As strangers

Photo by Kave Kiani

Just some months ago there was published in Iran a new item of the vast CD production of the Kamkars, the CD Sâye-ye roshan-e mahtab, “Moon Shadow,” created by Bijan Kamkar in collaboration with the Mastan Ensemble.

The Kamkars are eight Kurdish brothers, I mean seven brothers and a sister. They form one of the most successful musical groups of Iran playing classical Kurdish music, the Kamkars (in Persian Kâmkârhâ, in Kurdish Kâmkârân). On their highly professional homepage you can find lots of good photos about them. You are advised to have a look at it, at least for a short glimpse into the fantastically colorful world of Iranian music.

In this CD, however, only Bijan Kamkar, the male soloist of the group features from them. He is accompanied by the Mastan Ensemble, which was only formed in 2005, but they already belong to the promising stars of Persian classical music. They perform the poems of Sufi poets like Hafez, Rumi or Attar. Even their name, meaning “drunkenness,” refers to that desired condition of the Sufi mystic when he can finally drink of the goblet offered to him by his divine Beloved.

Biyan Kamkar, HoldárnyékThe poems on the “Moon Shadow” are all from modern, 20th-century Sufi poets. We find among them the well-known and much recited poem “Gharibâne” (As strangers) by Hushang Ebtehaj (1928), by his pen name Sayeh, “Shadow,” which repeats and recomposes the images of the desire for God much used in Sufi poetry. It fits very well to the complex and forceful Kurdish music, which also has a long tradition of the ecstatic joy music of Sufi ceremonies, the shema’.

The popularity of the poem is indicated by the fact that here they only sing some verses of it, again and again returning to the first one, the basic idea of Sufi existence: that we are strangers in this world. Besides, instead of the original plural they sing it in singular: “seek for it”, “you are stranger” and so on, which renders more personal the message of the poem. In the following Romanized transcription I mark in gold the verses sung by Bijan Kamkar and in dark red those sung in the background by the male choir and the female soloist. Even the order of the strophes has been somewhat changed in the performance: after the 9th strophe, the song finishes with the 7th one, “seek for the house of silence” which is a really adequate end to a song.

In contrast to usual transcription, here I also indicate the long vowels with a horizontal dash, so that you could feel the pulsation of the poem already by reading it. The â which sounds like a long closed – “Hungarian” – a is of course always long, and perhaps this is the sound which contributes the most to the unique resonance of Persian poems. I recommend you to read aloud the transcription together with my litteral translation, because only the two together can convey something from the experience of the original poem.

In the translation of this very special text I had some uncertainties and therefore almost surely made some errors. I have sent it to three Persian friends for a revision, but after more than a month none of them has replied yet. It seems like this feature is also a companion of the wonderful Persian character, like the shadow is of the light. Therefore I decided to publish my translation as it is. I will be grateful for any eventual corrections of our Readers.

Bijan Kamkar (Iranian Kurdistan) & Mastan Ensemble (Teheran): Gharibâne (As Strangers) (3'19")

As Strangers Gharibâne

seek out, seek out
in this house seek out
in this house you are strangers
as strangers seek out
بگردید ، بگردید ، درین خانه بگردید
دراین خانه غریبند ، غریبانه بگردید

begardīd, begardīd, dar in khâne begardīd
dar in khâne gharībīd, gharībâne begardīd

a bird walked here
who was a consort of my soul
this world is not his nest
seek the traces of his nest
یکی مرغ چمن بود که جفت دل من بود
جهان لانه ی او نیست پی لانه بگردید

yekī morgh-e chaman būd ke joft-e del-e man būd
jahân lâne-ye ū nīst pey-e lâne begardīd

a cup-bearer became drunken
he sat down behind the curtain
he has sent the cup ahead
so that you could seek it drunken
یکی ساقی مست است پس پرده نشسته ست
قدح پیش فرستاد که مستانه بگردید

yekī sâghī-ye mast ast pas-e parde neshast ast
ghadah pīsh ferestâd ke mastâne begardīd

if the joy comes from drunkenness
whose is the soul behind the lips?
from one hand into the other –
why would you seek any contract?

