Alex Shams, Oum Kalthoum and the “evil eye”

24 Feb

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There’s also the deeper meaning of “nazar” as “look,” or “glance” or to use the po-mo gender theory cliché, “gaze,” which suggests that the blue eye is a reflected-back energy of potentially dangerous erotic or sexual inclinations or intentions; it’s used — especially in Greece at least — to “protect” particularly beautiful young women and babies.

The seductive glances and gazes of Arabo-Perso literary imagery — some miscrossed, misinterpreted, some dead on target — is taken to the limits of its possibilities by Oum Kalthoum in her famous 1968 Rabat concert of “Howwa Sahih.”  She was at her vocal pinnacle at this concert and repeated one phrase of the poem over and over in practically every makam or mode of Arab classical music.

The lyrics of the concert footage below:

A look that I thought was (just) a salute and (that it) would pass quickly Turns out it carries promises and covenants and rejections and pains Promises that aren’t true and aren’t kept Covenants with who can’t be trusted And endurance of humiliation and denial But instead of saying enough of that I find myself saying oh God please more! How I wonder Well that’s what happened That’s what happened and I just don’t understand.

I’ve pushed the video to 1:50 where she really starts to work the crowd, but at 3:16, she runs with that one word — “nazra” — in a show of breath control and vocal dynamics that makes the crowd so nuts that she can’t continue.  Her natural limits are, or course, amazing, but during this concert you get the sense that she pushes them to the extreme, sacrificing a little bit of musical perfection for the sake of conveying raw emotion — something Callas used to do as well.



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