Monday, June 25, 2007

'Ummi' by Ahmad Qaboor

Many different gifted musicians have set the words of Mahmoud Darwish's poem, 'Ummi' to music. Marcel Khalife's version may be the most famous of all, but my favourite always will be this song by Ahmad Qaboor.

'I long for my mother's bread,
And my mother's coffee,
And her touch.

Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day.
I must be worthy of my life
At the hour of my death,
Worthy of the tears of my mother.
Oh... my Mother!
Oh... my Mother!

And if I return one day:
Take me as a veil for your eyelashes;
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps;
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair,
With a thread trailing
From the hem of your dress.
I might become immortal,
Become a god
If I touch the depths of your heart.
Oh... my mother!
Oh... My mother!
I long for my mother's bread
And my mother's coffee,
And her touch.

Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worthy of my life
At the hour of my death,
Worthy of the tears of my mother.
Oh... my mother!
Oh... my mother!

Words by Mahmoud Darwish,
Music by Ahmad Qaboor

Monday, June 18, 2007

'We Shall Return One Day'

Sung by the incomparable Fairouz, this classical aria by the Rahbani brothers continues to speak to the heart of every refugee.

Here is a liberal translation of this beautiful song:

'We shall return,'
the nightingale told me,
When upon a hill we met.
That nightingale lives on there
In our dreams.
Among the hills
And people who yearn,
There is a place for us.
O heart, how long?
How long then...
Have we been scattered by the wind?

We shall return.
Let us return!

O heart, do not drop in weariness
On the path of our return.
How it wounds our pride to know
That birds tomorrow will return
While we still remain here.

There are hills
That sleep and wake again
On our pledge.
There are people
In love with days
Filled with waiting and nostalgic songs,
And places where the eye is filled
With willows bending over the water,
While in their shade
Afternoons drink the perfume of peace.

One day
We shall return to our homes,
To drown in the warmth of hope.
We shall return
Though time passes us by
And distances grow only greater
Between us.'

Sanarjiou Yawman

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Resistance through Powerful Symbols

Palestinian Resistance to the Zionist Occupation is expressed through traditional arts as well as political acts of Resistance. Here is a powerful image of the Intifada created in the form of embroidery. The ancient Tree of Life is central. Its roots draw strength from words embodying the principles of Resistance. Doves, another very ancient symbol of Palestine, are sheltered within the tree and banners in the form of the Palestinian flag appear either to issue from or are carried in their beaks. As is the case with many political Palestinian statements in the form of visual art, the women of Palestine are acknowledged to be as vital to the Resistance as the men. The men are armed only with slingshots here, showing the realities of the Palestinian population who, with rocks and slingshots alone, defied the heavily-armed Zionist Occupation and continue steadfastly to struggle against the obliteration of the Palestinian identity and the ongoing theft of the homeland.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Qabbeh from Gaza

Here is a photograph of the qabbeh of an old thob from Gaza. Compared to the example shown below, it is far more heavily-embroidered, and actually is more typical of the style of embroidery on old traditional thobs. Colours and patterns often were chosen not so much for aesthetic purposes as for their significance. The rather austere Western custom of using a single colour combination and pattern repeatedly is not typical of Palestinian embroidery. In many cases, embroidery of a thob was an ongoing project, and additional embroidery was added through the years.

Every district of Palestine had its own unique styles of embroidery. Often a girl who travelled to another district might bring home 'foreign' patterns and ideas to embellish her own work, but for the most part, a woman's district could be identified by the thob she wore. Headgear and shawls differed from district to district as well.

Palestinian embroidery patterns

This is a photograph of a hand-embroidered 'qabbeh', a design comprised of different patterns of embroidery that is used to decorate the 'breastplate' of a traditional Palestinian 'thob' or gown. The arch or 'mihrab' clearly can be seen. The primary embroidery pattern within the frame of the qabbeh is a 'qamr' or moon pattern. The little 'amulets' that depend from the main section of the 'breastplate' are nakleh or palms.

The palm is an extremely ancient symbol of life and indeed is a symbol of life, death and rebirth.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Symbolism in Domestic Arts

At the most primitive level, ancient symbolism probably represented the most basic elements of human existence and these elements were reduced to the simplest of forms. Thus, a straight line would represent the earth or land and an arch, made up of two lines ascending to meet in the middle, would represent the sky or heavens. Combined, one would have the shape of the triangle, representing the sky over the earth, or heaven above earth. The triangle might represent shelter as well, in the form of a tent or cave and later, a dwelling place made of brick, wood, stone or mud. Initially, however, the triangle was a potent symbol of the marriage or synthesis of heaven and earth. To the devout, it would symbolise the protection of heaven above and for those who dwelt on earth. Ancient Egyptian art (much later than primitive rock art certainly) showed heaven in the form of a female goddess, outstretched over Earth, in the form of a male god.

