Return, Fail, Repeat

Return, Fail, Repeat

Not Just Another Day

On the morning of the second Sunday of May 2011, Beirut was sluggishly waking up. Nothing seemed unusual or special apart from some intruding grey clouds leftover from the harsh winter of that year. Clouds or not, it was a warm spring weekend where the most pressing issue for Beirutis was to get their shopping done before noon for a grand Sunday lunch.

Elsewhere, on the margins of Lebanon’s reality, in concealed pockets known as Palestinian camps, the date 15 May 2011 was not just another lazy Sunday. At gathering points around each camp Palestinian refugees packed lunch baskets, got dressed in their finest fashion and decided that on this day everyone will sport the same colors. Palestinians of all ages held flags of Palestine as they hopped into buses and readied themselves for a day that had been months in the planning. Some called it a picnic at the Maroun al-Ras park in south Lebanon, but the majority of those riders called it the Day of Return.

Thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon across twelve refugee camps and many “informal gatherings” moved in sync with their brethren in camps in Damascus and Amman on 15 May 2011. Buses were packed with Palestinians as they rolled in one direction. Their destination: Palestine.

I woke up early, disturbed by a brutal headache from revelry the night before, where some of us had gathered at a street corner, chatting till dawn, intoxicated and euphoric about the return on which we were about to embark. This, however, didn’t stop me from getting ready to join the bus I was assigned to catch by Mar Elias camp on the outskirts of Beirut. Before I left my apartment I made sure my red kuffiya was wrapped around my neck. To remedy the monstrous hangover I chugged a substantial amount of coffee then ran out to catch the return buses heading south.

There were no signs or hints in Beirut on that Sunday morning that would indicate the grand day of return that was being thoroughly organized and put into action. Outside Mar Elias camp there was eight buses and a sea of people that would require at least eight more buses. The organizers didn’t expect the turnout to be so disproportionate to their plans. Buses filled with their maximum capacity started to drive away, many of us fidgeting with anxiety fearing there wouldn’t be any spaces left for us to ride and we might get left behind. More buses arrived and I quickly slipped in to reserve my seat; as I sat down and looked around I remarked that this bus was a mixed basket so many different Arabic dialects my ears registered. There were not just Palestinians, but Bahrainis, Yemenis, Syrians, Egyptians and some Lebanese. Everyone became a Palestinian going home. A home we had never been able to inhabit physically; rather it was constructed lavishly in our collective memory and forever rooted deeply in our collective unconscious.

The bus driver was playing a mix-tape of revolutionary songs from the 80s mixed with oldies from the time of the Grand Palestinian revolution. The sound system blasted on. Some energetic morning-people shouted their singing over the system and I personally wished I had an Arab-Rap mix-tape on me. It was the first half of 2011, a time when Arab Rap emerged to become the genre of the Arab revolutions that were raging in the region all around Palestine. Inside the bus a buzz ensued: intense conversation bounced backward, forward and side-to-side, people getting to know each other and imaging how it is going to be once we reach the border.

On the wide highway between Saida and Sur return buses raced, honked horns and people flashed victory signs and waved flags out of the windows. Each time one bus zoomed by another young Palestinian boys and girls flashed their best smiles, joyful eyes met and locked, conversing without words they said, “Yes! This is finally happening we are going back home, fuck the camps!” When we reached the final road that leads to the border our bus slowed down. All we could see ahead of us was a long chain of bumper-to-bumper buses moving sluggishly. It was now one o’clock, the southern sun above us was blazing and there was no way people would be confined inside these buses. Impatiently people started pouring out of their buses to the green fields dotted by yellow daisies. We followed suit: one by one hopping out of our bus and trailing behind a long human chain that went down the valley then up the hill, walking through narrow streets of southern border villages until we reached the hill overlooking Palestine.

While trailing up the hill brushing through wildflowers and daisies I slowed my pace at one point to listen to an old Palestinian man leaning on a cane. He was walking with his grandson, no older than 10, and telling him the story of the time he was forced out of Palestine and had to carry his nine-year-old sister while escaping to Lebanon over these very same mountains and paths. The old man spoke to his grandson of the beauty of Palestine and described how their home looked. This same story that became the Palestinian Nakba was retold throughout the march to the border that day. Finally, as we gradually drew closer to the border, he told the young boy, “Soon you will go and see Palestine, the most beautiful country I have ever seen; it’s where we come from. It’s our land.”

