The death of the singer will not kill the song

It is not Leonard Cohen about whom I write.

The passing of a beloved singer or poet is a sad affair, the initial shock on hearing the news segueing into bitter-sweet memories of songs and poems and how they provided a soundtrack or bookmark to significant events in our lives. We’ve had opportunities aplenty this year with so many of our icons knocking on heaven’s door.

But the murder of singers and poets on account of their words and their voices is sadder still. It diminishes our lives and indeed, it diminishes the world in which we live, and in its hatred and nihilism, strikes at the heart of the values we hold most dear.

So it was with Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, murdered in 1936 by Generalissimo Franco’s Nationalist soldiery at the beginning of the savage Spanish Civil War. So it was with Chilean folk singer and songwriter Victor Lara, slain in a soccer stadium in September 1973 by Augusto Pinochet’s thugs.

Rest In Peace, Amjad Fareed Sabri, acclaimed Pakistani maestro of Qawwali Sufi devotional music who was murdered in Karachi in June this year by Taliban militants.

Ajmat and his brother Maqbool were the acclaimed Sabri Brothers, two the most renowned qawwals – up there with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, muse and mentor of Jeff Buckley.

The Sabri Brothers

The Sabri Brothers

The songs Ahmad Sabri and his father performed are part of a Sufi tradition dating back to the 13th century. Known as Qawwalis, steeped in mysticism and sometimes based on mystic poetry, they are a key part of the spiritual life of millions of Muslims across south Asia and enjoyed by wider audiences of many faiths.

But both the music, and the shrines at which it is often performed, have long been a target for religious conservatives who shun all forms of music and consider the shrines unorthodox. Dozens of sites have been targeted in attacks, including a 2010 suicide bombing at one of Pakistan’s most popular shrines. Qawwalis have long been criticized by the Taliban and other hard-line groups that reject all music as un-Islamic, and particularly object to those songs which focus on the life of the prophet Muhammad.

The murder of a popular singer from a famous and well-loved musical dynasty was a clear warning to others trying to celebrate and preserve Pakistan’s indigenous traditions, and the  pluralism and diversity of religious practice and cultural expression in this tortured part of the world.

I recall seeing the Sabri Brothers perform in London in 1977, led in those days by Ajmad’s father Ghukam Farid, just before I departed for Oz. I still treasure – and play – these glorious songs of praise. their driving rhythms, exotic melodies, and spirited call and response, and enthralling and hypnotic,  Here are two of my long-time favourites, sung by Sabri Senior. Listen for yourself.

‘Bhar do Jholi’ is a praise song for the Prophet and for his companion Bilal and his grandson Hussein, (who with his father Ali are the founding martyrs of Shia Islam).  Read the translated lyrics here.

‘Balaghal bi Kamalihi’ tells the story of Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem on the horse Buraq.  Read the translated lyrics here.

For more on the Sabri Brothers and Qawwali, see:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qawwali

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amjad_Sabri

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabri_Brothers

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusrat_Fateh_Ali_Khan

Read about Victor Jara and Garcia Lorca here:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/sep/18/victor-jara-pinochet-chile-rocks-backpages

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federico_Garc%C3%ADa_Lorca

Read also, David Kilcullen’s cogent piece on ISIS AND al Qaeda:

https://howlinginfinite.com/2014/12/15/one-two-three-what-are-we-fighting-for/

 

 

Advertisements

Lilith – a poem of ‘the Fall’ by Meniscus Diabetes

As far as we know, Meniscus Diabetes was born in Rome in 25 CE, and acquired his poetic licence during the reign of Emperor Claudius. He had an abiding interest in Rome’s eastern provinces, and one of his surviving manuscripts is this epic ballad. See Roman Holiday – The Perils of a Poet  in Nero’s Rome.

Lilith is a retelling of the “Legend of the Fall”. The style of Lilith differs markedly from that of other poems attributed to Meniscus – most notably the Hebrew Heroes cycle (again, refer to Roman Holiday), and was evidently written for a different manner of presentation. It was most likely written to be recited rather than sang (as were his other “story songs”). Recitations were a common form of entertainment in the middle Roman period, owing their popularity to the enduring reputations of the “classical” writers of the time, Ovid, Horace and the like. It was not uncommon for such recitations to last several hours. But Meniscus, mindful of the fast moving times, and also of the attention span of his audiences, appears to have honed his pieces down to between ten or fifteen minutes.

If Meniscus’ tale of Adam, Eve, Lilith and Lucifer has not been lost to literature until its very recent discovery, one wonders whether John Milton would have bothered to retell it in such lengthy and verbose detail.

Lilith, however, has been around for thousands of years. In the Talmud, she is described as a winged demoness with a human appearance. She appears in the bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in Hebrew folklore, and has been mentioned in black magic treatises. The apocryphal story is that Lilith was Adam’s first wife. God made Adam from dirt and clay. Adam bored, requested a companion, and God obliged with Lilith. Legend has it that her dirt was dirtier than Adam’s, but put that down to patriarchal prejudice and propaganda. More likely, she had the dirt on him! But I digress. Apparently, Lilith was not as inferior to Adam as he wanted. She wanted to be her own person, not Adam’s wife-slave. The story is that when Adam insisted on the missionary position, Lilith refused, saying “Why must I lie beneath you? We are both equal. We come from the same earth”. Adam got mad, and Lilith took off.

