23 September 2012

17 September 2012

The Music of George Kirmiz

In the 1980s, a composer and musician named George Kirmiz made a series of cassettes that featured his own compositions. These cassettes were offered for sale primarily at Arab-American community events and are almost impossible to find now. His songs of solidarity with the Resistance inspired a generation. Here are some songs by one of my favourite artists of the Resistance. The first is a video I made. Unfortunately, it was difficult to obtain any high quality recording from my old cassette. The paintings included in the video are by the late Ismail Shammout, one of the great visual artists of Palestine:

Darwish in Music, Classics of Palestinian Resistance

The words are from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. I first heard this song performed live by the group, Sabreen:

Here is Sabreen again with translation of the poem into English:

Nai Barghouti has her own version of this powerful song:

I was privileged to be able to experience the art of Sabreen firsthand twice. Another poem by Darwish that they set to music is 'On Wishes':

On Wishes
Don't say to me:
Would I were a seller of bread in Algiers
That I might sing with a rebel.
Don't say to me:
Would I were a herdsman in the Yemen
That I might sing to the shudderings of time.
Don't say to me:
Would I were a cafe waiter in Havana
That I might sing the victories of sorrowing women.
Don't say to me:
Would I worked as a young labourer in Aswan
That I might sing to the rocks.
My friend,
The Nile will not flow into the Volga,
Nor the Congo or the Jordan into the Euphrates.
Each river has its source, its course, its life.
My friend, our land is not barren.
Each land has its time for being born.
Each dawn a date with a rebel.

Translation by Denys Johnson-Davies

I treasured my cassettes of the music of George Qurmuz for many years, but they no longer play properly. YouTube once again demonstrates that the great music of the Palestinian people will live on and on:

I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the nineth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks..
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew
My father.. descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather..was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman's hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate poeple
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger!

Nai Barghouti, Singing to the World via YouTube and Amazon

The power of the internet and its capacity to disseminate the work of artists is incredible. I can remember when Palestinian music was passed from person to person only on cassettes. One could find new artists or new recordings by beloved artists perhaps at community events or at a few markets. Many times, the only way to obtain the music was to ask a friend to make a copy. It was with no intention of cheating the artist of any reward for his or her labours but simply because there was no other way to obtain the music.

Even with the advent of personal computers, recordings of Palestinian music might be difficult to obtain. One could listen to it on the internet or perhaps download it onto a computer on occasion but community events still were the primary means of introduction to new artists or songs.

The advent of YouTube was the beginning of a social and artistic Revolution, the likes of which never has been experienced before. Even though YouTube retains the power to erase a user's recording from its database, as it erased my tribute to Gaza a couple of years ago, it remains a means by which the hitherto unheard voice can be heard worldwide.

Political analysts as well as visual artists and musicians can publish their views on YouTube and in most cases, their recordings are available throughout the world. Yes, both overt and covert censorship still exist but the ability to reach out and make oneself heard potentially to millions is amazing.

Once upon a time, it was said that the internet 'leveled the playing field', granting the same voice to the powerful and dispossessed alike. Despite increased government interference in the freedom of the internet and increased surveillance of internet communications and publications, the ordinary 'man in the street' or 'woman in the street' now has absolutely no excuse for social, political or artistic ignorance. If you have the means of obtaining access to a computer, whether it is your own, borrowed or rented and if you have sufficient energy to search the less-traveled paths and the will to think for yourself, the Truth is out there to be discovered.

Many of my favourite Palestinian songs are on cassettes that no longer play... but now I may rediscover the songs in new guises by different artists or even my original favourites on YouTube.

I took a little journey a couple of days ago on YouTube, searching for different versions of an old favourite, 'Yamma mwail il Hawa'. I wrote an article about it on my primary 'Umfalastin' site. Today I thought I would try to create a little playlist of all the versions I had found that would enable them to be played automatically in succession. Rather to my surprise, I discovered that one of the new versions of the song I had found was available on Amazon.

Nai Barghouti has three songs on Amazon. They are not available on CD there but can be purchased as MP3 downloads, either to be played on the internet via the 'Cloud' or on up to 10 different devices.

