11 August 2008

Monday's mp3: Remembering A Friend to Earthquakes

I had different ideas for what I was going to post today, but the passing of Mahmoud Darwish over the weekend redirected me. I was introduced to Darwish fairly recently, and not through reading his poems but through musicians Reem Kelani and Marcel Khalife.

Born in Western Galilee, Darwish published dozens of books of both poetry and prose, and was known for his powerful poetic imagery about identity, struggle, and religious themes. He wrote in Arabic, so I haven't (can't!) read the original, but translations of his work can be found, such as this one by Ben Bennani.

Psalm Three

On the day when my words
were earth...
I was a friend to stalks of wheat.

On the day when my wordsMahmoud Darwish on SoundRoots.org
were wrath
I was a friend to chains.

On the day when my words
were stones
I was a friend to streams.

On the day when my words
were a rebellion
I was a friend to earthquakes.

On the day when my words
were bitter apples
I was a friend to the optimist.

But when my words became
flies covered
my lips!...

For a musical introduction to Darwish, check out Marcel Khalife's album called, simply, Taqasim. Its three long, wordless movements are Khalife's attempt to "try to reproduce, as only music can, the esthetical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resonance of Darwish's poetry. ... I will 'encode' his poetry in a system of rhythm, melody, and harmony."

Reem Kelani included a song with Darwish lyrics on her album Sprinting Gazelle. "I wrote the music to this poem in 1992 for a BBC Everyman documentary called 'See No Evil' on the tenth anniversary of the massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra & Shatila in Beirut. [Darwish] wrote the original poem in 1967 to convey the Palestinian sense of loss at the time. ... In this poem, Darwish borrows the chorus line from Palestinian folklore, thus juxtaposing colloquial Palestinian with the classical Arabic of the main verses. Each time the chorus is performed on this rendition, it is done with a different variation. This is reflected in the English subtitle of this song [Variations on Loss]."

[mp3] Reem Kelani: Mawwaal

from the album Sprinting Gazelle
more info at www.reemkelani.com
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Anonymous said...

Dear Scott,

I was moved to see your obituary of Mahmoud Darwish, and honoured that you would mention my name as one of the singers who set his poems to music.

I will never be able to sing this song the same way again.

Darwish's loss is not personal. It is collective, and the pain is therefore heavier.

With thanks,


Anonymous said...

For many years, my music has enjoyed a special, and especially gratifying, association with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. Our respective corpora have grown to be reminiscent of each other, so that the name of each of the twain, instantly and without reflection, would evoke the name of the other. How very appropriate, for all of my musical milestones that punctuate my thirty-year career, beginning with Promises of the Storm and culminating with The Doves Fly, are graced with the lyricism and poignancy that are uniquely Darwishian. Even before we got to know each other personally, I felt as though Darwish’s poetry, with its divine assertiveness and prophetic cadences, had been revealed to me and for me. I could nearly savor his mother’s bread that has become iconic to his readers. I could feel the eyes of his Rita as deeply as I could feel the pain that his Joseph suffered at the hands of his treacherous siblings, and I could identify with his passport, which I fancied carried my picture, just as personally as I could identify with his olive grove, his sand, and his sparrows. They were all, at a personal level, mine.

“And I adore my life because if I die I will be ashamed of my mother’s tears”- Darwish

Perhaps, this is the only time that Mahmoud Darwish felt ashamed and it is because he departed before his mother. He left her the tears to shed but not a poem to eulogize him with. I am the one who carried his poetry and traveled with it to far away places. I am the one who carried his soil and longing to his mother, his Rita, his olive tree and grape vine. Would you believe me when I say to you that poets do not die, but only pretend to?

Marcel Khalife