This song is from my long–term project on Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. As with many of Darwish’s songs about society’s downtrodden and marginalised, this song tells of the travails of Egyptian porters at the turn of the 20th century. With the aid of witty and imaginative lyrics by librettist Badi’ Khayri, the song alludes to political events such as the ‘1919 Revolt’ against British rule (Egyptians prefer to call it ‘revolution’, as do I).
As well as holding strikes and demonstrations, damaging railways and derailing trains, the 1919 revolutionaries cut telephone lines and telegraph cables in order to isolate Cairo from London. In an ironic twist of fate, in January 2011 it was Hosni Mubarak’s regime which cut the telephones and the internet in order to isolate the protesters from the rest of the world. If the original act of sabotage by the revolutionaries of 1919 was successful, the efforts by the regime in 2011 were less so.
Khayri’s lyrics include mocking observations about British regulations of the day, such as the one which required Egyptian citizens to carry passports when travelling inside Egypt.
Tighten the belt over your waist!
Nothing else will do you good
There’ll come a day
When your Lord makes things better...
If you find carrying a heavy load on your back humiliating
It’s more dignified than holding your hand out in charity…
Come along, the lot of you!
Let’s seek God’s help and give it our best
We’ll earn what’s meant for us
And if we only make a meagre income, then so be it!
So long as you have bread to dunk in your oil
There’s no need to worry
Don’t take things to heart
Don’t make excuses!
And now the express train is stuck on the pavement
And we haven’t made a penny for the past few days
All railway stations, north and south, lie idle
And trains have been derailed
Lord have mercy on us!
They’ve cut the telephone lines
And brought down the telegraph
Would you believe that even travelling to Dilingat
Now requires a passport?
Donkeys are knackered
From carrying six people at a time
And the only means of travel
Is on beasts, by day and by night…
What else can I say?
All things come to an end
I know you’ve suffered a blow
And it’s for all to see
Poor you, there’s no money coming in or out
There must be a way somehow
Just have faith in the Almighty…
Tell me, on the Prophet’s honour
Haven’t we had enough to cope with already?
Whilst some lucky sod can afford two wives
Such misery this life has dealt us!
Yet the jinxed shall remain jinxed forever
Even if they hang a lantern over their doorstep...
‘Siktir!’ Money is not everything
True happiness lies in the richness of the soul...
Come help me with my load!
Hardship never lasts
One day, you’ll live as well as you once did!
Hardship never lasts
Hela, hela, hela, hela! Hela, hela, hela, let’s go!
from Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle
released March 11, 2016
Lyrics: Badi’ Khayri (1893–1966)
Music: Sayyid Darwish (1892–1923)
Arranged by: Reem Kelani (MCPS)
Reem Kelani - vocals, clapping & dabke dancing
Bruno Heinen - piano
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh - 'oud
Ryan Trebilcock - double bass
Antonio Fusco - drums
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