Who is Nai Barghouti? She is a 15 year old Palestinian flautist and singer who lives in Ramallah. The Barghouti family is a prominent one, active in the arts and in politics for decades and includes the writer Mourid Barghouti and the poet Tamim Barghouti. Nai credits her father Omar Barghouti as one of the driving forces of her musical life. She has written of her own experiences, among them of being taken hostage by the Zionist military during a raid:


'Shut your mouth up,' barked a huge, scary Israeli soldier at me, like a rabid bulldog, whenever I challenged his orders. This is not even a fair comparison; a bulldog, despite his intimidating appearance, can be quite sweet and loving on the inside. Well, this soldier was anything but! So maybe criminal describes him better. He and a dozen other soldiers smashed through my aunt’s apartment window in the middle of the night last Thursday and took hostage my aunt, Suha, my 22-year old cousin, Hanin, my 69-year old grandmother, and me.

That night of terror -- and defiance -- is unforgettable. It brought back memories of an earlier invasion, when Israeli soldiers came to occupy our apartment and tried to expel us. I was five then. I felt powerless, terrified and sick, and my knee kept shaking.

I asked my mother what to do to make it stop, while my father was busy confronting the soldiers: 'You will not take our home while we’re alive,' he said. 'We are unarmed except with our rights and our dignity.'

He kept repeating this, over and over, so it stuck in my mind. I was so worried that they might hurt him, and my knee kept dancing. Mama suggested that I walk up to one of the soldiers and look him in the eyes. I hesitated at first, thinking she must have gone crazy; that guy’s gun was literally bigger than me. But I finally did. To my surprise, he immediately took his eyes down, avoiding any eye contact. I triumphantly said, 'Yes!' and my knee stopped shaking. I learned the true meaning of the word defiance - tahaddi, in Arabic.

I was sleeping over at Suha’s last Wednesday night. I woke up a little after 1:00 am to Hanin's voice calling me at the top of her lungs from the corridor. She meant to alert me before the soldiers could enter her room, where I was sleeping. She didn’t want me to see a soldier's face behind a large rifle when I opened my eyes. She later told me how a similar experience had deeply traumatized her when they arrested her father the first time, in 1992, when she was still three. With time, she forgot everything about that horrible night except the haunting details of that Israeli soldier's face.

They kept all four of us in the living room, with several soldiers watching us. They were looking for Hanin's father, Ahmad Qatamesh, who is a political scientist, an author of many books and such a kind and giving person. He wrote about his almost six-year experience in prison under 'administrative detention' (with no charges or trial), about what he thought of war, of the Palestinian Authority, of Arab revolutions, of socialism, and many other things, as Hanin told me. You can't arrest someone for telling the truth, or for writing what he/she thinks. An opinion is never wrong when you don't force it on others. In my view, everyone should be free to think, to write, and to oppose injustice.

I asked the soldier to close the door, as it was terribly noisy upstairs. The soldiers were breaking down the neighbors’ door, although Suha told them they are away in the U.S. 'You go close it yourself,' he said.

I was too nervous to get up, to be honest. I dug in the yellowish couch I was sitting on, trying to hide that I was literally shaking. I felt my skin was turning into the couch’s color.

'You're the ones illegally breaking into people’s homes!' I shot back.

'Shut the f*** up,' he yelled, again, in a thundering tone. I did, but I felt really bad, afterwards, that he succeeded to shut me up. I started finding excuses for my behavior—they are big and armed, and we are all alone. They could hurt us if we challenged them. I couldn't speak. My mouth was beat-boxing, as my trembling lips could not produce proper sounds. Then finally, I learned how to overcome my fear.

My old memory of my encounter with the soldiers in our apartment flashed back, and I felt empowered. I decided not to shut up, no matter what. Our obedience has never made Israeli soldiers any less ruthless, I thought to myself.

We were to be kept hostage until they could find Ahmad, we found out. Hanin used the excuse of going to the bathroom to alert her father who was staying at his brother’s that night. When she returned to our 'prison,' the living room, the home phone rang. The Israeli commander jumped and answered it. It was Ahmad! Hanin was angry that he called, as she was hoping he would somehow avoid arrest. The thought of losing him again horrified her. But Ahmad’s calculations were different, Suha later explained to us.

