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Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Farid Al Atrash was born a prince in the southern Syrian town of Suweyda in 1910 to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Egypt, where he became one of the most influential Arab musicians and singers of all times. Upon his request, he was buried in 1974 in Cairo near his sister Asmahan (1912-1944). She, too, was one of the rarest Arab voices, having a far reaching contralto with a blend of "dramatic mezzo-soprano". In case you're interested in the complete biographies of Farid Al Atrash and Asmahan, the net is brimming with information on both. Instead, however, I intend this post as a more intimate companion and a backdrop to the attached Youtube video.

After perusing through my profile, a reader once asked what kind of a person lists Farid Al Atrash and Pink Floyd as favorites. They are, he implied, worlds apart and only a music ignoramus would be able to equally appreciate both. His comment, inane as it may sound, touched the truth in a way he could have never imagined. If music defines a person then I am a bipolar Farid Al Atrash – Pink Floyd aberration indeed. In the deep core of my being I sing the heart wrenching Banadi Alayk and listen to the mind boggling Hey You echoing back. In case you're not familiar with Arabic, both titles mean exactly the same thing. You should give them a try when you're in the mood for some soul searching. But more on that some other time.

The Michigan Arab Orchestra was founded in 2009 by Michael Ibrahim, a young Syrian American of impressive talent and extensive musical education. The orchestra is manned (and womenned) by 35 full-time and visiting musicians, most of whom, and if I'm not mistaken, are Syrian and Lebanese Americans. As per its mission objective, “the MAO is non-profit organization that is dedicated to the performance, and education of Arab music to the greater Detroit community.”

Kahramana is a musical piece written by Farid Al Atrash to the love of his life, the Egyptian dancer/actress, Samia Gamal in 1949. To my trained eye and my zoetic soul, Samia is the most beautiful woman to ever dance Oriental. Her Delphian smile tosses an innocent man (like me) between fits of ardor and bouts of passion. More significantly though, she restored the dance to its original divine manifestation and took the belly shaking out of it. Today, Arabic dancing falls under one of two main schools, the ambrosial style of Samia Gamal, which is appropriately called Oriental Dancing and the carnal trembling of Taheyya Kariokka, which is nothing more than Belly Dancing. While Samia pranced around the stage like a genie, Taheyya heaved like a volcano over a one square foot piece of tile.

This 2012 rendition of Kahramana, performed by the Michigan Arab Orchestra, left me breathless. One by one, some of the players soloed the same short arrangement. They improvised, very much like Jazz musicians do, on the complex simplicity of the melodic masterpiece of Farid Al Atrash. The result! Well, I leave that to you, but I do have one request though. It's a seventeen minute piece that requires first and foremost the proper ambiance to appreciate it. So if the hubby or the kids are being either obnoxious or raucous, you have to make sure to silence them first. Or it might be your new blond girlfriend talking on the phone nearby with an automated telemarketing voice and giggling. Shut her up please, then sit down with a glass of wine or your favorite drink, as long as it's not milk, turn the volume up on your teeny weeny PC speakers and float on a heavenly cloud of music for what will seem like an eternity.

In the comment section, and if you don't mind leaving a trail of your visit, would you tell us which soloist in the attached video of the MEO was your favorite and why? I do have my own of course but least I influence your own interpretation, I would keep my peace till the end.

Also Enjoy Watching:
The original Kahramana from the movie Afrita Hanem, 1949. Samia Gamal dancing. Farid Al Atrash bewitched.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Anima Sana in Corpore Sano

One year ago I submitted what turned out to be my last job at the office. I was contracted to design a residential building in Tartous around mid March 2011. By April the 20th, all the drawings were completed and in order. The client came in and took delivery of the dossier. We shook hands and hoped for the best. He was my last paying client. Like most Syrians today I'm out of a job.

What we're going through, whatever we call it since we can't agree on that, isn't going to be resolved overnight. No one in his right mind can imagine going back to the way we were. As for those who wish we could.., oh well screw them. The thousands who lost their lives, the hundreds of thousands who became homeless and the millions who can't find work are not mere numbers. There's no turning back. No matter how long it'll take, the fat lady is going to sing and there's going to be a huge crowd, the largest this country had ever seen, cheering and partying. What comes afterward is another long and perhaps painful healing process but that's the way it goes down in history books. There seldom is a shortcut to liberty and freedom.

