Friday, March 22, 2013

Above the Palm Trees/I've Got a Friend Up There
فوك النخل\فوق إلنا خل
Foug El Nakhel/Foug Ilna Khill

We've translated many an Arabic folk song here on the blog performed by various artists, but the discussion on this song is so massive and the versions so numerous that it deserves its own post. "Fog al-Nakhel (فوق النخل)" is one of the most famous Arabic songs. It originated in Iraq and quickly spread throughout the Arabic world with the advent of radio and television. One of the earliest versions was performed by Nazem al-Ghazali, but there are others by Sabah Fakhri, Ilham al-Madfai, Kazem el-Saher and many others. Of course, the verses seem to be infinite.

I've always tried to understand the song, which eventually led me to discussion forums discussing the lyrics and meaning. That's when I discovered the open secret that the lyrics are not actually فوق النخل, or "above the palm trees," but rather فوق إلنا خل, ie "I've got a friend above/up there" however you want to translate it. According to a discussion among posters in this forum here, the original composers had intended the song to be فوق النا خل (Fog ilna khell). The story behind the song is that there is a poor young man in love with a girl that belongs to a rich family, after seeing her on their big house's balcony and exchanging glances. The song became "Foq al-Nakhel (فوق النخل)" because even though it makes the meaning quite strange, the audiences liked it better, according Sabah Fakhri and others. This explains the lyrics:

I've got a friend above
I don't know if that's the shine of your cheek or a shine above (ie the moon)
I swear I don't even want her
It's ruining me/It's causing me a problem

فوق إلنا خل فوق يابا فوق النا خل فوق
مدري لامع خدك يابا مدري لامع فوق
ولله ما ريده باليني بلوة

That is pretty much the standard chorus and after that the versions diverge greatly. I'll try to add as many versions as I can here, hopefully with the help of the readers, since lyrics are surprisingly scarce.

First and foremost is the Nazem al-Ghazali (ناظم الغزالي) version:

ناظم الغزالي - فوق النخل (فوق إلنا خل)

I have no hope for my soul, you're still my beloved
Everyone gets to be with you and my destiny is to be abandoned by you
I swear she's torturing me and she has no interest in me

مالي امل بالروح يبا بعدك حبيبي بعدك حبيبي
وصلك صفى للناس يبا هجرك نصيبي
والله معذبني وماعنده امروه

Here's the version by Sabah Fakhri (صباح فخري), the legendary Syrian singer hailing from Aleppo. I haven't included the lyrics for "albulbul nagha", which he usually performs alongside "foug al nakhel".

It contains this additional verse:

Oh river, go say hi to them for me
The separation is hard for me
I miss them

بالله يا مجرى الماي يابا سلم عليهم
صعبان الفرقه علي يابا اشتقنا إليهم

Here is the Kazem el-Saher version I found on I'd like to point out that Kazem days no say "yaba" rather he uses "3ayni" which means about the same thing: nothing.

Here is an Ilham al-Madfai (إلهام المدفعي) version. Note the excessive palm trees in the video.

Here's some new verses, I'll do my best:

Your cheek shined, my love, and lit up the country
I can't make my soul patient or bear this separation
I swear she's torturing me with her beautiful eyes

All the faces pass, and my eyes are only on yours
May the lord give you my love
I swear she's torturing me and she has no interest

خدك لمع ياهواي وأضوى على البلاد
مقدر أصبر الروح واتحمل البعاد
والله معذبني بعيونه الحلوة

كل البلام تفوت يابه عيني على بلمك
ومن الهوى والروح ربي يسلمك
والله معذبني وما عنده مروة

There's more versions available, but I don't really have lyrics for them.

Here is a stupid version by Dania (دانيا)

Here is George Wassouf (جورج وسوف)

Here is Palestinian band Zaman (زمان) with a flamenco version


Anonymous said...

I have the Hans-Wehr Arabic dictionary which says that balm (بلم) means "sailing barge," but the plural is ablaam (أبلام).

Anonymous said...

actually the real song say فوق النا خل (up we have a lover) not فوق النخل !!!! that really a very common mistake people do! why no one ever ask himself why there is a person sitting on a palm tree!!!????!!!!! the song is for human not for monkeys just want to give this information as the song appeared sillier after translation

Unknown said...

about el balam, it's intended to mean the faces...

Anonymous said...

lol Its true that "Above we have a friend" makes more sense....
but "Above the palm trees" has its own flavor too...dont take it literally it could mean "up in the heavens" above everything earthly (the palm trees)...

Anonymous said...

In my opinion Above the palm trees make more muche sense. The first verse's image is this man staring at the sky and remembering the face of his love with the help of the moon. More: in arabic literature and poetry (pop and non pop) the perfect feminine beauty is always compared with the moon!

Dastan said...

I was told that Fog el Nakhal was an old Iraqi idiom used as a metaphoric response to the question "Shlonak?". Fog El Nakhal literally means "above the palm trees" but metaphorically means "on top of the world" i.e. extremely happy.

Emilie Chevalier said...

Thank you so much for making a great blog to help Arabic learners!

Jeanne Gandolfo said...

Another great song.

Daphna said...

It is a great song!
The song was written by the great Jewish Iraqi musicians, Saleh and Daud El Kuwaiti. They were famous singers and musicians. Saleh was a gifted fiddle player and composer and Daud was a gifted oud player. They wrote songs to famous Arab singers like Um Cultum and Muhamad Abd El Wahab.In 1983, Sadam Hussain ordered his culture minister to erase their names from the musical archives. Hundreds of their songs became "folk" songs or credits were taken by other musicians. Still, their songs including Fog El Nakhal are Arab classics till today and still very popular.