Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Slim Gaillard, Arabian Boogie and Yabra Harisseh

I just went to see American Hustle, which I truly enjoyed, and of course before I went I had been forewarned that I was going to hear a version of "White Rabbit" in Arabic, by Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa and that Robert DeNiro, playing the mobster Victor Tellegio, would speak Arabic. (The backstory of how that song came to be recorded is here. Dawn Elder, who used to work with Miles Copeland III on the label Mondo Melodia, that did so much to bring Arab popular music to the US in the early aughts, played a key role. I discuss this in my article "The 'Arab Wave' in World Music after 9/11.")


For some reason this reminded me of a 2010 post on Qifa Nabki about jazz singer and guitarist/pianist Slim Gaillard's 1945 song “Yep-Roc Heresay.” The post informs us that the song, mostly in Arabic, is mostly a recitation of items from an Arab (or maybe Armenian?) restaurant: "yabra (i.e. stuffed graped leaves), harisseh (a semolina dessert), kibbeh bi-siniyyeh (a dish of meat and bulgur), lahm mishweh (grilled meat)" and also burghul (bulgur) and mahsheh (stuffed vegetable) and banadura (tomato) and so on. The title stands for Yabra Harisseh of course.

According to wikipedia, this is the back story: "the actual origin of these phrases comes from his time living in Detroit. He was out of money by the time he made it to Detroit and was turned down a job at Ford. An Armenian woman named Rose Malhalab took Slim in, where he lived in the basement of her and her husband's beauty shop on Woodward Avenue. She cooked much Arabic food for him, explaining Slim's entire song."



I had not heard "Yep-Roc Heresay" until recently but I have been intrigued for several years now by another Gaillard tune, "Arabian Boogie," whose lyrics go, "Sayidi, kifa kifa saha?...shu baddak? inta majnoun" (Mr., how are you? What do you want? You're crazy.)

It is claimed that he spoke 8 languages, but...really?? Where did he learn them? And where did he learn Arabic in particular -- not that these two songs show any sort of fluency but they do indicate at least some knowledge. He served in the army from 1941-45 -- was he in North Africa? Or maybe it's from Rose Malhalab? It's well known of course that Gaillard liked to fool with language and that he invented a language he called Vout and used its hip, bebop style language in a lot of his songs. (From "Flat Foot Floogie:" "Flaginzy at flagat, flaginzy ooh flagoo-jigee.")

Lots more info about Slim Gaillard here.

I'll never forget Gaillard's wonderful performance of "Selling Out" in Julien Temple's interesting but flawed 1986 film, Absolute Beginners.

1 comment:

Hammer said...

Good day, Ted.

Well, the 'Arabian Boogie' tune starts with "Saideh! Keefik, keef i'ssaha?", and it means "Delightful (day/night)! How are you, how is your health?", and not 'Mr.', and then another voice answers: "Shou benna? Inta majnoun! Lazim!" (What's your deal? You must be crazy! For sure!). After that, in the second verse, he sings: "Keefik; keefik inta?" many times, followed by the same words, and an "Ayih!" that's only Lebanese for "Yes!"

This "reciting the Mid-Rim, Levantine cuisine items is strictly Lebanese, and not Armenina; even when many Lebanese come from Armenian origins (along with a multitude of Syrians and Jordanians, too).

The food items are: Yebra'a (Rolled grapevine leaves stuffed with a variety of meat, and vegs; which is originally a Turkish word); HarrisahA kind of flattened sweet that gets cut into small rectangular pieces, made from egg-yolks, flour, and semolina with a lot of sugary syrup on top; adorned usually by pistachios, almonds, and roasted peanuts. Originally north-African); Arak (a famous alcoholic drink, originally Greek-Turkish); Burghul (small, pebble-like grain-wheat that's rolled by hand and cooked as a substituent for rice, also Turkish in origin); Machshi (stuffed vegetables like soft-marrow, aubergine, sweet bell peppers, cucumber, etc. Originally, Turkish again).

Then, Slim goes on to sing: "Kibbeh bel'sinneyyeh; kibbeh bel'lahmeh el*unintelligible*" He means, kibbeh which is a north-African dish made from rolling mnced meat (mixed with onions and pepper, sometimes with almonds, too), and dipped in flour to either cook in an oven ('kibbeh bil'fourn'), or is eaten raw after being beat with a mortar until all blood in the meat is expunged ('kibbeh niyyeh', and finally the 'sinneyyeh' kind which is minced meat spread over a flat dish (the sinneyyeh in question), and sprinkled with either tomatoes and onions (kibbeh bil'banadurrah'), or drenched in tahini syrup (sesame paste with water, and lemon juice).

Then, he mentions again the banadurrah and something few Arabs eat called 'rouss': Cooked head of a goat, or sheep. The funny thing is when he says afterwards: Masari... Bah!: "Money? I don't have any!" that he can’t pay for the restaurant’s bill.

Have a "delightful" day.

H.H.