Merry Christmas: Poetry from Mido Zoheir, for ‘Lekhfa’

Egyptian poet Mido Zoheir is known for his collection of poems Ho’net Hawa, as well as Azrak, which was performed by actor Ahmed Helmy in the TV series Al Gama’a. More recently, they have appeared in the album Lekhfareleased this fall:

The album was the project of Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca, and Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, who talked about the album with Sarah Al Miniawy as it was being released:

All the songs in this album feature texts by Mido Zoheir, why did you choose to work with his poems only?

Maurice Louca: Whilst with most of the songs the melody came first and then we would find the right text for it, from the onset the one element we all agreed on is that we would be working with Mido Zoheir’s texts. Maryam from the beginning was experimenting vocally using Mido’s texts.

Tamer Abu Ghazaleh: Maryam has all of Mido’s work, both published and unpublished, and she’s always worked with his texts, perhaps he’s the one poet she’s used texts from the most.

Maryam Saleh: It’s almost second nature to me, working with Mido’s texts. I think only five of my songs don’t feature his texts. I usually check what Mido is writing or has just written and take it from there, only when he has nothing at all, do I go looking for other texts or write my own. Mido has this knack for articulating what we all feel with such wrenching simplicity, yet his choice of words makes the emotions you feel quite complex and multidimensional. He also has this dark comedy edge running through all of his texts. He is fascinating, quite talented. When you look closer into his texts, he uses everyday language, says things the way we would say them in casual conversations, yet he pens them as poetry, he’s a genius!

TAG: For us, Mido is the best poet of his generation. With him, it’s such a spontaneous outpouring of poems, he doesn’t think about them or structure them, they just come to him, with abundance.

ML: Mido is of his time and place. I think what gives the album such an Egyptian sound is Mido’s work more than any other component in the music. His humor and the way he juxtaposes the words are so very Egyptian – take “te’ban ‘ala kol sellem, ‘aqrab fe kol sa’a (a snake on every ladder and a hand on every clock)” as an example – he embodies a certain state of being, and he’s not actually depressing. On the surface, you might think it’s about the dire reality and all, but somehow his texts don’t bring you down. I don’t know how he does that. There are quite a few songs in the album that really get to me, but in a beautifully inspiring way somehow. It’s in most of his work, this sensibility, in the songs that Maryam sang from him. He’s not nihilistic.

MS: He’s not nihilistic at all, there is a living part of him that wants to be happy, so letting it all out in poetry is a way of coping.

TAG: So although the starting point for every song was a melody, then we would settle on the text that works with it, the texts from then on had huge influence on the songs. We had to flesh out the rhythms in quite a few songs to maintain the effect in each verse for example.

ML: In other songs, decisions on whether Maryam & Tamer would sing as one voice or two voices, those were based on the words. So a lot of the dramatic and musical decisions were based on the words.

TAG: When we listen back to the foundational ideas in a song like Teskar Tebky (Drunk, you weep), the major contrast between the words and the music. There is sadness in the words yet the music is not sad.

ML: Essentially Mido is the fourth member in this collaboration.

Courtesy of the band, we have:

Track 5, “Music and Fear” (Mazzika w Khof), by Mido Zoheir, trans. Wi’am al-Tamami

Those interested in buying the album can find it for sale online.