Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another bravura performance

In the first volume (Hadhramaut) of the multi-volume masterwork of M. le comte de Landberg, a Swede writing in French about Yemeni Arabic,  Etudes sur les dialectes de l’Arabie Méridionale (adequately to praise which, words fail  in every language), we find a panoramic portrait of music and poetry in nineteenth-century  Yemen.   And one transcribed piece  begins thus:

            dan dan daani dan, dann-dandan…

This ancient refrain (the “doo-wop” of Felix Arabia  -- sometimes referred to by the noun dandaana) is with us yet: 
LIVE from Taghyir Square, San`aa!  --

Classical Arabic poetry is characterized by rhythmic complexity;  and we certainly see this here, in a delivery that is not so much syncopated as…  phlogisticated.  Yallah!

Here the incomparable Muhammad al-Adra`i  does not take the easy path of satire, nor of bare defiance:  he sings, with love and longing, of the wretchedness into which his own country has fallen -- a plunge as tragic as the bursting of the Ma’rib dam, lo those many centuries ago…  The song contrasts the condition of “people” -- al-naas -- that is, other people, normal people -- with the sad state of “us”:  the folk of Yemen.

There is a word for this in Arabic, Tarab --  scarcely translatable (unless it be by the Portuguese fado):  in music, elation and anguish, intertwined like the rose and the briar …   Those more knowledgeable than I, must weigh in as to the musical mode, which seems to go back as far as Orpheus.

Superficially, visually, the present piece may resemble that posted earlier, al-naas yuriid isqaaT al-niZaam.   But it is really quite different -- and hints at something of the range of this consummate artist, previously known only as a comedian.   In the earlier piece, he played the buffoon, with lots of wordplay, and deliberately let himself be squashed by the resolute audience, by running on a bit over the prescribed length of the verse (much like the dithering President he was imitating):  but the People will not be deterred, they chime in intoning “The People demand the fall of the regime”, right on time, every time. -- In the present piece, by contrast, there is no psychic split between singer and audience:   all lament, in exaltation, their fallen state.   (Actually, come to think of it, a perfect piece for Lent…)

God be with the Yemeni people.

[More here.]

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