The Israeli commander threatened him saying: 'If you don't turn yourself in, we will mess the house up and destroy the furniture.'

Ahmad, who was enraged, shouted back loudly enough so even we could faintly hear some of his sentences: 'You are an occupation force that is illegally in our house ... You cowards, leave my family alone. If you want me, come and arrest me at my brother’s house. I am not going anywhere.'

Ahmad wanted to protect us all, clearly, and felt no need to escape as he had nothing to hide.

Throughout, the commander and some of the soldiers treated us as if we were animals in their farm—their farm! With every arrogant order, with every dirty look, with every aggressive move, their racism and hateful soul completely swallowed up any sense of humanity they may have once had.

The four of us decided not to show them our fear. Don’t get me wrong, we were scared to death, all of us, but we hid it. After a while we noticed how a lot more scared and nervous they were.

When I got up to fix my pants, for example, two of them quickly pointed their guns at me. I said, 'Cowards!'

That did not go well with them. We decided to start up a conversation with each other, ignoring the soldiers’ very presence. We talked, laughed, and talked again in loud voices. They must have thought that because we are women, Palestinian women (well, I am technically still a child), we would cry, scream, and beg for mercy. Boy, they had us all wrong!

We developed a new form of peaceful resistance: TLI—Talk, Laugh and Ignore!

I thought some music would help us relax. They had confiscated all our mobile phones, but I carefully hid mine for the right moment. I put 'Li Beirut', a song by the Lebanese diva Fairouz. The lyrics, set a romantic Spanish tune, talk about Beirut, its beauty and resistance in the face of destruction by the Israeli army. They hate our humanity and cannot stand anything beautiful about us, so they try to destroy it. Many innocent women and children were murdered by them, in Beirut, as in Gaza. They violently confiscated my phone and turned the music off.

We started asking them questions, non-stop.

'We hope you won’t steal our valuables from the rooms?'

'We never take anything that is not ours,' one shouted indignantly.

Hanin replied, 'Other than stealing our land every day, you have stolen precious items from Palestinian homes during previous invasions!'

Their commander appeared again, giving them new orders. I could not resist saying, 'You so remind me of sheep. He’s your shepherd, and all of you are just mindless followers.'

One of them pointed his M16 at me, and said: 'Shut the f*** up!'

So I said: 'If you hate the truth so much why don’t you refuse to follow his orders? Why do you insist on terrorizing us?'

He repeated his favorite insult and moved closer, with his rifle pointed at my face. Suha jumped and shouted at him, 'She is only 14, do you have anything human left in you?'

I was boiling with anger, but I refused to give them the pleasure of watching me cry. They were not only humiliating me, they were also trying to make me a silent victim. I didn’t want to shut up. And I didn’t want to be submissive in anyway. I have had enough already. I wanted them out, now. I was very tired and sleepy. But I still wanted to show them what a Palestinian teenager is made of! Images from Tunisia and Egypt filled my head, and I felt proud.

What bothered me the most was that they used my mobile phone to call Ahmad while they were trying to find his brother’s house to arrest him. I wish I didn't have my mobile with me. I am exhausted. I wish I could disappear and only return after they had left. They split up; some of them remained in the house holding us hostage, while the rest went to arrest Ahmad. We were terribly worried about him. Only when their mission was accomplished did they let go of us.

Before leaving, the last one looked at Hanin, who was about to collapse, and teased her: 'We took your father. I will take care of him!'

So she screamed: 'Criminals! He will take care of himself.'

We were anxiously waiting for them to leave, to be free, but also to finally express our emotions freely. Hanin and I cried our hearts out—a mix of fear, deep worry about Ahmad, and even deeper anger.

When they finally left we all just sat there trying to understand what had just happened. For a minute we thought we were in an endless nightmare. We couldn't remember every single detail that had happened until much later. It was as if we were there but at the same time we were not. Sleeplessness mixed with intense horror can do that to you, I guess.

