[Many of us find joy in learning about art and language from a variety of cultures. Luckily, friends of mine have traveled to and lived in many regions. These adventures, whether in person or our armchair travel here, inspire and wisen our futures from which our brains and bodies can grow and move in healthy ways.
Below is an email I received from a friend of mine who’s travel stories and knowledge of languages continually inspires me to live courageously and keep learning. He gave me permission to share it out. It has been edited to remove personal information.]
Salaam aleikum E– سلام إليكم
As promised, here is a short sampling of what I feel is the best of the best in Arab music from the 1940s to the present day. I’m including a little info about the artists, and the URLs for Youtube.
Umm Kulthum: This starts with a short cut from a concert in Rabat, Morocco. It is a “mawal”موال , which is very probably the ancestor of jazz, especially jam sessions. The singer takes a piece and first sings it straight, then starts playing with tune and words, building the level of emotion until the audience erupts. I haven’t ever figured out how the instrumentalists keep up with her, but I love mawal because it uses the human voice to its fullest potential.
This group of pieces continues with selections from concerts in Paris and Cairo. Note the Mediterranean instrumentation: violins and cellos, basses and uds, zithers and pianos, sometimes saxophones and accordions, all working together to make great music.
Maria Callas, perhaps the greatest European operatic soprano of the last half of the 20th century, referred to Umm Kulthum as the “greatest voice of the age.” Composers throughout the Arab world wrote works for her that she performed in Europe and all over the Middle East. She had a four-octave range and such a powerful voice that the mikes were suspended from the proscenium arch, because a mike in front of her would almost literally be blown away. When she died in the 1970s everything came to a standstill in Egypt, and a million mourners thronged the streets of Cairo to pay respects to her funeral cortege. I’ve found her music on Turkish, French, Israeli, and all sorts of other websites. She herself was muslim, daughter of a mullah, and a staunch supporter of Gamal Abdel Nasser, but her art crossed all religious, cultural, and political boundaries.
Nur Al Huda: This piece, Ya Jarat al Wadi يا جارة الوادي , which translates to “O neighbor in the valley”, is sung by a Greek Orthodox Lebanese songstress who only passed away a few years ago. She has a gorgeous voice and improvises wonderfully, and most important she sings with joy and passion. A language point: Jarat is written with the Arabic letter “jim,” which is a cousin of Greek Gamma. She pronounces is as a “G,” while other parts of the Arab world pronounce it as a “J.”. I’ve also heard it pronounced as a French “Zh.”
Adham Nabulsi: You get a chance to hear spoken Arabic in this cut.
I ran across Adham Nabulsi a couple of years ago, and he is the best young male vocalist I’ve yet heard. Like Nur Al Huda, he sings with joy and passion, and fantastic vocal technique.This Youtube cut is from a Lebanese TV show along the lines of Arabs have Talent. The hostess, Maya Diab, is herself a famous singer and comes from the Lebanese Christian community.
His surname means “from Nablus” and that indicates to me that he comes from the Palestinian Christian community that has been driven out of Israel. He went to college to play soccer, but also joined the college chorus. He was so good that he was encouraged to follow a career in music.
Here again, the instrumentation is international, Arab percussion and European piano, zither and flute. Since the libretto is on the screen, you can also learn Arabic by singing along with Adham! This Youtube selection continues on to another artiste (Syrian?) singing a mawal to a full orchestra backup.
I hope you enjoy listening to these selections, and especially that it encourages you to study Arabic and the vibrant Arab culture that still thrives from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caucasus Mountains.