Arabic supergroup weave Palestinian literature and history into new album

The band Alif, whose debut album features poetry by Mahmoud Darwish and Faiha Abdulhadi

The band Alif, whose debut album features poetry by Mahmoud Darwish and Faiha Abdulhadi

Tony Elieh Nawa Recordings

An album set for release later this summer brings together musical and literary creativity from Palestine and the wider Arab world.

Alif (Arabic for the letter A) are a kind of alternative Arabic supergroup, featuring famously innovative Iraqi oud player Khyam Allami, Palestinian singer-songwriter Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Lebanese percussionist Khaled Yassine, bassist Bashar Farran and Egyptian keyboard player Maurice Louca.

The band’s debut album, Aynama-Rtama (“Wherever It Falls”), comprises tracks written by Abu Ghazaleh alongside a number with lyrics based on works by three major modern Arabic poets.

Two poems by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish — “Dars Min Kama Sutra” (“Lesson from Kama Sutra”) and “Al-Khutba Al-Akhira” (“The Last Declamation”) — sit alongside “I’tiraf” (“Confession”) by Faiha Abdulhadi. The liner notes also include translations into English by Nariman Youssef.

Abdulhadi was born in Nablus but deported as a teenager by the occupying Israeli forces in the late 1960s, along with her mother, the famous Palestinian feminist activist Issam Abdulhadi. Faiha Abdulhadi is a writer, poet and scholar in her own right.

As well as Darwish and Abdulhadi’s work, the songs “Al-Juththa” (“The Corpse”) and “Holako” (“Hulagu”) are based on poems by the important Iraqi writer Sargon Boulos.

The last of these is also the preview track for the album, now available on the group’s Bandcamp site or on Soundcloud.

Edgy grandeur

The track’s edgy grandeur perfectly matches its subject matter, the Mongol khan Hulagu, who invaded much of the Middle East in the thirteenth century. Having famously sacked the great city of Baghdad and conquered much of Syria, the advance of Hulagu’s forces was halted at the battle of Ayn Jalut, near the present-day Palestinian city of Jenin. The defeat at Ayn Jalut signalled the end of the Mongols’ expansion into the Middle East.

It’s hard not to see, in Boulos’s depiction of the havoc wreaked across the region by the Mongol hordes, a metaphor for the chaos imposed on the modern Middle East by foreign invaders. Or perhaps we should simply appreciate the song as a superb blend of two types of art, enacted by masters of both genres.


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.