Early weaving, restricted to straight lines, reduced symbols to angular forms similar to those found in primitive rock paintings and carvings. Thus, straight lines symbolised Earth or land, the arch represented the sky or heaven, triangles represented the meeting of heaven and earth, tents, caves or other dwellings, and wavy lines represented water, either in the form of rain, of lightning or of waves. The sun was represented by an equal-armed cross, and the earth could be represented by a square, its corners symbolising the four quarters or directions.

All these symbols are seen in the traditional domestic arts of Palestine, and can be found in profusion in embroidery patterns worked on thobs (gowns), pillows and hangings.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Umfalastin: Resistance through Music

Music can provide a powerful rallying point for Resistance movements. This post reviews ''Ila Mataa?' by Rima Tarazi and Tania Tamari Nasir, a collection of songs dedicated to the Palestinian Resistance against the Zionist Occupation.

In 1986, Rima Tarazi and Tania Tamari Nasir recorded a number of extraordinarily powerful songs about Palestine. The songs were written by Rima Tarazi and sung by Tania primarily to the accompaniment of piano. Although both artists were born and raised in Palestine, the music represents a synthesis of East and West through its use of piano as well as Western operatic influence, yet firmly rooted in the realities of Palestinian culture and tradition.

Rima Tarazi evidently played and loved the piano from early childhood. Her use of the piano as accompanying instrument is a distinguishing feature of her music. The quality of the singer's voice is operatic and her musical background basically is a classical one. The choral accompaniment in some of her songs is characteristic of her compositions as well. Often listeners familiar only with Western classical music who listen to these songs without knowing their provenance mistakenly identify them as arias from Western classical opera. That does not make this music less genuinely Palestinian, but adds another element to its power, as the songs resonate with every one who appreciates classical music while maintaining their unique Palestinian roots and voice. The opera 'Ahmad al Arabi' by Marcel Khalife has the same effect. Music that transcends cultural boundaries yet remains true to its own cultural heritage possesses a potency that gives it a timeless universal quality.

I bought the cassette of 'Songs of Palestine' shortly after it was produced in the 1980s. Listening to it again and again through the years, it never has failed to move me.

In 1992, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra listened to the same cassette and wrote from Baghdad: 'I have to tell you that as I listened to the songs, I could not hold back my tears and my tears only flow whenever I come face to face with wondrous beauty! ... May this creativity be a constant source of inspiration to all of us as we reunite with our people in our Palestinian towns and villages so that this creative grief may be transformed into the creative joy we are forever awaiting...'

Now, two decades later, a CD has been produced that combines the songs on that cassette with new songs. Under the title of ''Ila Mataa?' ('Until When?') this incredible music is made available to a new generation.

One of the earliest songs, 'Song of the Bird' was written for the Society of Al Inash al Usra and dedicated and performed during the International Year of the Child in 1979.

The songs for the most part eulogise actual martyrs of Palestine. From a song for Hania, a 14 year old girl shot by the Zionists to songs dedicated to famous artists, writers and political leaders assassinated through the years, the songs remind us of the sea of blood on which the Zionist entity floats. They speak eloquently of Palestinian courage, determination and hope as well, inspiring our hearts to soar with pride and hope while allowing us to weep.

From Hania:

'I'm only a child, dear mother,
Why would they shoot me, dear mother?...

Hania, Hania, Hania,
Your injuries sing praises to the free,
They are the hymns of victory...

Our little ones, our dear ones, beloved ones,
Your blood shall always light our troubled earth,
It shall bring forth our renewed birth.'

The invasion of 1967 was followed by the Zionist invasion of Lebanon... The First Intifada was followed by the Second. We have witnessed another invasion of Lebanon by the Zionists and Palestine remains under Occupation even now.

Knowing this, a song dedicated to Al Quds must find an echo in the soul of every Palestinian:

Because I was born Palestinian,
Because my roots are deeply imprinted in history,
Because I was born Arab and in Jerusalem have lived since the dawn of time,
I die every day.

Al Quds has always been ours.
In our hearts it lives and will never die.
Every alley and every home bears my name,
My dreams and memories ae engraved in its walls,
Reminding us all Al Quds is Arab, it shall never die.

Because I dream of light and right,
Because I refuse to be a false witness and suppress the truth,
Because I am steadfast, as solid as a rock,
I die every day...

Al Quds is Arab,
Al Quds will never die.'

Nor will the spirit and actions of Resistance die.

Songs like these may carry with them the sorrow of loss but at the same time they bear the scent of the oranges and thyme of Palestine and the hope of a future that will not be denied. Steadfastness and memory are the twin pillars that support the strength of the Palestinian people. The identity of Palestine cannot be destroyed by bullet or bulldozer, by force or intimidation, by foreign declarations or by false propaganda. Palestine endures.

I urge every one to experience the magnificent talents of Rima Tarazi and Tania Tamari Nasir for themselves. The CD is available from the Palestine Online Store. No doubt other sources exist as well, but a link to the Palestine Online Store can be found in the Links section of this page.

N.B. If any one wishes to send me links to other sites that advance the cause of Palestine by offering items from Palestine, please feel free to do so.

Umfalastin: Resistance through Music