Home In Plain Sight

The moment we reached the final point of our destination on Maroun al-Ras a sea of people flooded the hill overlooking Palestine. Group selfies were snapped with Palestine in the background; with each new photo more people joining the frame. What caught my attention was the river of people trickling down the steep hill pouring all the way to the dividing fence. The day of return according to the organizers was supposed to be limited to the premises of the park on the hill overlooking Palestine.

I joined that stream at the steep hill, thinking it was a crazy, dangerous descent. Around me I saw Palestinians of old age holding hands, determined while descending cautiously.  At the sight of teenage boys and girls running down that slope showing no signs of hesitation my body got over its inhibitions and pressed on ahead. At the separating fence the whole idea of a symbolic activity of gathering at the border turned into a notion that had felt impossible up until that moment of confrontation with our homeland. Return became a real possibility. The whole idea of having to wait until the UN or the world would grant us “permission” to fulfill our right of return ended right then and there. Return to Palestine went from an imaginative “one-day we will go back” idea to a realistic feasible possibility that could be organized directly. With the homeland in sight many people realized that return only seems impossible until it’s done.

And return started to take place as the youngest went to the fence and started climbing it amongst shouts and screams of the roughly 2000 people raging against the taunting Israeli soldiers on the other side. The crowd at the fence were struck by a multitude of emotions: the elders remembered, reminisced and cried for being kept away for home for too long; The young saw home for the first time. Some were petrified others dumbfounded by how close home was. The bus drive had been only two hours away but how far had it felt from within the oppressive camps.

Clack clack. The sound bounced and echoed around us resulting in momentary calm that shattered all the previous emotion and sentimentality. A moment later a body dropped to the ground, blood staining his shirt.  He is not moving… “shaheed shaheed, [martyr]” came in roars: people went mad. A young boy from ‘Ain al-Hilwa camp next to the fence succumbed to the ground, the bullets of an Israeli sniper from the other side of the fence killed him instantly. I was about three hundred meters away from the fence when the first of six martyrs was killed on that day. As I took a minute to grasp what just happened I saw a pack of shirtless men surging out of the crowd and galloping in my direction between them a flimsy body soaked in blood. “Shaheed shaheed! Move out of the way,” they shouted as they carried him up to the paramedics stationed on the hill.

The murder of this young returnee charged the whole scene. The Israeli way of murdering unarmed Palestinians provoked everyone to a fit of rage; the trickling stream of people coming down the hill turned into a furious river once the news reached the hill. The youngest ones at the fence were triggered, tossing volleys across the border using anything that could be found on the ground: gravel, stones, pieces of dry wood and even when there was nothing to be found someone took off their shoes aimed and shot it across the fence. In the middle of this chaos someone found a landmine and started digging around it to unearth it. At sight of this weapon more boys joined in digging it out with their bare hands. The landmine covered by rust was a relic left deep in the ground from times of Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. At the sight of angry young ones ravaging the earth, digging out the landmine until stopped by others.

The 15 of May 2011 was a day that ended with blood. Six young Palestinians were murdered by Israeli snipers. That historical day would have lasted if it wasn’t for the Lebanese army forcefully ending it by shooting thousands of rounds above our heads scaring people to flee in a frenzy. On that day the way to return to Palestine was demonstrated. People realized that this is how we’ll return but most of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon became fully convinced that there is no alternative to the inhumane life in the camps but the right of return. Going back to the camps after that day was a massive anti-climax; Palestine was in sight. Home was felt, touched, seen and smelled for the first time by a whole new generation who, since they were born, were breastfed the meaning of home, their imagination nourished by stories about the beauty of life in the villages and cities. This is the generation that experience the calamity of displacement at every sunrise and spend sleepless nights shedding tears for the brutal injustice they endure caused by the Nakba that started seventy years ago and hasn’t ever stopped.

In the weeks and months that followed, Palestinians buried their new martyrs and went into mourning again. In every camp the possibility of return that they experienced on that day was told: reminisced and retold retracing every detail of it. People finally concluded that it was a day that must be repeated; their return and how it will happen is now lucid, imaginable, foreseeable and inevitable.

I recently had a conversation with few friends from the Shatila refugee camp and I asked them if they still remember that day on the border and how much worse life has become in the last seven years in the camps. They told me “we stopped expecting anything that we could count on to further our cause or make our lives better from a system that has continuously failed us. This system, the UN, UNRWA, international community, call it what you want, was never meant to protect us or stop the occupation of our land and grant us justice by granting us our right of return. When we return it’s going to be exactly as we did it in 2011: it’s going to be us Palestinians finding the right moment to leave these camps once and for all and go home. We must learn from our people in Gaza how they are plotting their return and get ready for when our turn will come.”

The Great Return March

Today, Palestinians besieged inside the Gaza strip are pushing their right of return to the forefront and with this they are galvanizing the crushed souls of their brethren scattered in refugee camps around Palestine. The raging Palestinians in Gaza are sowing hope in a moment of history where hope seems irrational for people who have been deprived from justice while forcefully being kept out of their home for 70 years. It is also a moment in history for the Israeli occupation system to be aware of the fact that the life they had built on the agony of the colonized Palestinians is now losing its assurance.

For, at least, seventy years the Israeli colonization of Palestine has avoided no extremist tactic, be it terror or torture, but instead of being subjugated to this injustice Palestinians have regrouped and revamped continuously. As the martyr Bassel Al-Araj has remarked Palestinians have simultaneously identified a single enemy even as they are now besieged and forcibly dispersed they still find in suffering a spiritual community that will give birth to yet another bastion of the Palestinian intifada. This is happening now!

The Great Return March is a forty-five-day protest along the border between Gaza and Israel. It began on 30 March, Land Day, which commemorates the 1976 killings of six Palestinians by Israel who had been protesting land confiscations, and ends on 15 May, the seventieth anniversary of the Nakba, the mass displacement, ethnic cleansing and occupation of Palestine during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.

While we scroll through our social media timelines we must pay attention to how Palestinians have been getting maimed and killed by Israeli soldiers, to witness how Israel is setting another precedent in murder and impunity while testing/marketing weapons and crowd control tactics. As of writing this Israeli soldiers have killed 50 unarmed Palestinian protesters and not one Israeli has been killed or injured since March 30 2018. Five of those killed were children and two were journalists. Israeli sharpshooters fatally injured the vast majority of participants in protests. According to MSF the unusual severe gunshot injuries “where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone” leaving most of the patients with “disabilities for life.” A method that Israel uses to stop people from protesting: you could be next.

Therefore, a terrifying murder style by Israel must be looked at closely to understand the method behind the kind of deliberate wounds inflicted by Israeli soldiers on unarmed protesters in Gaza. Such crowd control tactics will soon be deployed against other populations by their own governments since Israel has been training the police forces of various countries from Asia Europe and America. Consequently, the Palestinian struggle for liberation becomes universal; again mediated through the bodies of Palestinians that at this stage function for experimenting new weapons and subjugation tactics to be exported by a predator state to whichever regime is trying to contain their angry populations.

We must take note of how Israel continues to kill fathers, arrest mothers and fragment families resulting in scattered innumerable orphans. Human beings at the start of their life are hit by a disturbing shock to their psyche when they become orphaned by military occupation forces and tend to develop a grim prospect about the meaning of life. In their quest to answer the why of what befell them their life becomes centered on a daily struggle against their oppressors so they remedy their bruised souls with a commitment to vengeance. Here our collective memory supplies us with many inspiring stories about orphans that grew up and rebelled against the oppression around them. Stories that stretch back all the way to ‘Issa the son of Mariam, to Mohamad, the prophet, to the revolutionary Husayn, his grandson, to al-Qassam, to Dalal al-Mughrabi, to now Bassel al-Araj and Amed Jarar and many more tales of local heroes that inspire and indicate the way. This orphan turned hero is born again with each generation that has lived under Israeli occupation for more than seventy years. These children that Israel deprived of their childhood and innocence are yet another generation of a long series of resistance fighters. Like that day of return that took place seven years ago today the Great Return March in besieged Gaza is another attempt in this ongoing anti-colonialist struggle that will be repeated again and again until justice and the return home are realized.