With plenty of time on my hands and even when I'm traveling or staying at my new home in the States, I've divided my attention equally between body and soul. I went back to being fit and resumed my writing. Six months ago I started going to the gym then not too long ago I picked up that unfinished novel and never looked back.

I've been training between two to three times a week since, but in the back of my mind I always wanted my own little gym. Luckily, I was able to reclaim a very small room in the basement (not more than 8 by 10 feet) and convert it into my own Sile Fitness Room. It's not fancy by any means but it contains the basic equipment for cardiovascular and physical fitness exercises. All of a sudden I'm working out at least five times a week and I'm wearing Medium T-shirts again and 34” waist pants.

I feel great physically. It's ironic that at over fifty I'm in a much better shape than during my forties. Actually I haven't felt so good since I stopped hunting regularly back in the late 90's of the last century. As for the writing, and although I'm progressing slower than I'd like, I'm focused enough to realize the importance of this book amid the turmoil around me. It's a story about a man lost between two worlds and about the woman who made it worthwhile for him to go on through life. I've set a deadline for myself, February 2013, but hell I'm not working for anybody and I'll finish it when I damn please. In truth though, I will try my utmost to respect this target date because I need it to maintain my own discipline.

I've been hesitant to take a break from “real” work and to devote my energy and time to writing for a few years. Now, however, I have no excuse. Despite of the darkness pervading my conscience, or perhaps because of it, I'm trying to make sure that no moment goes in vain. This article turned out to be too deliberate to go with the attached video, which inspired it in the first place, but at this junction in our modern history the comic is mixed with tragedy. If it were not for the sense of humor of my fellow countrymen and women who are suffering the most every single fucking day we would've all lost hope and purpose.

One last word, if you think my video is silly you should check out the original one made by LMFAO for the music I used as background “Sexy and I know it”. (Parental Discretion is Advised)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Letter to My Daughter

Light of My Eye
Although you're not here yet, I wish you a life of enchantment... filled with dreams to chase and destinations to reach.
I love you before you're born for you're a part of me. I want to protect, to teach and to learn from you what life and love are all about. You, who are more precious to me than myself.
Your Dad, 11:15 am - Saturday, October 1st, 1989
~Written 10 minutes before Diana was born.

Habibati Diana

A more traditional man would've waited for his daughter's wedding to write and post his letter to her. But you've just graduated from college, and you know damn well that there's nothing more important to me than this. After five grueling years, of which fifteen months were wrought in anguish every time you traveled back and forth, you're finally a pharmacist. I know more jokes about pharmacists than you care to hear but I should tell you this at least, becoming the father of one gave me wings and lifted me to the top of the world.

We were both, you and I, born in a culture which abridges the life of a woman, her successes or failures, her happiness or distress, even her being or non-being down to her luck with a husband. I couldn't even substitute the word luck with choice because unfortunately the mass majority of us don't have a say in that regard. People get married because it's the "right” time and the “right” thing to do. Even when a couple are deeply in love, marriage is not a matter of choice for most but rather a preordained destiny. Oh, don't get me wrong! I'm not against the institution of marriage. I am, however, against considering your matrimony as your biggest achievement, if it's an achievement at all. I want to be there with you to celebrate whatever makes you happy, but you've already made me the happiest I can be.

You are blessed with a loving family, a mother whom altruistic love never faltered, a sister and a brother who look up at you as their hero and role model, and a grandfather who went out of his way to support you when I couldn't. And of course you have me, a father who's supposedly good with words but who doesn't express himself often enough. If I ever wanted to have a lasting impression on you, it would simply be that I gave you what is already yours, choice.

Life is all about making choices. I didn't say the right choices because I've learned from experience that there is no right or wrong momentary decision. Whichever course we chart and navigate we'll have to make an infinite number of small corrections or we'd end up stranded high and dry in a sandbank or, even worse, wrecked on a treacherous reef. With your college education, you don't have to worry much about your future career. Your degree is in demand wherever you may end up, which brings me to my next piece of advice. When you do make your choices err on the selfish side. Don't let either your attachment to a place, even if it's the only home you've ever known, or your affection to a man, even if he's the only person you've ever loved, supersede your autonomy. Home and love are the most basic of human needs but don't allow them to rob you of your inbred freedom.

I had a great teacher who barely taught me anything, or so I thought, when I was young and green. I hope I was that kind of a father to you. I have no delusions of being perfect but I know that I raised you up to be a proud woman. Look at everyone as equal until they prove you wrong with their folly. Those who remain, are your friends. All I ever dreamed of is to be one of them. Way to go Diana, I love you.