After I calmed down, I felt guilty how at one point in the confrontation I hoped to disappear and only return when they had left. How could I just wish to escape like that? To go away without challenging their occupation and racism? To abandon my dream of a free Palestine? To run away as if I didn't care about others? What was I thinking? That can’t be me. I am a girl. I’m a musician. I am a student. I have a family that loves me. But I'm Palestinian, and at the moment that is a lot more important to me than all the rest. I am human, first, and Palestinian, second. Being Palestinian is in my roots. They can kill me; they can steal my land, as they’re already doing, continuously. They can cut our olive trees, as they often do! They can take away everything, but never our identity, our dignity, or our hope to be free.

They can never shut me up.

Written by Nai Barghouti, May 2011

Here is a young girl who is not only a talented musician but an heroic example of Steadfastness and Palestinian pride and refusal to succumb to Defeatism. Even if her words are not published in the mainstream international press, and even if her music is not published by a major recording corporation, HER VOICE WILL BE HEARD!

For those who cannot travel freely now, either because of physical or financial constraints, and for those who live far from cultural centres, it is wonderful to be able to join with the Palestinian community spiritually through music and art.

Here are some YouTube recordings of performances by Nai Barghouti:

Although my own primary focus here is the music of Resistance, it would not be fair to Nai if I did not include her performance of a jazz piece for flute that she herself composed: ZicZak Jazz.

The Jazz tradition is very dear to the hearts of many of the musicians and composers of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. For example, the Lebanese artist Khaled al Habr, whose resistance music still resonates in my soul, is known as much if not more for his jazz compositions and performances. Jazz, which can be playful and soulful by turns, is suited to the Arab Voice in this era of conflict and stress.

Jazz and traditional folk music share one trait that appeals to a creative musician in that both allow individual improvisation within the loose structure of a basic composition. The flute, so much like the human voice in its ability to carry the soloist part in any composition, is one of the oldest instruments known to humanity. A flute can carry an entire song by itself or it can be part of a musical ensemble. Voice and flute can perform duets or alternate in a musical narrative, whether in the context of a song of joy or lament. Nai Barghouti, who is blessed with a strong, beautiful voice, herself alternates between flute and voice in some of her own performances. At this point in time, she is an adolescent musician of great promise. It will be interesting and exciting to watch her musical progress in the next decade.

15 September 2012

Soul of Palestine: Yawma muwayl il Hawa and Muntasiba al Qamati Amshi

The song, 'Yama mwayl il Hawa' is a beloved classic from Palestine given expression by a number of different artists. The song, 'Muntasiba al Qamati Amshi' is an anthem to resistance written by the poet Samih al Qasim and set to music by Marcel Khalife. Perhaps more than any other, to me these two songs embody the pain and longing of the exile and the very soul of Palestine, with an ultimate promise of steadfastness and triumph against defeat.

The tradition of folksong in Palestine as elsewhere in the Arab Nation is to allow freedom of expression in songs like this one. The singer can create new verses or use verses that are familiar to all. 'Yawma muwayl il Hawa' is a song that lends itself to folkloric traditions in that respect. 'Muntasiba al Qamati Amshi' on the other hand, basically SAYS IT ALL as it stands, a brilliant collaboration between two Masters of artistic expression.

There are certain symbols that instantly evoke the Homeland. One of them is the Key. The Key to the House that is lost to the Exile, a house that may have been demolished but almost certainly is occupied by a foreign Invader is a constant reminder of the unequivocal Right of Return for all Refugees. The Key is a symbol of Loss but also of Hope.

The image of the Wind is rooted in Palestinian poetry and folklore as it is in art and literature throughout the world. When I listen to this song, I am reminded of an old Palestinnian folktale named 'Jbene'. I wrote a version of the tale in English for a small American periodical named 'Al Qandeel'.

The heroine of the tale, Jbene has been chosen by many Palestinian artists as a symbol of the exile throughout the decades since the Zionist State was superimposed over the map of the Homeland. Jbene is an innocent young girl who is forced into exile. She sings of her longings to the wind and the message is carried to all the creatures of earth, sea and sky. There are many different versions of the tale and the version I chose was one of the most traditional. Many Palestinians find that version dissatisfying as ultimately the young girl, in time-honoured fairytale and folklore fashion is 'rescued' by a Prince of another land and restored by him to her Homeland. Some of my readers wondered why I chose to portray the young woman as essentially helpless, her fate determined by others. I did so because THAT was the original tale, and not for political reasons but I am thinking of writing a new version of Jbene in which she claims her own justice. After all, the Palestinian people MUST look to themselves for justice and not continue to believe that they will be rescued by an outside force. If they passively await deliverance, they simply will continue to be betrayed by Nations and Leaders who have their own agendas.