Return, Fail, Repeat on Jad


طرب سلطنة فتترييب على بارات رابنا

.لا أعرف ما إذا كانت هذه اللطشة تحدث للجميع، ولكن، من يدري، ربما هي كذلك

أنا متأكد من أنني لست الوحيد الذي يتزامن عدد دقات قلبه في الدقيقة مع الموسيقى. لاحظت ذلك في الماضي أثناء الاستماع إلى بعض التراكات المفضلة لدي ولكن ولا مرة فكرت أنو دقات قلبي يمكن ان تذهب في سينك مع ايقاع الموسيقى التي استمتع بالاستماع اليها. كنت افسر هذه الخبطة من التغيير المفاجئ في اهتزازات جسدي أثناء الاستماع إلى الموسيقى إلى أن الموسيقى هي نوع من التجربة التي تلامس الدماغ بعمق وتفتح ابواب ليتدفق منها  نهر من الاندورفين يسيل من خلايا المخ ويصب نزولا فيغسل الجسد والروح. وهيك فسرت الموضوع لنفسي أنو هذا الشعور هو مجرد أن جسدي روحي وعقلي فاتوا بحالة الانغماس بعصائر الدماغ الطيبة التي تثيرها بعض التراكات الضخمة. ممكن القول ان هذا التأثير او الشعور كان يسمى بالطرب، ولكن بالنسبة لي الشعور الذي يجتاح كل حواسي هو شعور ابعد من الطرب او هي ممكن حالة  ما بعد بعد بعد الطرب، حالة التتريب

في يوم من آخر ايام سنة ٢٠١٧ بينما كنت في خضم مكسجت شريط الكوكتيل أتتني الحالة العجيبة وخبطتني كلعنة في الوقت الغير مناسب. كان نهارا جميلا الشمس منورة الدنيا باشعتها الحدة تذيب كآبة الشتاء وكنت منغمسا في نور السما كابس لعب ومكسجة احد اعز الاغاني لدي منعزلا كليا عن كل شي حولي وراكب في قمة تركيزي. داخل مكعب من الزمان والمكان كنت دائب في اشتباك عميق بين موسيقتي وخيط الفكرة المفرود براسي لبطح هذا الميكس وفقا للشكل الذي اتخذه في مخيلتي. عند نقطة ما حوالي 25 دقيقة من التسجيل اصابتني رجفة قوية ابتدأت من قدمي، ثم ساقي، ثم انتشرت الرجفة في باقي أنحاء جسدي الي ان اصبح الارتجاف خارج نطاق سيطرتي. ضربتني موجات من الاهتزازات وتحولت يدي على ازرار و مفاتيح الميكسر الي شي رخو كالجلو ليس لي او مني. في هذه اللحظة لاحظت أن قلبي كان يخبط في صدري كالمطرقة فأدركت أنني بحاجة للتهدئة فأشعلت سيجارة وكرعت كوب من الماء لتبريد جهاز اعصابي. اكل الفيلم: توقف جسدي من الرجف والارتعاش وعادت يدي بالسيطرة علي المكيسر، قلت لنفسي “يللا يا كبير عدنا فوت”. عدنا بقوة، وبينما كنت في انغماس تام العب وامكسج حسيت بموجة أخرى تتراكم وتضخ طاقة وتستعد لخبطي من جديد اخذت نفسا عميقا وفي لمحة بصر لمعت صورة براسي وفهمت هذا الهجوم على كياني. بتكة دغري لاحظت ان دقات قلبي كانت في مزامنة او سينك كامل مع التراك التي كانت تلعب، ولاحظت أن نفاسي وعدد دقات قلبي في الدقيقة قد تغير عدة مرات منذ بداية تسجيل شريط الكوكتيل. هذا الإدراك كان مثل وضوح فكري هداني واعطاني جرعة نار صقلت حواسي وهيك لعبت الى حتى آخر ثانية لست داري بأي وجود آخر حولي غير المكسير ايقاع موسيقتي ونفسي

