It is evening, just past the setting hour. You are in your room, doors closed. Then it begins: a slow strumming, gentle, fluid. An old sound: the kanun, Wikipedia tells you. Now, almost imperceptibly, a flute joins in. Someone is taking long breaths and releasing them with infinite patience. All this while the kanun has been rising and falling, like a flame flickering, trying to stay alive. This is the beginning of the cold: you know it, it will soon be night. You are in your room, doors closed. You are in a field under an orange sky.
You are in your room, doors closed. A voice begins speaking: it is deep, it comes from the belly, comes from the heart. The words are alternately harsh and entreating, staccato and melodic. It is a slow voice. It knows time: it has seen it pass. Its parents have seen it pass. Passage, a long passage, is at the roots of this voice: it has come a long way and there is no need to hurry. The voice is speaking of something old, so old that it does not now matter how long it takes to finish, because the story it is telling has come so far. Because there is time, there is always time. There has been time for thousands of years since this story happened, and there will certainly be time tonight. Under an orange sky, where the heat of the day hangs reluctant, unwilling to make place for the coolness of the night. In a field, where time bows to the ney and the kanun and the measure of the story and the voice beseeching.
You are in your room, doors closed. You are listening to Abed Azrie tell the story of Gilgamesh. You are under an orange sky, cocooned by the warmth of day in a field of night. The voice stops, and the kanun returns to prominence, joined by a violin. You are in your room, doors closed. The voice starts again, and it is clear that the man and his instruments are playing tag, now one speaking, now the other, but always sounding alike, always carrying the same gravity. You are in an orange field under the warm sky listening to a story that began five thousand years ago, in a field like this one, behind closed doors like these.
This is music from Alep, or Halab to the Arabs and Aleppo to the Italians. Alep is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It was here when Alexander left Macedonia. It was here when the Ismailis and the Mamluks fought for control of Egypt. It was here when Tamerlane ransacked it before deciding to rape India. It was here when the Ottomans were overlords of Turkey and pushing at the borders of Afghanistan. It was here, at the end of the Silk Road, when silk and peony from China terminated their arduous journey at Antioch. It was here when the French gave Antioch to Turkey and Alep to Syria and the Armenians and the Turkish Christians and the Lebanese were drawn to in this century. It might have even been here since Gilgamesh and Enkidu left behind an unforgettable story. And so it has seen emperors pass, religions clash, travelers settle, and it has absorbed all of the musics and the instruments and the sense of continuity.
So when Abed Azrie does the telling, he begins gently and proceeds slowly, building up the tension, always keeping the mystery. He is the narrator, grief pouring from every third syllable. He is Enkidu, and his wild instruments keep pace. He is the narrator, but from another time and age, and a little French sharpens his indignance. But it is a deep story and deserves contemplation. So you contemplate the shape of his words, the import of his drawl, and the accents his instruments provide to tell you you must feel fear, or awe, or empathy or joy. And you contemplate the silence, behind closed doors, unwilling to open them. Now every other story will feel small, too young, too brash. Every other story will seem forgettable.
And it will not matter that this album was released in 1977, shortly after Azrie moved to Paris, and it took you this long to discover it. And that you do not know of his other vast soaring renditions of Omar Khayyam and other Arabic poetry. It will not even matter that you will not understand ‘spoken word’ as a genre in the same way again.
|Gilgamesh from the album Épopée de Gilgamesh by Abed Azrié
More Abed Azrie at Last.fm
~posted by arvind