Because of this, she was banished from Eden and became a spirit associated with the seductive side of a woman. Eve came in her place to stand behind Adam, not beside him. Lilith became the timeless femme fatale, preying on the easily tempted weaker sex, the fabled incubus who comes at night upon men as they sleep. It is not for nothing that she has been hailed the (informal) goddess of wet dreams.

The legends are many and various. If you buy into the Lilith theory, you will see her cropping up throughout history in a variety of guises. In biblical times: Delilah, Salome, and Potophar’s wife. In fact and fable: Sheherazade, Lucrezia Borgia, Mata Hari, Evita Peron. Hollywood’s screen ‘sirens’ like Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. All of them antitheses to secular saints like Eve, Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Jackie Onassis, Mother Theresa, and Princess Diana.

Long time ago In a time before time,
When man was an atom in primeval slime,
When darkness lay hard on the face of the deep,
God called for his angels to sing him to sleep.

God made these angels from the fire ‘neath his throne,
Gave them existence and thought them his own.
‘Til one fiery angel professed discontent
At the whole pointless purpose to which he’d been sent.

He expressed his dissent towards God’s Constitution,
Fomented unrest and unleashed revolution.
The shackles of God he now deigned to throw off
With his old black beret and his Kalashnikov.

So Lucifer made for celestial hills,
Preaching an end to society’s ills;
Whilst God, declaration of martial law made,
And dispatched forthwith Michael’s Archangel brigade.

They tracked down the rebels to their mountain lair,
And challenged them forth for to give battle there.
Brave Lucifer fought and at terrible cost.
God, Paradise saved; he, Paradise lost!

From fire he came and to fire he descended,
And thus the battle for Paradise ended.
And bold Lucifer from sight of God, now rejected,
Reduced down to basics a mate he selected.

Having fought hard and failed, life just wasn’t the same,
So he sought to continue the family name.
He gathered the girls of his wandering band,
To choose the best and the brightest in his new found land.

He chose Lilith the Fair, he chose Lilith the wild,
Lilith the wonderful archangel child.
The grace and the charm of this heavenly belle
Did brighten the darkness of exile in Hell.

Her beauty brought visions of Heaven so bright;
Her songs fired the furnace of Hell’s fiery night;
Her dancing filled all of the exiles’ desire,
And upstaged the flames of the infernal fire.

But Lilith, a gypsy, quite soon got the shits
With the workaday life of her husband’s hot pits.
She yearned for adventure, she longed for to run
Naked and nimble, ‘neath God’s newborn Sun.

So she ventured to Earth and quite soon did perceive
That a fellow called Adam was fed up with Eve.
He’d never forgiven, he’d let his heart harden
Since she’d let him down badly that day in the Garden.

And Lilith knew well in her womanly way
That Adam was close to going astray.
She took off her wings and right at him, she hurled,
As if he was the only man left in the world.

(Which he was, in a way, in a manner of talking –
His sons, Cain and Abel, had not started walking.
And the Daughters of Eve, were infants at best –
And none had discovered the art of incest).

So Lilith moved in with her serpentine charm.
Poor Eve was pushed out in a state of alarm.
But you don’t press the point, you don’t try to shrug off
The aim of old Lucifer’s Kalashnikov!

She bunked up with Adam for seven score years
and pandered to all of his passions and fears.
But just like a man, he took her for granted
‘Til she said, “No more”! And her cloven feet, planted.

She made his life hell, (well, she knew all about it).
Poor Adam was grieved and rushed outdoors to shout it:
“Oh God, must you let me go through this alone?”
A voice said: “This party is not on the ‘phone!”

Then one day she took off , went to live with her sister
And true to his kind, our pal, Adam, he missed her.
He prayed to the Lord for to fetch his girl back
So the Lord sent three angels to pick up her track.

Now, Lilith went wild, when she found she was followed;
Fled into the night, and in shadows was swallowed.
And from that day to this she has been on the run,
Ne’er more to gaze on the face of the Sun.

Banished forever from Lucifer’s bed,
She wanders the world seeking mortals instead.
And in darkness of night when tired mankind is sleeping,
Out of the shadows, fell Lilith comes creeping.

Taking revenge for old Adam’s conceit,
She searches the land town by town, street by street.
House by House, ’til alone in your bed, you’re discovered;
In the wink of an eyelid, by Lilith you’re covered.

You’re caressed with the touch of a cold, seizing hand;
You’re rocked by a tremor you don’t understand;
You’re fastened upon with a grip of a vice;
And her lips are like coals and her body’s like ice;

And you’re trapped in your bed with no strength to resist,
Yet you feel that this moment’s too good to be missed.
And you wake in the morning, a terrible mess,
And you know then that Lilith has found your address!

    Illustration by Gustave Doré, from Paradise Lost