“The most depressed country is Afghanistan, where more than one in five people suffer from the disorder.”

13 Nov

From Washington Post:  “The Middle East and North Africa suffer the world’s highest depression rates, according to a new study by researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland — and it’s costing people in the region years off their lives.”

Aside from the real conditions that might explain this — real conditions — there are some really big questions though on what depression means to people.  Is ‘sadness’ or Freudian ‘melancholy’ a recognized cultural trait in these regions, a way of seeing life, even an aesthetic sensibility and not at all a debilitating force? perhaps even an empowering one? Because then we’re talking about an entirely different set of issues that I think this study may have missed.


An American will always tell you his life is going great, no?  Meanwhile, we have Oum Kalthoum.  And if you want to find a suite like her stunning “El Atlal” a marker of depression, you’ve got the whole culture/s wrong.  And I did not use the word “empowerment” above lightly; when you’ve seen how the public reacts in footage like this, or at a South Asian or Afghan poetry session, or even in the ritualized grieving at a funeral in Epiros, you’ll see that the participants are not ‘debilitated’ or ‘depressed’ in the least by the  emotional mood that’s generated — quite the opposite.

(Note: again, as with all this music, this is a suite, with a musical narrative structure essential to appreciating it; not a 2:30 CD track.  When you have the time, give it a chance as a whole piece. And she was such a brilliant performer…  Here’s a go-to site for translation of Arab music: Arabic Music Translation)

“Al Atlal” by the way, makes a beautiful ‘appearance’ in Anthony Shadid’s moving House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East.)

Here are the lyrics in English and Arabic:

The Ruins

My heart, don’t ask where the love has gone
It was a citadel of my imagination that has collapsed
Pour me a drink and let us drink of its ruins
And tell the story on my behalf as long as the tears flow
Tell how that love became past news
And became another story of passion
I haven’t forgotten you
And you seduced me with a sweetly-calling and tender tongue
And a hand extending towards me like a hand stretched out through the waves to a drowning person
You seduced me with the saliva (of a kiss) that a night traveler thirsts for
But where is that light in your eyes?
My darling, I visited your nest one day as a bird of desire singing my pain
You’ve become self-important, spoiled and capricious
And you inflict harm like a powerful tyrant
And my longing for you cauterized my ribs (soul or insides)
And the waiting was like embers in my blood
Give me my freedom, release my hands
Indeed, I’ve given you yours and did not try to retain anything
Ah, your chains have bloodied my wrists
I haven’t kept then nor have they spared me
Why do I keep promises that you do not honor?
When will this captivity end, when the world is before us?
He is far away, my enchanting love
Full of pride, majesty and delicacy
Sure-footed walking like an angel with oppressive beauty and rapacious glory
Redolent of charm like the breeze of the hills
Pleasant to experience like the night’s dreams
I’ve lost forever the charm of your company that radiated brilliantly
I, wandering in love, a bewildered butterfly, approached you
And between us, desire was a messenger and drinking companion that presented the cup to us
Had love seen two as intoxicated as us?
So much hope we had built up around us
And we walked in the moonlit path, joy skipping along ahead of us
And we laughed like two children together
And we ran and raced our shadows
And we became aware after the euphoria and woke up
If only we did not awaken
Wakefulness ruined the dreams of slumber
The night came and the night became my only friend
And then the light was an omen of the sunrise and the dawn was towering over like a conflagration
And then the world was as we know it, with each lover in their own path
Oh sleepless one who slumbers and remembers the promise when you wake up
Know that if a wound begins to recover another wound crops up with the memory
So learn to forget and learn to erase it
My darling everything is fated
It is not by our hands that we make our misfortune
Perhaps one day our fates will cross when our desire to meet is strong enough
For if one friend denies the other and we meet as strangers
And if each of us follows his or her own way
Don’t say it was by our own will
But rather, the will of fate.

Al Atlal (الأطلال)

شعر: إبراهيم ناجي غناء: أم كلثوم ألحان: رياض السنباطي
يا فؤادي لا تسل أين الهوى كان صرحاً من خيالٍ فهوى
اسقني واشرب على أطلاله وأروي عني طالما الدمع روى
كيف ذاك الحب أمسى خبراً وحديثاً من أحاديث الجوى

لست أنساك وقد أغريتني بفم عذب المناداة رقيق
ويدٍ تمتد نحوي كيدٍ من خلال الموج مدت لغريق
وبريق يظمأ الساري له أين في عينيك ذياك البريق

يا حبيباً زرت يوماً أيكه طائر الشوق أغني ألمي
لك إبطاء المذل المنعم وتجلي القادر المحتكم
وحنيني لك يكوي أضلعي والثواني جمرات في دمي

أعطني حريتي أطلق يديا إنني أعطيت ما استبقيت شيئا
آه من قيدك معصمي لم أبقيه فما أبقى عليا
ما احتفاظي بعهود لم تصنها وإلام الأسر والدنيا لديا

أين من عيني حبيبي ساحر فيه عزُ وجلال وحياء
واثق الخطوة يمشي ملكاً ظالم الحسن شجي الكبرياء
عبق السحر كأنفاس الربا تائه الطرف كأحلام المساء
أين مني مجلسٌ أنت به فتنة…. س…وس..
ها أنا حب وقلب هائمٌ وفراشٌ حائرٌ….من كذا….

ومن الشوق رسولٌ بيننا ونديمٌ قدم الكاس لنا
هل رأى الحب سكارى مثلنا كم بنينا من خيالٍ حولنا
ومشينا في طريقٍ مقمرٍ تجد الفرحة فيه قبلنا
وضحكنا ضحك طفلين معاً وعدونا فسبقنا ظلنا

وانتبهنا بعدما زال الرحيل وأفقنا ليت أنا لا نفيق
يقظة طاحت بأحلام الكرى وتولى الليل والليل صديق
وإذا النور نذير طالع وإذا الفجر مطلٌ كالحريق
وإذا الدنيا كما نعرفها وإذا الأحباب كلٌ في طريق

أيها الساهر تغفو تذكر العهد وتصحو
وإذا ما التئم جرح جد بالتذكار جرح
فتعلم كيف تنسى وتعلم كيف تمحو

يا حبيبي كل شيء بقضاء ما بأيدينا خلقنا ضعفاء
ربما تجمعنا أقدارنا ذات يوم بعدما عز اللقاء
فإذا أنكر خلٌ خله وتلاقينا لقاء الغرباء
ومضى كلٌ إلى غايته لا تقل شئنا فإن الحظ شاء
فإن الحظ شاء فإن الحق شاء

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: