Saturday, November 16, 2013

10 taboo Arabic songs: Habiba Msika

The very fine on-line publication Ma'azef (in Arabic, and because I read Arabic very very slowly I haven't explored nearly enough) recently published a piece called 10 taboo songs: ١٠ أغاني محرّمة.

I was most interested in item 4, a song by the Tunisian Jewish singer Habiba Msika called "'Ala Sarir al-nawm dala'ni."

Habiba Msika (1903-1930) was quite the sensation in Tunis in the twenties, wearing Paris fashion when the norm was for respectable women to be covered up, taking up with lovers in a fairly public fashion. In 1925 she appeared onstage in a production of Romeo and Juliet, playing Romeo opposite the Libyan Jewish actress Rachida Lotfi's Juliet. Their onstage kiss caused an uproar, and her côterie of fans, known as the "soldats de la nuit," who included many young Tunisian dandies, had to rescue her from outraged members of the audience.

In 1930 a jealous ex-lover entered her flat, poured gasoline on her, and set her on fire. She died the next day. (And you can read more about her fascinating career here.) Tunisian director Salma Baccar made a film about her, La Danse du feu (1995), which I would love to see. (This might be a clip from the film.) And the blog Jewish Morocco reflects on how Habiba Msika is "remembered" in Tunisia today, here.

(And someone please help me with a vernacular translation of that song!)

Added, a few hours later. See the comments from Hammer. The song could be translated as "On My Bed He Spoiled Me." I.e., he shtupped me. Hence the "taboo" nature of the song.


Hammer said...

Hello again, Ted

Thanks for a wonderful look-out at early Judaeo-Arabic music from all over the Arab world. Habiba's real name was Margaret Bint Julio, and she sang this song in 1926. The original version is credited to Iraqi singress Samha Baghdadi; composed to her by composer Jamil 'Ouweiss, then it's made famous when Egyptian singress Mounirah el-Mahdiyyah sang it.

Little or nothing is known about the writer/s of the song's lyrics, but some scholars cite either Umm-Kalthoum's Zakariyah Ahmad and/or Younis al-Qhadhi as the 'culprits'. The song's title (issued by the Egyptian label Baidaphone), is a eupheme of 'fuck me' sang in an indirect way, or what's known as 'muwarrabah' in Arabic. It means literally: 'On A Sleeping Bed, He Spoiled Me', but this was a way to euphemise the Arabic 'Âla Srir Ennoum Dallaâni' as a come-hither and an open invitation for copulation.

This art of such openly-libidinous songs became known by Arab music scholars as Fann el-Inkissar or the art of defeatism because they saw in it a vent-off for the populace to let some steam off, especially after grave socio-political turmoils (in the case of this song, it was the demise of the Ottoman Empire breathing its very last days).

Here are the lyrics in Arabic and in English, translated by me:

يا ليلِ... هي, هي, ليلي, يا ليلي

الله .. يا عيني الله الله *sound of an encouraging man*

يا, يا ليل

ياعيني يا عيني *sound of an encouraging man*

O'My night, the night's my night
Oh, O'night!

على سرير النوم دلعني x 4
On my bed, he spoiled me

First Couplet:
جاني حليوة العصرية
وجاب لي بيرة وشمبانيا
A handsome man came by noon again;
Brought me beer and champagne

شرب وفرفشني شوية
He drank a little, and we frolicked;

وعلى سرير النوم دلعني
And, on my sleeping bed, we both fucked

Second Couplet:
بوسته كمان أنا في خده
يا ما احلى جماله وقده
I kissed him again on his cheek;
Oh, how beautiful he is; and how chic!

ونمت أنا على صدره
وعلى سرير النوم دلعني

Then, on his chest, I leaned and I rocked;
And, on my sleeping bed, we both fucked

Third Couplet:
عطف عليا بجماله
يا محلى غمزه وهزاره
سيبته يعمل ما بدا له
وعلى سرير النوم دلعني

He descended on me his darling beauty,
How coquettish were his winks and his playful jinx!
So, I surrendered to him to do whatever he may;
And, on my sleeping bed, we both fucked all day

There is a deletion in the song's sinful lyrics, by the way. The deleted words come between the first and second couplet and these are:

هات الإزازة و أعد لاعبني
دى المزة طازة و الحال عاجبني

He brought the bottle and me he did fondle;
The mezze was fresh, and the mood ... All good


Hammer said...

She was nicknamed in Tunis 'Habibat el-Koul'; or the Love of All. Her early starts as a singer and bar-room adulteress were at the hands of her aunt Laila Svez who taught her how to play the piano while her violinist uncle taught her how to dance, and learned the usual classic Egyptian taqtou'ah at the hands of the well-known Jewish composer (he came from Jerusalem), Uchir Mizrahi who introduced her to Egyptian composer Hassan Bannan and the Tunisian Jewish musician Mouni Jibali who both fled to Tunis from Libya during the Italian occupation of the latter.

Another, Khamies Ternan helped her establish her musical solidarity singing his songs (he was the director of Jami'yat al-Rachidiyyah lil-Moussiqah al-Arabiyyah or the Rachidi Music Society, in Tunis), along with Mohammed Abdel-Aziz Al-Aqrabi who followed her everywhere during her travels to Berlin to record her songs there in the mid-20's supervised by ustad Al-Bachir Al-Rassaissi.

She dabbled in theatre and believed to have been the first Arabic actress ever (circa 1911: four years before el-Mahdiyyah started her eponymous acting career in Cairo). The first stage was built in Tunis around 1902, and the first troupe that started acting there was called 'ferqat Al-Najmah', or the 'Star Troupe' in 1908, followed by ‘ferqat Al-Shahamah Al-Adabiyyah’ ('The Literary Valour'; December, 22nd 1910), led by later-president Al-Habib Bourqaibah's brother Mohammed; who later was rumoured to have once asked her for a kiss after one of her stage numbers before becoming president. She also acted as well under the tutelage of George Abyhad (1920), acting in many half-boiled Shakespearean plays, and then joined the Mustakbbal Troupe('Future Troupe) directed by Al-Taher Bal'Hajj.

Her acting career was put on an indefinite hault as she was preparing to introduce to her fellow Tunisians the opera 'Aida' alongside male actor and tenor Hamda Bin al-Tijani because she died in a fire instigated by one of her ex-lovers who was also a Jew (namely; Eliyahu Simouthi); who came from the same Jewish quarters where she was born and raised (Testour). He proposed to her many times to marry him, but she refused even after building her a huge house in that same quarter and died after her within two days of her tragic death that he brought committing suicide in hotel Yehouram by hanging himself.

Her story is rather mercurial, murky, and maliciously lubric, but the modern-day media like to blow her reputation to the level of a sex symbol when she was a nationalistic, hard-core communist who really was killed in dubious circumstances. Here is her life story written by Al-Munsif bin Omar from Al-Chourouk Newspaper in Tunis for those who can read Arabic.