هذه الحادثة استحوذت على مخي وفكري في الايام الماضية واحسست بنوع من الاعجاب بهذه التجربة واستنتجت انو الشعور الهائل الذي اجتاحني هو نتيجة الاشتباك التام مع افخر انواع الموسيقى لدي. أنا بعرف كيفية تأثير الموسيقى و آثارها في شفاء لاصابة في جهازي العصبي  وكنت قد قرأت عدة كتب عن كيفية تأثير الموسيقى على حركة المخ والخلايا العصبية وكيفية استخدام الموسيقى ك ستيمولي لنمو خلايا أعصاب جديدة. مثلا، يقول اوليفر ساكس في كتابه ميوسيكوفيليا حكايات الموسيقى والدماغ ان “الموسيقى يمكن أن تنقلنا إلى مرتفعات أو أعماق العاطفة. يمكن أن تقنعنا بشراء شيء ما، أو تذكيرنا  بأول موعد غرامي. تستطيع الموسيقى ان ترفعنا من الاكتئاب عندما لا يمكن لاي شيء آخر ان يفعل. الموسيقى تجعلنا نتراقص على أنغامها. ولكن قوة الموسيقى هي أبعد من ذلك بكثير. في الواقع، الموسيقى تحتل المزيد من المناطق في الدماغ من اللغة والبشر هم مخلوقات موسيقية.” الواضح انو الموسيقى هي تجربة اشتباك تام بين الجسم والعقل والروح. ولكن بقي سؤال واحد يجول في رأسي حتى الان: هل ممكن للموسيقا ان تخطف القلوب؟ شكله ممكن

على كل حال، بالعودة لشريط الكوكتيل ست عصب وليش قررت امكسجه. والله، وبصراحة، انتابني شعور بالغضب موخرا بالتحديد عندما قرر مسطول امريكا ان يعترف بالقدس عاصمة الاحتلال (كأنها عاصمة ابوه!). لاحظت من بعدها ابواق التطبيع تنفخ تميع بجهود المقاومة وصمود الأهل بفلسطين وحول فلسطين بالشتات. حسيت بضيق نفس من انتفاخ بالون التطبيع بوجي وبلش يخنقني، فجربت ان اقول او اكتب شي يكون بمثابة دبوس افقع به هذا البالون التطبيعي. ولكن الهبل في النفس التطبيعي جعلني عاجز عن صف كلماتي بشكل لبق او مستقيم وهيدا الشي زعجني أكثر فلجأت للموسيقا

فتحت الهارد درايف ومدت ايدي لملف عنوانه: راب عربي شد عصب. بدات بانتقاء التركات ولعبها وحسيت بغبرة تراكمت على هذه الاغاني المنسية. نسيت هذا الملف والاغاني والسنوات التي خلالها اشعلت هذه الموسيقا قلوبنا عندما عبرت عن فكرة وغضب واكدت لكل فرد منا اننا لسنا وحدنا بل ان هذا الغضب جماعي. اعادت هذه الاغاني ذاكرة خمس سنوات واخذتني الى ذلك الوقت الذي بدا لنا كل شي ممكن عندما كانت الانظمة العربية تتساقط تحت اقدامنا في الشوارع او لربما هكذا خيل لنا (ومازال ومكفي). في ذلك الوقت كانت هذه التراكات تنفخ فينا كمية من الطاقة وتؤكد ان هناك وعي عام مشترك بيننا من الماية للماية. ذهبت هذه الحقبة اكلنا كفوف ونكسات كثيرة منذ تلك السنوات الأولى للثورات العربية (بس ما انتهينا بعدنا هون). حين بدأت بتركيب شريط الكوكتيل لاحظت ان الرابرز على هذه التراكات قد اختلفوا في ادائهم ومسيرهم الفني منذ تلك السنوات. اختفا عند العديد من الرابرز النفس الصلب المتحدي الذي كان الوقود للتف والتدفق. يبدو ان هذا المشهد اختلف الان وخفت الصوت عند العديد من تلك الايام فتحول البعض إلى فردانية منعزلة واكتئاب وخبص البعض الاخر في نرجسية الشهرة الفايس بوكية هؤلاء تراهم عالقين يدورون حول نفسهم في الفقاعة الخوارزمية التي ينفخها نظام الفياس بوك. هناك ايضا بعض الرابرز الذين ظهروا مع بداية الثورات العربية وكان دخولهم ضخم واستمرارهم حتى الان من غير الاستسلام للظروف شي بيستحق الاحترام (ع راسي والله). صمود والتزام البعض أدى الى ارتفاع سقف المشهد الهيب هوبي وفعلا ان هذه النوعية من الرابرز فتح المجال لصعود جيل جديد من الرابرز منذ سبعة سنوات كانوا اطفال رضعوا زخم الراب العربي في عزدين تجمره خلال الثورات

