April 27, 2011

Mahmoud Fadl - Love Letter from Tut-Ank-Amen

Inspired by the poem "Love Letter to King Tut-Ank-Amen" by the great Cuban poetess Dulce María Loynaz, the "grande dame of Cuban letters," received international recognition 1992 for her nearly century-long contributions to Spanish letters when she was awarded the Cervantes Prize, widely recognized at the highest prize in Spanish Literature. As a poet, Loynaz is frequently mentioned in the same breath as the other great Latin American women poets of the twentieth century, Gabriela Mistral, Juana de Ibarbourou, Alfonsina Storni and Delmira Agustini; to these, some would add the name of another American poet, Emily Dickinson. As a novelist, Loynaz can rightly be seen as a precursor of the practitioners of magical realism who came to dominate Latin American fiction in the decades after the publication of her first and only novel, Jardín (Garden).

Love Letter to

King Tut Ank Amen

Young King Tut-Ank-Amen:

Yesterday afternoon in the museum, I saw the little ivory column which you painted blue and pink and yellow.

For that fragile object, useless and meaningless in our mean existence, for that simple little column painted by your fine hands - leaves of autumn - I would have given the most beautiful ten years of my life, also useless and meaningless ... Ten years of love and faith ... Next to the little column I also saw, young King Tut-Ank-Amen, I also saw yesterday afternoon - one of those brilliant afternoons of your Egypt -

I also saw your heart, kept safe in a golden box.

For that little heart crumbled to dust,

for that little heart

kept in a box of enamelled gold,

I would have given my own heart, young and warm; still pure.

Because yesterday afternoon, King filled with death, my heart beat for you, full of live, and my life embraced your death and it seemed to me, melted it

It melted the hard death clinging to your bones, with the heat of my breath, with the blood of my dream, and after that uproar of love and death I am still intoxicated with love and with death ...

Yesterday afternoon - afternoon of Egypt sprinkled with white ibises - I loved your impossible eyes beyond the crystal ...

And in another distant Egyptian afternoon like this afternoon - its light shattered with birds - your eyes were immense, split along your trembling brows ...

Long ago in another afternoon like this afternoon of mine, your eyes spread themselves above the earth, opened themselves above the earth like the two mysterious lotuses of your country.

Reddened eyes: creations of twilight, the color of rivers swollen with September.

Lords of a kingdom were your eyes, lords of flourishing cities, of gigantic stones then already a thousand years old, of fields sown to the horizon, of armies victorious far beyond the deserts of Nubia, whose agile archers, whose intrepid charioteers have been frozen forever in profile in hieroglyphs and on monoliths.

Everything fit into your eyestender and powerful King, everything was destined for you before you had time to see it .- Arid certainly you didn't have time.

Now your eyes are closed and a gray dust covers the eyelids; only this gray dust, the ashes of exhausted dreams.

Now between your eyes and my eyes

forever lies an adamantine crystal •••

For these your eyes which I could never pry open with my kisses, I would give to whoever wants them my own eyes, avid for landscapes, thieves of your heaven, masters of the world's sun.

I would give my living eyes

to feel for a moment your gaze across three thousand nine hundred years ...

To feel your gaze on me now - however it might come - disinterred, curdled out of the pallid halo of Isis.

Young King Tut-Ank-Amen, dead at nineteen years of age: let me tell you these crazy things which perhaps no one else has ever told you, permit me td tell them to you in the solitude of my hotel room, in the chill of walls shared with strangers, walls colder than the walls of the tomb which you didn't wish to share with anyone.

I tell you this, adolescent King, frozen forever in profile in your immovable youth, in your crystallized grace ... Frozen in that expression which forbade the sacrifice of innocent doves, in the temple of the terrible Ammon-Ra.

This is how I will continue to see when I am far away, you standing straight before the jealous priests in a flurry of white wings ...

I will take nothing from you beyond this dream, because you are everything which is fore­closed to me, prohibited, infinitely impossible. From century to century your gods kept watch over you, hanging onto the very last hair.

I think that your hair must have been

straight as the night rain ...

And I think that because of your hair, because of your doves and your nineteen years so close to death, I would have been then what I will never be now: a little bit of love.

But you didn't wait for me and you fled along the edge of the crescent moon; you didn't wait for me and you fled toward death like a child going to the park, laden with toys with which you are not yet tired of playing

... Followed by your ivory carriage, your trembling gazelles ...

