Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sheikh Imam, The Ballad of Beans and Meat (lyrics, Ahmad Fu'ad Nigm, 1970s)

Sheikh Imam (1918-1995) was a leftist Egyptian singer, whose songs galvanized the progressive movement in Egypt, especially in the late 60s and the 70s, and particularly during the reign of President Anwar Sadat. He formed a duo with the great colloquial poet Ahmad Fu'ad Nigm (also written Ahmad Fouad Negm), who composed his lyrics. Sheikh Imam's songs (and Nigm's lyrics) were great favorites among the crowds at Tahrir during the insurrectionary days of January and February of this year. One of the songs that Ramy Essam was well-known for singing was "The Donkey and the Foal," with lyrics by Nigm. (I blogged about it here.)

One of his famous songs is "The ballad of beans [ful] and meat" (sometimes translated as, on the subject of beans and meat). It is in response to Sadat's economic policies, which involved an "opening" to the West and an attack on government supports for the poor, which had been a mainstay of Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser's policies. Today we would call Sadat's policies neo-liberalism. Sadat's officials urged the poor and working working classes to tighten their belts. Apparently at one time this involved arguing that they didn't need to eat so much meat, and that the staple diet of the poor, ful (fava beans) was perfectly adequate. (It reminds one of the efforts by the Reagan administration to classify ketchup as a vegetable -- to economize on school lunches -- and recent efforts by the Republicans in Congress to similarly classify pizza as a vegetable.) Sheikh Imam and Nigm saw this for what it was, and pushed back.

This video, usefully, comes with an English translation. A couple weeks ago I attended a talk on Arabic colloquial poetry by Prof. Clive Holes of Oxford, and one of the three poems he discussed was this one, by Ahmad Fu'ad Nigm. So below the vid, I've included his translation. (I hope he doesn't mind.)

Some big-wig in the government
Declared the other day
(Some "Dr. Muhsin" backed him up
In what he had to say.)
That scientists have proved it true,
Broad beans will do you good -
"Eat beans," they say, "and yet more beans,
For your health's sake you should!
Egyptian beans, especially,
Are bursting with protein,
No beans can touch these beans of ours,
There's fat in them, and lean!
Eat beans and beans! You'll feel as if
You've scoffed a joint of meat!
Beans make you sound in wind and limb
They'll fatten you a treat!
They're kind of, sort of, "vege-meat"
(Kebabs are so passé!)
So eat your beans, dear citizens,
Get high on beans today!"

"And add to that," said Dr. M
The medical concerns -
It's proven meat's a poison that
Brings on dyspeptic turns.
And even worse, research has shown
Meat eating causes crime,
Creates light-fingered layabouts
Who don't clock-in on time!
So summing up, Id have to say:
Meat eaters, one and all,
You're heading for a sticky end
In Satan's fiery thrall!"

But wait a mo', dear Dr. M
You well-fed hypocrite,
Your statements made 'officially'
Are just official shit!
They say the world needs brains like yours --
Well, give us your best shot -
If some madman like me blurts out
"Eat meat and die!" - then what?
You lot can eat your beans and live,
That's fair, don't you agree?
Don't try to pull the wool my friend.
Shove off and let us be!

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