خلال اخر سنة ٢٠١٧ بدات اسمع واحس بحرارة دم جديد يتدفق في مشهد الراب العربي سمعت في بعض التراكات التي نزلت مؤخرا طرفا من ذلك النفس الثاقب المتحدي المستمر اللعيب الترييب. حاسس سنة ال٢٠١٨ ستكون سنة ضخمة بالنسبة للراب والتراب العربي مع ظهور رؤوس جديدة ونضوج رؤوس قديمة لتنعش المشهد وتلعبج المستمع التواق الى الخروج من نفق العجز والاستسلام والشحار النفسي. الدم الجديد في أجواء الراب فات بالجو وابتدأ بإعادة تحريك الروح بموسيقى الشارع وشكله ولع نوع من الحماس والترقب لسنة ٢٠١٨ على امل ان تكون سنة اعادة تجميع رؤوس التف الطيبة للضرب من جديد على الوتر الجماعي الجامع. وهيك بالنهاية اردت مكسجة هذا الشريط بأنتقاء اجود ما سمعت في سنوات ما بعد الشرارة العربية اصقله اجمره واكبسه باتجاه البالون التطبيعي بركي بيفقع البالون

George Wassouf: the People’s Champ


Whenever memories take me back to the time when the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) had just ended, one sound always echoes along the scenes: it is the special voice of that one singer who will always function as an anchor pinning down that particular slice of my remembrance of the past. Born in 1961 Kafroun, a Syrian village located in the countryside of Homs, George Wassouf came from a modest family. At the age of sixteen, he moved to Lebanon on his own and managed to find the space to shine as the star singer from within the Lebanese music scene. However, the young singer’s move to Beirut in search of his artistic path was far from a story of easy victories and instantaneous success. It was, in fact, entrenched with hostility and hardship. His hard early life is well-documented by his loyal fans. One of the many reasons he is so widely respected and revered is because of the well-known fact that he had to spend long nights sleeping on Beirut’s sidewalks before he became an iconic Arab singer.

In each album Wassouf released, he sang in a variety of tongues: for some, the songs were crafted in an Egyptian dialect, and for others, they were a mix of Lebanese and Syrian dialects. His loyal fan base chooses to call him by his nom de guerre Abu Wadi‘ (the father of Wadi‘), a name they created to express a certain kinship with this singer. Wassouf’s identity is perceived as not particularly Lebanese nor exactly Syrian or Egyptian, but a mix of these three all at once; an embodiment of one shared heritage that transcends borders mediated by the particular kind of Arab music and singing that for which this artist became famous. However, this uniting identity present in Wassouf’s character is now considered to be a non-phenomenon among his listeners across different Arab regions, who have grown up on a steady diet of his music and know his lessons well.

Wassouf stepped into the Arab music scene and struck a resounding nerve at a time when the singing of Um Kalthoum had started to fade from memory. It was also a moment when people in Arab countries had entered a multiple setbacks and a sense of isolation. In the early 1980s, Wassouf prevailed after many singers had attempted and failed to re-incarnate Um Kalthoum’s singing. Through his unique vocals and his dedication to excellence while performing Um Kalthoum’s songs, he revitalized the legacy of this iconic Arab singer. As a result, he introduced Um Kalthoum to new generations of people growing up in the 1980s, while simultaneously reminding their parents and grandparents of the epoch of authentic singing that had taken place during the height of Arab nationalism, of which Um Kalthoum was a major symbol.

Later on during the 1990s, Wassouf became an icon that reverberated out from car sound systems parked on the streets, played by a vast sea of his loyal fans across the Arab world. This Syrian-Lebanese-Egyptian artist raced to the top of Arab music charts and remained on top of it; yet, the defining trait that earned his massive following was rooted in his personality. He never changed, abandoned his past, or ignored the hardships he had experienced along the way, and so Wassouf’s humbleness became a valuable addition that complemented and informed his singing abilities. This quality earned for him the true loyalty and respect of those who listened to his music, as his music provided a way to soften daily hardships for those whose value depended on the only things that were left to them: their pride and dignity.

