This September, the five-member “Alif” is launching its debut album, Aynama-Rtama, or Wherever It Falls:
They’ve released one of the tracks, “Hulagu,” a driving song built around a poem by the great Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus. In Nariman Youssef’s translation, the poem opens:
are lighter than the wind.
The fire of their hooves
singes the earth
as we enter the cities.
a submissive bride at my call,
and Death speaks in my name,
for I am Hulagu:
Alif features Khyam Allami on oud, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh on vocals and buzuq, Bashar Farran on bass, Maurice Louca on keys and electronics, and Khaled Yassine on percussion.
In a recent interview produced by MedrarTV, the band members spoke with Egyptian musician Mariam Saleh. She noted that they used poems by Sargon Boulus, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiha Abdulhadi, but also colloquial lyrics and personal reflections.
Bashar Farran said that, when the group met in Copenhagen, “We discussed if we should continue to sing in Classical Arabic or mix it with colloquial or Uzbek or whatever we wanted to sing. Nothing should hold us back. It’s the same with the music we’re playing. We experiment as much as we want to. We experiment with any musical genre we want; it’s the same with the lyrics. What matters is that you get the meaning, whether it’s in colloquial or [classical]. All the poems and colloquial lyrics reflect a particular experience, so why not use them?”
Saleh also asked whether the poems affected how they composed the music.
Maurice Louca said that it “varied over time. We worked with the poems at first. We worked on the lyrics and music in parallel [next]. Then at the later stages, the lyrics were written after we’d composed the music.”
“In the beginning we chose to use poems because we were limited by time,” Khyam Allami said. “We also chose contemporary poems that haven’t been used much. So we wanted to look into them. Using classical Arabic was important to us.”