The 'Wind' or 'Hawa' is a symbol of a power that is not bound to the constraints known to humans. It can rise above the pavements, above the soldiers at the chequepoints and blow freely without need for sustenance or dwelling place. The Wind can be an ally and friend, a cleansing agent that blows away the poisons of the gases used by the IDF and Occupation Forces, or a force giving wings to voices raised in appeals for aid, declarations of resistance or music to inspire or soothe the soul, but at the end, the Wind has no Homeland and does not take sides.

There are Leaders who have spoken of 'the Wind of Change' but the Wind blows whither it will. A stronger image used in this song is that of the Will to Walk, to move forward in the most basic way, whatever the cost. There is a wonderful poem by Samih al-Kasim, set to music by Marcel Khalife: 'Mumtasiba al Qamati Amshi'.

The song is a resounding slap in the face to the Invader, a declaration of resistance:

'Muntasiba al qamati amshi, marfou'a al hamati amshi.
Muntasiba al qamati amshi, marfou'a al hamati amshi.
Fee kaffi qasfatu zaytounin wa a'la na'ishi,
wa ana amshi, wa ana amshi, wa ana, wa ana wa ana amshi.

'Upright I walk, With my head raised, I walk,
In my hand an olive branch and on my shoulder my coffin,
and I walk, and I walk, and I, and I, and I walk.'

Whenever this song is sung, the heart beats faster and every individual must be fired with renewed determination to face all odds and refuse the map of defeat.

All music of resistance is interwoven into a grand tapestry in which the aspirations and pain, the tears, sweat and blood of every poet, fighter, martyr and every mother and wife who fights by their side or supports them with their strength are to be found. Although the style and tone of 'Yawma muwayl il Hawa' is very different from 'Muntasiba al qamati amshi', a lament of sorts rather than a marching anthem, both carry the listener forward into the future while acknowledging the pain nd loss of the past.

What becomes clear even to a listerner unacquainted with either song if he/she listens to every version I collected here is the vibrancy and originality of contemporary Palestinian music.

The first rendition I have included here combines traditional flute with some Western-influenced instrumentals:

Here is the same song, reinterpreted by the still vibrant Master, Marcel Khalife:

A tribute to Palestinian activists and leaders:

A psssionate rendition of the same song carrying a promise of ultimate victory over the Occupation:

A very quiet, haunting version of the same song and yes, there is hesitancy here and a few minor musical errors, but it is a genuine expression nonetheless with beauty to affect the heart:


Now that I have mentioned Marcel Khalife's marvelous composition in 'Muntaba al qamati amshi', I must end with that.

Because it is an anthem to Palestinian resistance and therefore belongs to every one now, I am including a tribute performance as well as a performance by the Master himself:

From the Al Bustan Seeds of Culture concert, led by Hanna Khoury:

Here is the recorded versionn by Marcel Khalife:

Finally, here is a live version in concert:

Marcel Khalife, so long a fighter in the trenches of the world of artistic expression, raises his hand to invite the participation of the audience and the world. Will you sing with me:
Muntasiba al qamati amshi, marfou'a al hamati amshi
Fee kaffi qasfatu zaytounin wa a'la na'ishi,
wa ana amshi, wa ana amshi, wa ana, wa ana wa ANA AMSHI!

Upright I walk, With my head raised, I walk,
In my hand an olive branch, and on my shoulder my coffin,
and I walk, and I walk, and I, and I, and I WALK!

25 June 2007

Helwa ya Baladi by Dalida

'Helwa ya Baladi' by Dalida

This is a song without overt political tones, but it is an old favourite of mine and the photographs of Syria in the video are rather wonderful.

Here is the same song with photographs of Egypt.

Marcel Khalife

'Yateer Alhamam'
Poem by Mahmoud Darwish, Music by Marcel Khalife

Poem by Mahmoud Darwish, Music by Marvel Khalife