Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, released his first album in twenty-five years this summer. It includes a song “Wait for Her,” the lyrics of which are by and large a translation of a Mahmoud Darwish poem:
Waters has told Rolling Stone that the song “Wait for Her” was inspired by an English translation of “Lesson from the Kama Sutra (Wait for Her)” by Darwish. In the translation Waters seems to have used, the translator is not credited.
The song is undoubtedly powerful, with just that edge of dark melancholy throbbing with dangerous possibility that Waters can bring to his music.
Darwish’s poems have long been set to music, by musicians and composers Marcel Khalife, Reem Kilani, and many others. The band Alif recently set the same Darwish poem to music, and a translation by Nariman Youssef appears online, as well as in the liner notes. Youssef asked: “So of all the published translations of this poem, why did Waters choose to use one where no one needs to be credited? And why is an almost line-for-line translation being passed as simply ‘inspired’ by the original poem?”
I’m torn by this. I think artistic appropriation can be a valid part of the creative process, and also that Roger Waters can do whatever the fuck he wants. But… I’m annoyed by two things. درس من كاماسوترا is a well-known poem by Palestine’s most well-known poet, and here it comes across as some obscure find. And the translator is once again invisible, almost incidental. Not only is s/he anonymous but, because the lyrics are not even presented as the translation that they – for the most part – are, their creative labour is totally brushed aside.
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