یکی لذت مستی ست ، نهان زیر لب کیست ؟
ازین دست بدان دست چو پیمانه بگردید

yekī lazzat-e mastī’st, nahân zīr-e lab kīst?
azīn dast bedân dast cho peymâne begardīd

a stranger bird
ate in the garden of my heart
I have tamed it –
seek the traces of the seeds

یکی مرغ غریب است که باغ دل من خورد
به دامش نتوان یافت ، پی دانه بگردید

yekī morgh-e gharīb ast ke bâgh-e del-e man khōrd
be dâmash betân yâft, pey-e dâne begardīd

is the sweet breath of the dawn breeze
the fragrance I feel?
here is he, here is he
seek him in the whole house
نسیم نفس دوست به من خورد و چه خوشبوست
همین جاست ، همین جاست ، همه خانه بگردید

nasīm-e nafas-e dūst be man khōrd o che khoshbūst
haminjâst, haminjâst, hame khâne begardīd

a never heard tune is sounding
that springs forth from itself
don’t sing in the middle of rumor
seek the house of silence
نوایی نشنیده ست که از خویش رمیده ست
به غوغاش مخوانید ، خموشانه بگردید

navâye nashenīd’ ast ke az khavīsh ramīd’ ast
be ghughâsh nakhânid, khamushâne begardīd

like tears falling on the earth
we squeeze out the juice of the vine
song is born from its fermentation –
seek it in the taverns

سرشکی که بر آن خاک فشاندیم بن تاک
در این جوش خروش است ، به خمخانه بگردید

sershekī ke bar ân khâk feshândīm bun-e tâk
dar in jūsh khorūsh ast, be khamkhâne begardīd

what is this sweetnes and this fragrance
as if I felt it in my dream?
this rose full of nectar is,
oh butterflies, you must seek
چه شیرین و چه خوشبوست ، کجا خوابگه اوست ؟
پی آن گل پر نوش چو پروانه بگردید

che shīrīn o che khoshbū’st, kojâ khavâbge ū’st?
pey-e ân gol por-e nūsh cho parvâne begardīd

just laugh at argumentation
do not admire its love
in its circle closed with chains
oh you fools, what do you seek?
بر آن عقل بخندید که عشقش نپسندید
در این حلقه ی زنجیر چو دیوانه بگردید

bar ân 'aghal bekhandīd ke 'eshghash nepasandīd
dar īn halghe-ye zanjīr chu divâne begardīd

in this corner of sadness
you cannot see his signs
if you long for treasures
seek them among the ruins
درین کنج غم آباد نشانش نتوان دید
اگر طالب گنجید به ویرانه بگردید

darīn kanj-e gham âbâd neshânash netavân dīd
agar zâleb-e genjīd be vīrâne begardīd

a key to the gate of hope
if it exists, you are that
on that old lock of stone
why do you seek any keyhole?
کلید در امید اگر هست شمایید
درین قفل کهن سنگ چو دندانه بگردید

kelīd-e dar-e omīd agar hast shomayīd
darīn ghofal-e kohan-e sang cho dandâne begardīd

does a shadow hide the face
covered in dream by a spell?
do not search it in the dreams
seek it in the rapture

رخ از سایه نهفته ست ، به افسون که خفته ست ؟
به خوابش نتوان دید ، به افسانه بگردید

rokh az sâye nehfat’ ast, be afsūn ke khoft’ ast?
be khavânash netân dīd, be afsâne begardīd

his essence bite into mine
he robbed me, he robbed me
accept his open heat
seek him with gratitude
تن او به تنم خورد ، مرا برد ، مرا برد
گرم باز نیاورد ، به شکرانه بگردید

tan-e ū be tanam khōrd, marâ bord, marâ bord
garm-e bâz biâvard, be shokrâne begardīd

The image of the bird walking around and pecking seeds in the garden as a metaphor of God makes more acceptable to me what I had read with surprise in the Hassidic stories, that the Hassidic rabbi of Szatmár interpreted the verse In a green forest, in a green meadow a bird is walking of the well-known Hungarian folk song as the symbol of God.

Biszmilláh-madár“Bismillah-bird”, composed of the letters of the Quranic verse Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim, “In the name of God, the merciful, the passionate”

Hushang Ebtehaj is still living, since 1987 in Köln. He must be really happy. It is not enough that he received a poetic talent and that he can write his poems in one of the most beautiful languages of the world, but they are also set to tune by the greatest representatives of one of the most subtle musical culture of the world – besides Bijan Kamkar, also by Shajarian and his son Homayoun – and they are sung, quoted and read by a hundred million people. To whom we can already count our Readers as well.