A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘tune’ Category

the sound of music in Lebanon (iii): whose music is it, anyway?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 3, 2007

This post is for M, with whom I had drinks last night, and for all those other thoughtful Christians who have wondered: if I spent my teenage years here during the war, would I have followed Bashir?

One rainy Sunday I sat in the backseat of a car whose other occupants included three Lebanese aged 34 to 42.

As we drove into a steady flow of raindrops, “I’ve never been to me”, the 1970s Charlene hit made popular again in the mid 1990s thanks to the surprise success of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, came on the radio.

Hey Lady, You Lady
Cursing at your life
You’re a discontented mother
With a regimented life.

I’ve no doubt you dream about
The things you never do
But I wish someone had talked to me
Like I want to talk to you …


I sang absently.

Diamond, my fellow backseat’er asked, do you find it strange that we listen to the same music?

Not as strange as I find the fact that a movie about Australian drag queens single-handedly made this song a massive hit during my freshman year of college, I thought.

Well, I said, I do find it strange that you don’t have any music of your own.

[I continued with a long and eminently forgettable cadenza on the global workings of the American pop music industry from the 1960s til now, whose remarkable combination of pedantry and ignorance has hopefully slipped the minds of my riding companions.]

Actually, we do have music of our own, said the driver. We have Fairouz.

Yes, yes, the other two agreed.

But we don’t listen to her, the front seat passenger said, turning back to face me.

No, never, my backseat companion agreed.

We paused to contemplate this paradox for a moment, as the rain pounded on and the song ended.

But wait, he suddenly added, leaning forward in his seat to address the driver. Don’t you remember the songs we used to sing?

He burst into song, a bouncing martial tune whose words meant nothing to me.

Oh YES! the driver exclaimed. We used to sing this all the time!

They sang on, thumping the leather car seats for percussive emphasis.

Diamond, do you know what we are singing? the backseater asked joyfully. Its a song about Arafat. We know ALL the old 2uwwet songs.

Mmmmm, I said, smiling wanly. Yikes, I thought. So this is “our music” – the fighting songs of the Lebanese Forces.

Suddenly 1970s torch songs seemed a whole lot more appealing.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, childhood, friends, Lebanon, media, music, Palestine, politics, romance, tune, words | Leave a Comment »

heartbreak and shattered illusions

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 31, 2007

This is a difficult post to write, because it deals with the shattering of a very fondly held illusion of mine.

My neighborhood mosque, the one I love for the sonorous clarity of its muezzin’s voice, uses a … recording.

I had started to suspect this some time ago, but had been unwilling to face my suspicions head on and actually ask one of the groundskeepers.

Two Fridays evenings ago, on my way home from a coffee at Bardo, I heard the call to prayer – my favorite one – broadcasting from my mosque. Oh, how beautiful, I thought.

The call ended, and … suddenly began again – this time coming not from my mosque but from one further south.

I tried telling myself that the muezzin had somehow run from one mosque to the next, or that the second mosque was using a relay system to rebroadcast the call, but … in my heart I knew the truth.

To borrow a metaphor that switches from Islam to Christianity, and from the spiritual to the material register, it was like a child discovering that there is no Santa Claus.

At least the spirit of the call lives on, I told myself sadly, remembering a similar meant-to-be-comforting argument my mother had used about St. Nick as the spirit of Christmas.

Any remaining possibility of retaining my illusions about my mosque and “its” muezzin was destroyed during my shop through the Mall of the Emirates on Tuesday. As I hopped my way into a particularly tight pair of Levi’s,


the Levistore, like the others, turned off its music so shoppers could hear the call to prayer being broadcast over the mall loudspeakers.

It was the same call to prayer: same voice, same intonation, same piercingly beautiful pitch.

I was heartbroken (though still composed enough to notice how well the new jeans fit). Apparently the spirit of Christmas … errr … the adhaan is not only not live, it is also not uniquely Lebanese.

The international character of Islam can be so disilllusioning sometimes.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Dubai, Islam, Lebanon, mosque, music, neighbors, Qur'an, religion, travel, tune, words | 1 Comment »

Musical Syria: further joys of SANA

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 22, 2006

There are many, many comments I would like to offer about the current media coverage of Pierre Gemayel’s assassination. However, as a scholar I prefer to write from a less emotional perspective, so that posting must wait for a bit. Instead, I offer the latest from SANA, titled:

Syria sings accord with Montreal University

Syria is in fact a highly musical country. As my friend M pointed out one summer, while playing tour guide to visiting friends, one of the nice things about Syria is how often men (and women, but in public it tends to be men …) break into bits of song, illustrating a story or a point or welcoming a friend. I don’t mean humming – I rarely hear men or women humming – but singing a phrase or a verse of some well known Arabic song. Its lovely – as is the idea of Syria singing an agreement with a French Canadian university. I hope one day that Syria will sing with the US – with an entire chorus of regional and European powers fleshing out the song.

Here is the article:

DAMASCUS, (SANA) – Syria and Canada signed on Wednesday the agreement of scientific cooperation that is giving the mastering and PHD degrees to Syrian students studying at Montreal University human sciences, social, medical and natural specialties.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education Dr. Najib Abdul Wahed said “the agreement constitutes a step towards openness of the higher education system in Syria to the Canadian universities and building a scientific and educational body between the Syrian and Canadian universities.”

For his part, Deputy Chairman of the Montreal University welcomed the Syrian students imminent entering into the Canadian university to get the mastering and PHS degrees in various specialties, hoping “to widen horizons of scientific and cultural cooperation with the higher ministry of education.”

The article can be found at: http://www.sana.org/eng/21/2006/11/22/88163.htm.

Happy singing.

Posted in Arabic, Damascus, media, music, news, Syria, tune, words | Leave a Comment »