La Danza Poetica #8 Creative Resistance: Arab Voices

Music and poetry - creative acts of resistance. Voices from the revolution of feeling. Take your heart and mind to Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran. This month's show crossed political and cultural borders and boundaries, as well as centuries. From medieval Sufi poetry and folk song, traditional Arabic revolutionary poetry, through modern fusions of jazz and electronics, today's hip hop underground, and poetic diaspora. Voices that emerged in the Arab Spring, enlightening our world with calls for peace and justice.

Opening with Metastaz, musical traveler Thomas Simoes out of Lyon, France. Crossing musical borders with The Prince of Persia from his 2012 Encounters album. Setting the scene here with deft collaborations between present and past.


I decided to feature in this show a few tracks from Beirut electronic musician Munma. I came across him first via his collaboration with El Rass (see below). Exploring his works took me on an intriguing journey into the fusion of voice and music. One of my favourite of his tracks is the very say La solitude des lendemains de guerre - the solitude of the aftermath of war.  In French, written and spoken by Caroline Bourgeret. That's in the show, along with a tribute to Mahjoub Omar/رباعيات, and a new track Munma sent over, Eastern Promises, from his upcoming EP, due soon on Syrphe records - a great electronic, experimental label. An hour is never enough! - so I couldn't feature the full Eastern Promises or some other great tracks Syrphe sent me - I will in future!

Munma's 2012 collaboration with Beirut rapper and musician El Rass (aka The Head) is Unveiling The Hidden" - an exciting mix of Arabic rapping and synth-laden beats. Agitated, sharp, political, orchestral, emotional. In some ways it is the perfect expression of a rich and beautiful culture under siege. The fact that we cannot just access this beauty, this very long history of poetry and music, without wading through the pain and the torment of oppression, is frustrating, achingly so. I guess that's a worldwide feeling, really, when you try to reach another culture through layers of war and manifested distance. Artists like El Rass and Munma both express the frustration and break through the barriers. You can get the album via underground label Ruptured. From the same album, this is Tkhayal الرأس ومونما-تخيل:

Exiled or emigrant poets of Palestine - a young woman poet pays tribute to an honoured ghost - Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American poet, author, playwright and political activist, who left for Brooklyn, USA, in 1978 with her parents as refugees. Influenced by the Brooklyn hip hop scene, as well as the stories from her homeland, Hammad is a powerful spoken word performer, alumni of the original Def Poetry Jam, visionary poet. I met Suheir briefly when she toured with Def Poetry to Sydney, and her energy on stage then still lingers within me, as power shared women to women, as knowledge transferred. This spoken word piece that I feature is for Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinean poet of exile. It's taken from an audio recording of Suheir live at DIWAN Forum 2009 - a biennial program of the Arab American National Museum bringing together Arab American artists and scholars.

In exploration for this show I came unexpectedly upon something that has affected me deeply - all this music is affecting, but A letter from prison has become one of those musical and poetic experiences that defines a time for me. Epic, sad and beautiful this track is from Da Arabian MCs (aka DAM)'s 2012 album Dabke on the Moon. It is a collaborative poem with Trio Joubran, Bachar Khalifa, Nibal Malshi and Ibrahim Sakallah, combining Arabic percussion rhythms Middle Eastern melodies, Rai and urban hip hop.

You can read the full lyrics in English at the DAM website. An excerpt:

I'm imagining an angel in a white dressI wish I was with you to share these momentsThey kidnapped me for an unlimited timeBefore you learned the word 'Daddy" you heard "Life in prison"For me, today and tomorrow are synonymsMy name is: political prisoner, my age is 20 calendars

DAM are the hip hop crew notable for the 2001 song Min Irhabi (Who's the terrorist) the video for which was downloaded over a million times on its release. Sadly, it is as true today as it was twelve years ago. 

