Archive | Poems/Prose RSS feed for this section

Festival Stories

5 Feb

Segou third day, we float up the Niger to the Mangala Camara stage. The opening act starts with regional Bobo music, traditional music from western Mali, where belafon (similar to xylophone) and tam tam drum (gourd with skin) fill the air. I sit next to Abdoulaye, a Malian who works for the festival, and I ask him the meaning of the songs. The first one, he says, is about fishing. I begin to see how the dancers emulate the movements of fishermen, and the dance starts to have more clarity. The men strum on a long drum called a Bongolo and use sticks and hands to drum out the sound. They play their drums with a kind of solemn concentration- very different from the usual enthusiasm of a conga player. Then a beautifully elegant woman called Mama Djoulo enters the stage, “she is not a griot, but an artist.” Abdoulaye says. He informs me that griots are passed down through family lineage and that they sing for money, as opposed to artists who sing for the love of the art. Before only griots were allowed to sing, but now artists are accepted and encounter hardly any resistance. Mama Djoulo sings the “real” story of Issa, a barren woman who wanted a child. She tries for 10 years, but nothing changes, then she seeks the help of a marabout and delivers a child. Next Babenya the talented group from Burkina Faso enter the stage. They are promising young talent with great energy. Give them another few years and they will be West Africas next sensation. They sing of the joy of being invited to the festival, and of cause and effect. Next comes Adama Yolomba with his painted kamel n’goni, red green and yellow. He mixes electric guitar and traditional instruments. His rebellious lyrics advise people to open their eyes or else they will encounter problems, then about guruma, which means stinginess, and how it destroys relationships and communities. Finally he sings about the beauty of Mali, the crowd moves into the arena and groove on the sand. The night sets in, and we move to the main stage to see the famous Toumani Djabate. His calm demeanor camouflages his actual control over the show, similar to an orchestra conductor, he brings out the best of his musicians. The music is fantastic, the drumming is excellent, and the kora sounds are sharp and harmonizing. There is something divine and elevating about his music. Sad to see him go, Ismael Lu has a hard act to follow. His music is mellow, but maybe a little too soft for this evening. He plays his famous song “Africa” and the crowd responds. Finally the Madame Oumou Sangare enters and the excitement explodes. She is accompanied by two graceful dancers, who keep it lively. I wish Abdoulaye were here to explain what she sings, but am content with just hearing her soothing voice. The crowds dance, front row stands knee deep in the Niger river,- it is one big party.

Advertisements

Al-Qahira

12 Feb

 

 

CAIRO – SOME IDEAS OR THOUGHTS THAT HAVE MADE AN IMPRESSION.  BELOW ARE PEOPLE WHO ONCE STEPPED FOOT IN CAIRO. ENJOY!

IBN BATTUTA 1304-1369, A BERBER FROM TANGIER, MOROCCO, WHO TRAVELED THE WORLD AND LATER WROTE ABOUT IT IN HIS BOOK RIHLA. HERE IS WHAT HE HAD TO SAY ABOUT CAIRO:

I arrived … at the city of Cairo, mother of cities … mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in multitude of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, the meeting-place of comer and goer, the stopping-place of feeble and strong. … She [Cairo] surges as the waves of the sea with her throngs of folk and can scarce contain them...”

AND THEN THERE IS THE REMARKABLE PHILOSOPHER, RABBI, AND SCHOLAR MAIMONIDES  (1135-1204), WHO LIVED IN CAIRO AND SERVED AS THE PHYSICIAN TO THE SULTAN. HERE IS AN EXCERPT FROM HIS TIME IN CAIRO:

I dwell at Fostat, and the sultan resides at Cairo [about a mile ­and­ a­ half away]…. My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning, and when he or any of his children or any of the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one of the two royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I leave for Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Fostat until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. . . I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes-a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.

Maimonides astounds, not only for this deep thought,but that he wrote so many  of his commentaries and essays while on the run, fleeing from persecution.   Many quote him and yet don’t know him. His is the famous “give a man a fish and you feed him a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Here are his progressive thoughts on giving:

“Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his had for charity. This is the highest step and the summit of charity’s golden ladder.”

THEN WE HAVE RABBI IBN BEN EZRA, THE GREAT POET, MATHMETICIAN, GRAMMARIAN AND WRITER 1089-1164, WHO LIVED IN CAIRO AROUND 1109. HE LIVED, TAUGHT, AND WROTE ALSO WHILE LIVING IN EXILE AND WANDERING THE WORLD. HERE IS HIS POEM:

I HAVE A GARMENT

I have a garment which is like a sieve

Through which girls sift barley and wheat.

In the dead of night I spread it out like a tent

And a thousand stars pierce it with their gleams.

Sitting inside, I see the moon and the Pleiades

And on a good night, the great Orion himself.

I get awfully tired of counting all the holes

Which seem to me like the teeth of many saws.

A piece of thread to sew up all the other threads

Would be, to say the least, superfluous.

If a fly landed on it with all his weight,

The little idiot would hang by his foot, cursing.

Dear God, do what you can to mend it.

Make me a mantle of praise from these poor rags

Translated by Robert Mezey

%d bloggers like this: