Sunday, July 5, 2009

Omar Souleyman - A Proposal
عمر سليمان - خطابة

Linguistically this song is pretty simple but it might need a lot of cultural explanation for the Western audience. Watching the video will also help you to arrive at the meaning.

This song comes from Eastern Syria around Deir Ezzor, a rural region near the Iraq border through which the Euphrates River flows. For many in this region and the Arab world as a whole, marriage is arranged in a different fashion than is common in the West. Typically the groom asks for a girl's hand from her family, not directly from her, and often in the end an engagement is negotiated between two families on behalf of the children who may or may not know each other. The premise of the song is that some people have come to ask for a girl Nora's hand in marriage. Typically at this occasion there is some agreement made about what the bride will receive in terms of independent money, gifts, various conditions etc, and these conditions are usually set by the father and negotiated. These are an extremely part of a marriage agreement in Shari3a, Muslim law, because she will likely have no other way to obtain her own property and in the event of divorce this is especially bad because the law does not guarantee that she will receive money from her husband. Anyway, Nora's father agrees to the engagement, on four conditions for the wedding as stated: a ride in a Mercedes that has never been ridden in on their wedding day, 1 kilo earrings made of gold, a honeymoon in Damascus and Paris, and a wedding dress made in London. Of course these are outlandish requests, especially between people of this region who live a rural life generally on a few hundred dollars a year. Therefore, we can say that the song is a facetious, light-hearted song intended for dancing at parties such as engagement parties etc.

"Khattaba (خطابة)" was a huge phenomenon in Syria and the Arab world and launched Omar Souleiman to fame in this region, which has in the past few decades developed a sort of indie Debke music scene (debke is the "traditional" dance music of the region, however now they are making it with drum machines and keyboards). Since then, he has developed a cult following in the Europe and the United States, appreciated for the energy and originality of his songs which are unlike anything ever heard in the West. He is a favorite of prominent musicians such a Blur and Gorillaz' Damon Albarn as well as Bjork.

Omar Souleiman - A Proposal

This chorus and the first verse are sung from the perspective of the groom's party:

A marriage proposal, a proposal, we've come to make a marriage proposal
We want to become related to you in accordance with God's law and book (ie Shari3a and the Qur'an, which means going through the traditional formalities of negotiating conditions of the marriage between the two families etc.)

We've drank your coffee and have been honored by your hospitality (this is a loose translation of the second half, but this is something you have to say to show respect to your host in Arab hospitality, who is likewise obliged to serve you coffee to express hospitality)
We have a request from you, we've come to ask for Nora's hand

The rest of the song is sung from the point of view of the father of the prospective bride:

Nora is yours without paying a tribute (sometimes when a girl is to be married is on a condition that the family of a groom pay a sizable sum of money. this is designed as a way to make sure the groom has enough money to provide for the girl, but also is often a manifestation of greed on the part of the parents who want to marry up)
However I have four conditions on behalf of the girl

The first is a Mercedes taxi that has never been ridden in before (i.e. on the wedding night, the word here for the Mercedes is "shabah شبح" which literally means a "phantom car," the term used by some European car companies to market their high end luxury cars in the Arab world. From what I've read, the word has come to refer specifically to the S Class Mercedes Benz which is very popular in the Gulf. In east Syria this word could mean a Mercedes or just a really fancy car, the point is it is a ridiculous request for people of that social class)
(We also want) a kilo of gold in her ear at the engagement party (ie 1 kilo gold earrings)

We want a honeymoon in Damascus and Paris (in east Syria, Damascus is a pretty expensive and luxurious place)
(We also want) a wedding dress made in London provided by the groom

عمر سليمان - خطابة

خطابة خطابة جيناكم خطابة
نريد القرب منكم بشرع الله وكتابه

قهوتكم مشروبة بالعز مديورة
النا طلب عندكم جينا نخاطب نورا

خذ نورا عطية ما الها جزية
عندي اربع شروط من حق النبة

الشرط الاول تكسي شبح مي مركوبة
كيلو ذهب باذنها بيوم الخطوبة

بدنا شهر عسل بالشام وباريس
اللبس من لندن مطلوب من العريس


AC said...

great job in explaining the context!
he was a superstar in AlJazeere even before this song came out (2004?)...but definitely a huge hit.

ini.itu said...

thanks for this very clear exegese, keep on the good job ! i hope to read more about Souleyman's songs in the future... Will now take a look at other names that i know...