If sensible people wouldn't have been scandalized, I would have taken you from your golden sarcophagus, enclosed in three wooden sarcophagi inside of a great sarcophargus of granite, I should have taken you from the depths, so perverse, which render you more dead to my bold heart which you make beat strongly ... which only for you has ever beaten, Oh sweetest King! In this bright afternoon of Egypt - arm of the Nile's light.

If sensible people wouldn't have been enraged, I would have taken you from your five sarcophagi, I would have unwrapped the bindings which so oppress your feeble body, and I would have wrapped you softly in my silken shawl.

I would have rested you upon my breast like a sick child ... And as if to a sick child,

I would have begun to sing to you

the most beautiful of my tropical songs,

the sweetest, the briefest of my poems.

Duice Maria Loynaz

(1929), translated by Judith Kerman


1. Khai (Brother)(4:11)
2. Ala Balad el Mahboub (Bring Me Home to My Lover) (3:33)
3. Rohi (Breath of Soul) (5:46)
4. Ishlonak (How Do You Do) (9:08)
5. El Samba (3:53)
6. Sabaht Wagdan (I Woke up Full of Yearning) (4:03)
7. Ana Wehabibi (My Lover and I (5:05)
8. Ana Bamasi Al Haba Doll (I Say to You Good Evening) (6:51)
9. Llsabr Hodoud (Patience Has Its Limits) (3:35)
10. El Helwa (The Beauty) (5:51)


This collection of intensely romantic songs was inspired by an odd bit of history. In 1929, a Cuban poetess named Dulce María Loynaz wrote a florid love letter to the dead Egyptian king Tut-Ank-Amen. (Dulce's letter appears in translation in the CD notes.) His imagination fired by the idea of this, master Nubian percussionist Mahmoud Fadl, who also directs the Cairo roots pop band Salamat, decided to create a letter in response, in the form of ten instrumental lovers' classics from Cairo.

From the opener, "Khai" by celebrated 20th century composer Mohamed Abd el-Wahaab, softly brooding strings and restless percussion set the stage for the warm, sensuous trumpet lines of Samy El Bably, "Grandmaster of the Trumpet Oriental." A survivor from the Cairo Golden Age, and now musical director of the Fajoum Cultural Centre, El Bably plays lots of al jeel sessions these days. But his work on this album is nothing short of a revelation, some of the most sensitive and beautiful trumpet playing I have heard anywhere.

On the traditional song "Ishlonak," El Bably's trumpet melds with accordion over a trance rhythm. On the lively "El Samba" (another el-Wahaab composition), the trumpet edges in on the strings with a subtle cross rhythm, and then joins them before setting out on an achingly beautiful solo. "Sahaht Wagan," another traditional song in 7/8 time, is also a standout. But the entire record is pure joy, powerfully romantic without a trace of drippy sentimentality. Whether this music has the power to arouse the dead spirits of the Cuban poetess or the Egyptian king, I don't know. But it can certainly carry the rest of us through many nights of love. from

magic word
is thegoodone


Born in 1955, Mahmoud Fadl began his musical career not playing, but as a limbo dancer in Egypt at wedding celebrations -- both Egyptian and Nubian -- the culture that was his, but which had been lost as families were evacuated for the building of dams. His Nubian ancestry was important, coming from the Battikol people. A naturally talented percussionist, he developed his ability in orchestras in Assuan and Cairo, where he grew up, gradually becoming a sought-after player, performing with acts like Ali Hassan Kuban and Ahmed Adawia. However, it wasn't until he moved to Europe that Fadl really became established as a solo act and a master drummer, leading ensembles, and exploring his ancient Nubian roots with the Drummers of the Nile. Like Kuban, much of his career has been dedicated to exploring the old Nubian rhythms, even pairing them, at times, with more modern drum'n'bass beats. However, he's also gone beyond that to put together Umm Kalthoum 7000, a tribute to the great Arab diva. But it's indisputable that his heart is firmly in Nubia, a place he returns to musically on most albums. Now based in Berlin, he remains active in many scenes, not the least of which is United Nubians, his tribal-house project. Apart from his own work, Fadl has guested with the Klezmatics and several others. ~ Chris Nickson, Rovi

1 comment:

  1. wow. this is quite a post! beautiful poem. looking forward to hearing the music.