When the streets have a name

Chitra Kalyani
6 Min Read

It’s that fabled street on which stars have fallen, if only for a night. At Sawy Culture Wheel on Thursday, literary and musical notables – the Haddad and Jaheen families – are assembled together as the “Al Share’ (Street) group.

The evening entitled “El Watan Wahed (The Nation is One) is dedicated to the work of the late esteemed poet Fouad Haddad. His son, Amin Haddad, and grandson – Amin’s son – Ahmed Haddad, continue the former’s tradition of colloquial poetry. Joining them are the daughters of another famed poet, Salah Jaheen, also reciting and singing.

Added to that mix of poetry and singing, is the musical accompaniment of Hazem Shaheen, a member of the popular Eskendrella band, on oud (oriental lute). This tradition of a co-mingling of music, poetry and singing was initiated by Fouad Haddad in the 80s, Ahmed Fouad tells Daily News Egypt, and is one that his son aims to preserve.

The audience – a mix of young and old – is a testament to the continued popularity of the genre. The concert is delayed by technical sound problems, but viewers remain, some with their noses buried in poetry books.

Seated in a semi-circle facing the audience, the band’s arrangement makes you presume that Shaheen is the focal point. He begins with strumming the lute but the focus is soon shared with the other elements of the evening.

The song called “El Migharbileen, named after the famous Egyptian market. It traces the journey of the moon along the streets of Cairo, a leisurely introduction to the poet’s landscape of the Egyptian capital: night, moon, and streets.

“Khallik fakir Masr gameela (Always Remember Egypt is Beautiful) serves as a reminder of the redeeming qualities of Egypt. The everyday elements of life – even the ironman and the nooks of Bulaq – make their way into the song. Despite, or even because of the ordinary, the poet Haddad reminds you of the enchanting qualities of this country.

In an ironic contrast comes the rap song of “Dr Saad delivered complete with the “Yo! and “One more time! by Samia Jaheen, daughter of the late poet Salah Jaheen. Having finished his studies abroad, Dr Saad now refuses to return home. The song documents a quarrel with his family members.

“Kan we Makansh (What Was and Was Not) speaks of the disillusionment of promises that were unfulfilled – revealing a hint of the political slant in Haddad’s poetry that is felt more and more throughout the evening. “Aukazi (My Crutches), for example, describes a nation brought down to its knees.

The song “Halawet El-Harafish (The Beauty of the Harafish) sings of the workers’ plight, where despite their hard labor, fruits are few and far between. And in “Aamel fe Nafsi Eih, Ya Leil? a night-worker wonders “What Do I Do with Myself? and ends up talking to a stone.

Music meet lyrics in “Qatr El-Saeed (Upper Egypt Train) where the rumble of the train is echoed in the low but adequately paced recital of the poetry, the rising beat of the drums, and metallic sound of the strings. Poor and young and old, the train carries them all.

Despite some of the critical turns of verse, the poems always return to the sound of hope and victory. In a poem that Samia Jaheen recites, she wonders why it is the way of the world to dub the intelligent as stupid, and to lump the sane with the mad.

Why is it, she asks, that people say “fel mishmish (in apricot season) to mean “never when the scent of apricot buds heralds the start of spring, like the alphabet on the lips of a poet?

The audience reads the poets’ lips, and voices join in the verses sung and recited onstage. Words blend easily into the drums, and the strings of oud and claps from the audience carry them forward. The hope in the lyrics is not simply ideal, but well-formed, like the knowledge of seasons, of people working in places, and of streets that have a direction.

“I feel these words can push me to do something, said audience member of Haddad’s poetry. “It is very emotional for me. They have a very different way to explain their happiness and worries. They have very simple words, but very deep words.

Al Share’ is performing on Friday, April 16, at the Qatar National Theatre. Performance is organized within the framework of the Egyptian Week – Al Doha Capital of Arab Culture for year 2010.

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