songs, but my friends suggested that it was due to political sensitivities.

I loved the song at the time but never was able to find it for sale in Cairo. I'm so thrilled to come across it again. Wardi, who passed away in 2012, never recorded it, apparently, but you can find live recordings on YouTube, such as this one.

Here are the lyrics in Arabic, and maybe someday someone will come up with a good translation.

عليك الزحف متقدم
وليك الشعب متحزم ومتلملم
يقول سلم
سلم ومابتسلم
رحمت متين عشان ترحم؟
سلم مفاتيح البلد
سلم عباياتنا وملافحنا
مصاحفنا ومسابحنا
جوامعنا وكنايسنا
سلم مفاتيح البلد

تراث أجدادنا سلمنا
عقول أولادنا سلمنا
بنادقنا البتضربنا
الموجهة لي صدورنا
وبرضو حقتنا
سلم مفاتيح البلد

سلمنا الزمان الضاع
ليل الغربة والأوجاع
أحزانا العشناها
مع الوطن العزيز الجاع
سلم مفاتيح البلد

حتهرب وين من الألم الكبير والجوع
من تعليمك المدفوع
ومن شعبا سقاك لبنو سقيتو من الهوان والجوع
يا ساقي سمك المنبوع
سلم مفاتيح البلد

حتهرب وين من الذكرى وعذاباتها
ومن لبن الأمومة ومن حساب الرب
حتهرب وين وانت ايدينك الإتنين ملوثة دم
فصيح الدم ينضم وبتكلم يقول سلم
سلم مفاتيح البلد

I had the chance to meet Wardi in Cairo the following summer, and hope to blog about that meeting in future.

The best report on the current uprising in Sudan was Khalid Madani's February 23 article in Jadaliyya, "Tasqut Bas (Fall, That is All)."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Kufiyas and the Beur movement in France

I have read in a couple sources and also seen photos of kufiyas in the Beur movement in France of the eighties. The term Beur (verlan, a form of French slang that involves the reversal of syllables, for 'arabe') refers to young French Arabs of North African origin, the sons and daughters, or grandsons and granddaughters, of immigrants to France. Their movement was launched in 1983, with the March for Equality and Against Racism, which began in Marseille on October 15, 1983, and involved only 17 persons. It gradually picked up steam, and after 50 days, when it reached Paris on December 3, 1983, its numbers had grown, and tens of thousands rallied in Paris at its conclusion. Its effect was to put the issue of the Beurs and their struggles for recognition and against racism into public awareness. Below is one of the photos I've found (can't recall the source), and I think it is the activist Toumi Djaïdja (see below) who is wearing the kufiya.

Franceinfo INA did a short report on the 35th anniversary of the 1983 march in 2018, and it you can also see kufiyas on a number of the marchers, as in the screen shot below.

Also of interest is that it was not just Beurs wearing kufiyas, but also some of their non-Arab French supporters. There is a short clip of Father Christian Delorme wearing one as well.

Father Delorme is a progressive, activist priest, who served in Minguette, a banlieue of Lyon, home to a significant population of immigrants and their descendants. It was in the wake of a series of violent confrontations between young residents of Minguette and the police, in which a prominent activist named Toumi Djaïdja was badly injured, that the march originated. Delorme was one of the initiators and participants.

And here is the video clip from Franceinfo INA (1983 : La marche des beurs arrivait à Paris) sourced here. Another item of note is that Enrico Macias was one of the celebrities who joined the march when it arrived in Paris, and he is interviewed in this clip.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Woody Guthrie ("Woody ben Khayyám") in Oran, Algiers

Yesterday I read Maurice El Medioni's book, A Memoir: From Oran to Marseilles (1938-1992 (a terrific resource) and learned this fascinating detail from Ben Mandelson's preface, that Woody Guthrie, who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, landed in Oran, Algeria in 1943 or 1944. (El Medioni was 15 years old in '43, and Mandelson's fantasy is that the young man might have run into Woody at some point, as he was doing a lot of business with the US military personnel who were in his city. And also learning a lot about US popular music.)

Here's what I was able to find out, with an online search, about Woody's experiences in Algeria, from Will Kaufman's book, Mapping Woody Guthrie, just out from the University of Oklahoma Press.

Amazing, eh, Woody, as one of the "Seamen Three" (the other two: Cisco Houston and Jim Longhi), organizing a public workshop on the relation of Omar Khayyam to the working class movement. Woody known as "Woody ben Khayyam." Woody's song, recorded in the 40s, "The Rubaiyat (excerpt)." And his friend Ahmed Bashir, an American jazz scat singer. I've requested Kaufman's book and Longhi's memoir, Woody, Cisco and Me, from interlibrary loan, and I hope to report back when I learn more. Apparently the trio grew beards on the way to Oran, so they could mingle more readily with the local population in off-limit places and so avoid the MPs.

Here's a link to "The Rubaiyat (excerpts)" and the song lyrics (from this source), © Copyright 1951, 1956, and 1963 (renewed) and 2008 by Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

Don't give your money, not one penny spend
To learn the secret of your life, my friend
One little hair divides the false and true
And on that little hair, it starts and ends

One hair, I guess, divides the false and true (the false and true)
Find this one hair no matter what you do (what you do)
This hair will lead you to the drinking room
And to the wives of your great landlord too

I rolled in pain down on that sawdust floor (the drinkin' floor)
I prayed to heaven to open its golden door
I groaned and yelled: How long must I here roll? (roll here)
You must roll here till you are you no more (you no more)

I wasted lots of hours in the hot pursuit
Of this and that argument and dispute
Better to kiss the lip with laughin' grapes
Than eating sad or proud or bitter fruit

I'm glad I went off on my big carouse
And took my second wife into my house
Divorced old dried-up reason out of my bed
Took this daughter of the vine to spouse

What is and is not proof I rule in line (I rule in line)
And up and down by logic I define
I guess you thought I was a deep wise man
I never went deep in anything but wine

My drinkin' door eased open late last late (last night late)
I saw a lady with an angel shape (pretty girl)
She handed me a glass of wisdom juice
I drank it down and found the juice was grape

This grapy juice can prove a billion things
Can make our racial haters dance in rings
Can make our seventy-two fightin' priests and princes
Sing sinful songs, and tease my kings and queens (queens and kings both)

If God roiled my good wine, then would he dare (he wouldn't dare)
To make my viney grape a trap an' a snare
I drink my wine and I bless your sweet red mouth
If wine's a curse, well then, who set it there?