The musical segment of this track is a composition dedicated to Sayyid Darwish. The title refers to the year in which the first ‘Cairo Congress of Arabic Music’ was convened at the Institute of Oriental Music
(13 March – 3 April 1932). Held under the patronage of King Fuad I (reigned 1922–1936), it was attended by musicians from the Arab world as well as luminaries from outside the Middle East, including Béla Bartók.
The congress was a seminal moment on many fronts, not just for what was agreed, but also for the points of disagreement about the practice and theory of Arabic music (some of which reverberate to this day).
Issues debated included a prototype of the ‘oriental piano’, which was rejected. There was also disagreement about the intonation (pitch accuracy) of microtones, owing to the fact that Arabic music does not tune in equal temperament. A notorious example was the delegates’ disagreement over a precise intonation for the sigah microtone or E half–flat (E ). In simple terms, microtonal intervals vary from one Arab region to the other as a result of geographical and cultural factors.
Controversy also arose over the consideration of Sayyid Darwish’s work by the congress. While six of his compositions were included, some researchers are of the opinion that Darwish was not fairly credited by
comparison with others of his contemporaries. They refer to a decree issued by King Fuad I which banned any mention of Darwish’s name at the conference. What is clear, however, is that Darwish’s music was viewed with suspicion by the Egyptian establishment of the day. Moreover, King Fuad’s disdainful approach towards the composer extended to the radical librettists with whom he worked.
In some concerts, I use this composition as a canvas for performance poetry, interlaced with cadences by soloists in the band. In this case, Bruno Heinen on piano and Tamer Abu Ghazaleh on ‘oud demonstrate their outstanding technique in taqsim improvisations, as well as show the music intervals and intonations of which their respective instruments are capable. A humble way perhaps of reflecting, and possibly reconciling, the
tension between piano and ‘oud.
For this performance, I chose a poem entitled ‘The Vinegar Cup’, the piercing verses of which were penned by Gaza–born poet Mu’in Bseiso (1926–1984), himself an admirer of Sayyid Darwish. The English translation of the poem is by May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye, and it appears in the Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature, New York: Columbia University Press,1992, edited by Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
To add to the mellifluous dimensions of performing this piece on the night was the discovery during our sound check that the award–winning Mangrove Steel Band, which is based at the Tabernacle, had
themselves performed in Gaza a few years back. It was an apt symmetry.
The Vinegar Cup
Poem by Mu’in Bseiso
Cast your lots, people
Who’ll get my robe
The vinegar cup in my right hand
The thorn crown on my head
And the murderer has walked away free
While your son has been led to the cross…
But I shall not run
From the vinegar cup
Nor the crown of thorns…
I’ll carve the nails of my cross from my own
bones, and continue,
Spilling drops of my blood onto this earth…
For if I should not rip apart
How would you be born from my heart?
How would I be born from your heart?
Oh, my people!
from Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle
released March 11, 2016
Music: Reem Kelani (MCPS)
Reem Kelani - vocals
Bruno Heinen - piano
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh - 'oud
Ryan Trebilcock - double bass
Antonio Fusco - drums
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