Kamilya Jubran: Poetry and Music in Context

Kamilya Jubran’s most recent album Makan (2008) ranks among her deepest explorations of identity and place to date.

“Since my arrival to Europe over six years ago,” she writes of the album, “I have been in constant movement between different places, cities and countries. I have been sharing spaces with others, sometimes by my own choices, and at other times by obligation. I am often faced with contradictory feelings: the space I move in grows wider and bigger and possibilities multiply, whereas my private space gets narrower and narrower. I manage to find my own space, my melody. Makan was born under these circumstances.”

In the song Lafz (Words), Jubran sings the words of Palestinian poet and writer Salman Masalha:

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I wish I were my language. Then I’d know
what is hidden in my heart,
and declare all I have and feel.
I wish I were a language on a lip that is creased with cares.
It would neither conceal nor reveal.
If it spoke out most frankly,
it would to listeners' ears secrets of painful love unseal.
Or, if it hid its desires, sighs would traverse the deserts
in the beat of the camels' heels.
Words in my heart quickened after
the soul came to appeal.
In their footsteps, the stars' eyes
overflowed, and scattered like lights on a cheek.
I wish I were my language, so that I could know how
the soul birds will live after me.

Masalha’s poetry, prose and criticism centers on problems of self-expression and, frequently, the challenges of the individual living in an oppressive state. In a 2004 interview with Israeli writer Kol Ha'Ir, Masalha commented on the interplay between the individual and society:

“A strong culture permits diversity; a strong culture permits freedom of thought, deviation from the framework. When the Abbasid period was at its height, it became a culture of self-confidence. When there is confidence like this, you permit space and freedom. Lack of self-confidence leads to the lowest cultural point, from all aspects — human rights, women’s rights. In the Arab empire, there was more freedom than in the Arab world today.”

The search for confidence in the Arab world is echoed in the lines of Masalha’s poem Lafz, and its complex treatment of language.

With Qawafel (Caravans), Jubran delivers a powerful interpretation of the lines of Iraqi poet Fadhil Al Azzawi.

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From the mountain slopes
Your horse trots leaving behind the marks of his golden hooves
In the body of the astray cloud
with its puffed up cotton
Pulling its long sulfuric tail behind
Like a plane with eyes gleaming in the dark
Dark sandy ground rippling
Down the valley
Where loneliness with its deserted lighthouses
Throws its shadow over caravans walking to their labyrinths
A ground burnt with eyes of embers
Forever guiding our steps
We who are going to the future
With no luggage
Washing our faces from the soft spring
Exposing our sacred nakedness.

Al-Azzawi is familiar with similar issues of identity and displacement that concern Jubran. He is a member of the influential Kirkuk Group of poets and writers, which had an important impact on the development of Iraqi literature and culture in the last three decades of the Twentieth Century.

Azzawi grew up in Kirkuk, but moved to Baghdad to study and later work as a journalist and editor. He became well known in the 1960s for his poetry, which was radical in form and content, and twice served time as a political prisoner. Al-Azzawi left Iraq in 1977 and has since lived in exile in Berlin.

“The place where I can sit and write and think freely is my homeland,” al-Azzawi said in an interview with Akhbar al-Adab in August 2007. “Writing itself is my homeland.”

For a deeper look at the Persian musical tradition and poetry, please see The World of Persian Music and Poetry, by Professor Stephen Blum of the City University of New York.