Carmen París & Nabyla Maan: Dos Medinas Blancas

Rising to the Balcony

Listening Post 138. If you had to choose one biography as a window to the splendor and diversity of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), a good choice might be the scientist-philosopher-musician-poet Ibn Bâjja. Though much of his work was lost, his theories on astronomy and physics were preserved by Maimonides and Averroes, fellow polymaths who shared his fate—all outlived the age of coexistence and died in exile. The modern singer-songwriters Carmen París and Nabyla Maan, both of whom perform traditional music with eclectic influences, found inspiration in Ibn Bâjja’s poetry (rediscovered in 1951) and collaborate on Dos Medinas Blancas (Two White Cities). París—from Zaragoza, where the Andalusian poet was born—spices Aragonese jota with flamenco, jazz and Latin American rhythms. Maan, from Fez, Morocco—where the poet spent his final years—mixes traditional Moroccan music with Arab-Andalusian, African and pop tones. The two women have a personal affinity and vocal synergy—projecting drama and light, heart and soul. On their joint album, they sing alluring duets from their respective repertoires and in one another’s languages. París put a classic paso doble melody to her lyrics for Zaragoza la Romana, an echo of medieval Moorish, Jewish and Christian music rising to the balconies of her hometown (video 1). In Lamma Bada Yatathanna (For What Seemed to Be), a traditional Arabic poem with new music by Maan and Tarak Hilal, love springs to life in a garden (video 2). The lead track is Ibn Bâjja’s Poema del Céfiro (Poem of the Zephyr), in which passion arrives on wind floating through an orchard (video 3). Nine hundred years after the poet-sage crossed the Strait of Gibraltar as a refugee, two artists from the geographic poles of his life offer a taste of a pluralistic world by mixing vocal colors that can climb to, and enchant, any balcony. (Fol Música)


Zaragoza la Romana: I come to sing about a time/That although it seems far away
Welcomed coexistence/An enlightened age of human knowledge

Lost in the memory/Its former inhabitants
Crossroads of many peoples/Who modeled your identity

Zaragoza the Roman/Moors of the Morería/Christian and also Jewish
The music of many peoples/Climbing up to my balconies
Mixed in the hubbub/For you, my inspiration”


Lamma Bada Yatathanna: “When he began to move subtly/My love enticed me with his beauty
If I give myself up, will he come?
In a minute I was captivated/In a garden among the hills
Even the branches he took as prisoners/Of his love when he sang. 

It is my promise and my confusion/Will he take pity on me for my lament?
Who can understand this torture of love/Except the owner of beauty?”


Poema del Céfiro: “They planted their tents in an orchard/Where the passing zephyr breathed sweet aromas
And I left my heart to wander there/Bleeding, its wounds led her to me.  

I swear by the creator of the branches that protect her/I swear by that crimson mouth
That since then the zephyr burns me
/And nothing now can comfort me.”



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