Dal'ouna was created by oud player Ramzi Aburedwan, a man who was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp, participated in the first intifada as a child, studied the oud in France, and dedicated his life to music as a creative act of resistance in the face of the daily oppression that is Palestinean life, teaching and promoting music.

Et Nous, Nous Aimons La Vie is I guess best described as Dal'ouna's epic poem … This song is based on a poem written by the famous Palestinian nationalist poet Ibrahim Touqan, whose work inspired Arabs during colonial revolutions against the British. Similar to El Tanbura in Egypt, these old revolutionary songs have taken on new meanings under present circumstances. Dal'ouna's repertoire extends from Egypt to Andalusia, passing through various regions and traditions of the Middle East, and adding baroque and jazz accents to a musical confluence of Orient and Occident.

I've come only recently to the work of Ramzi Aburedwan and he is fast becoming a great favourite. His new instrumental album Reflections of Palestine is a kind of musical autobiography, each song a 'chapter' of his life. It's a deeply emotional album. For when words are not required.

Our honoured ghost in this month's dance is Iraqi poet Nazik Al-Malaika. Born in 1923 Al Malaika is regarded as one of the most influential modern Iraqi poets, the first Arabic poet to write in free verse. I am not at all sure where I got this audio recording, somebody shared it as we do - but after seeing the video by 'reemirror' it is obviously this one. So, with apologies/thanks to reemirror! This is a great video, one of many from her channel:

A word on the music!

Electro from Lebanon - the beautiful Soapkills, a remix of Marra fi ghnina, released last January on iTunes, with all proceeds of digital sales going to relief of displaced Syrian peoples. Written by Farid el Atrash, sung by Asmahan. You can buy it from the image link, left.

From Jean Pierre Smadjas most recent album Fuck the DJ, I give you a meditation on Spring Revolution, featuring Mohamed Bouamar. Smadj is an irreverent man, but irreverence is often cabled in serious thought, and this is a great and serious song.

The Egyptian Project is the brainchild of French producer Jérôme Ettinger, tours as an ensemble made up of percussionist Ragab Sadek, violinist and rebab player Salama Metwally, and singer Sayed Eman. Ya Amar is the album, and this track, released in late 2012. A beautiful fusion of traditional Egyptian music with subtle electronics. The album is a deft mix of the sounds of the Nile delta and Cairo with the trip-hop, electro, hip-hop, and Western classical music. ‘The fluvial meeting of oriental fragrances and minimalist electronic sounds.’ The touring band is booked for Europe through 2013. 

It is interesting and enlightening delving into the so-called "Arab Spring soundtrack" - music said to have united and energised the movement. In cultures where poetry and music is central to society, community, politics, it makes sense. And of course music unites people in ways no words can, and poets unite people by speaking their souls where they cannot, lending courage and compassion, or igniting rage. Rim Banna is a Palestinean singer whose music formed a part of that soundtrack. Her 2013 album Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion reflects her acute awareness of this. All in classical Arabic, the lyrics to these songs are mainly by Arabic poets, including Badr Shaker Assaiab, Rashid Hussein, Al-Hallaj, and Mahmoud Darwish.

Bringing to light our simultaneous living in history and present and future (as we all do), a new track from Niyaz, off the Sumud EP (Six Degrees Records) continuing the trio's journeys in fusion of medieval Sufi poetry and folk songs of the Arabian Gulf with electronic ambient music. Niyaz brings to light in their music the flight of immigrants, the ethnic and religious groups struggling to maintain identities in a fast changing and tumultuous world. Azam Ali's vice reaches us from the past, and I think like all great voices is a reminder, as well as a promise.

I end the show with a sad song from the Obaider Band, Palestine. A lament for the forgotten children of I think not only Gaza, but of all - as Mahmoud Darwish said - wars of memory, wars of belonging, wars of possession and dispossession. The singers in this case sing for those who have been made silent. On the outside looking in, from our world of distraction, there is much we can do by sharing and listening, speaking and not forgetting our fellow creators who fight for their right to call home home.