Following his successful reincarnation and representation of Um Kalthoum’s songs, Wassouf almost instantly became recognizable outside the nightlife circles that he had typically performed to. Songwriters and musicians from Egypt, Lebanon, and other Arab countries started collaborating with this new voice. He had already proved to be a solid vehicle for “authentic” Arab singing. The young generation of the 1980s, who had learned about Um Kalthoum’s legacy through Wassouf’s voice, grew up to become his loyal fan base in the mid-1990s.

It is perhaps because this artist came from the popular strata of society that his singing spoke to the spirit of those languishing in among the popular classes. Wassouf’s voice and his performance of the lyrics he sang were molded by the pain and trauma from the time when he was sixteen and moved alone to Lebanon to find his way. As a child, Wassouf started singing when he was still in primary school, and from there onwards, singing became his only craft. Though pain and trauma were present throughout the expression of Wassouf’s singing, his style and attitude refused to be broken by the harshness of his experience. Through his songs, Wassouf projected pride, dignity, and an exaggerated sense of self-worth. It is through his portrayal of this combination of suffering and subtle chauvinism that he earned the respect of his fans, especially by a bulk of unemployed or under-employed young men. The unique niche he carved out for himself that simultaneously never diverged from his roots allowed Wassouf to become the voice of the people, despite the fact that he never sang as if motivated by ideology, nor did he lend his voice to become a tool for political sloganeering. He sang for a general pursuit of love, but not in such a way that emphasized love’s nostalgic, sentimental, or purely libidinal impulses and characteristics. The love encapsulated within Wassouf’s songs spoke of someone in the midst of personal plight searching for answers throughout all the ups and downs of life, which are always accentuated when one suffers while being in love.

Throughout the 1990s, during a time when satellite TV channels invaded most every living room in the homes of Arab cities, a wave of Arabic music channels pushed for establishing and controlling a corporate-owned Arab music scene. At that point, Arab singers became an abundant commodity, appearing on numerous music and entertainment shows which had degraded music until it was no was no longer a rigorous form of art, but became instead a way to fill the airspace space in promotions for cheap advertisement and empty content. Wassouf did not ride this new quick fix wave towards an inauthentic fame, as opposed to almost every other Arab pop singer who had eagerly jumped on the trend. He deliberately limited his appearances on such programs and rejected many repetitive offers to be a regular guest on one of the many “music shows.” He is well-known for saying that he “didn’t like the media because it is all fake and full of lies.” This fact alone aggrandized him in the eyes of his fans, especially the young men who saw in him and the message of his music a perfect role model. His fans would be heard saying, “There is no singer like Abu Wadi‘, who has so much self-respect that he refuses to sell himself and get belittled on silly TV shows. Abu Wadi‘ is a real man, not an actor.”

By the end of the 1990s, Wassouf had produced a song that was far unlike his other songs. His loyal fans base listened intently when the song was released, and as the lyrics sank into the crowd’s collective psyche, it struck a chord of awe and the sort of spiritual illumination that only music can trigger. The song is called “Sayyad al-Tuyur” (Bird Hunter). The story of how this song came to be gives additional layers of depth to its meaning. Wassouf was in Egypt in 1997 recording an album at the studio, when he met Ahmad Fouad Negm, a famous, populist Egyptian poet. Ahmad Fouad Negm had planned this encounter with Wassouf. Before Wassouf was getting ready to depart Negm pressed an envelope into Wassouf’s hand, urging him not to read its content until he was safely on the airplane back to Beirut. It was a song Negm had written and had intrinsically known that only Wassouf would be able to purvey its message. Wassouf read the song on his way back to Beirut, and as soon as the airplane landed, Wassouf made a phone call to Egypt asking Negm for permission to start composing music for this song.

Sayyad al-Tuyur” is a ballad about a small bird begging the hunter to spare him and his family from being hunted, and as an alternative, the little bird urges the hunter to spare his shots for the falcon, whose claws have ripped through the flesh of innocent little birds and brought pain and wrought destruction to their habitat. Negm’s words sought to convey a time of social inequality and persistent state repression, under which Egyptians had been suffering for decades. The song was written at a time when Mubarak’s fangs were stuck deep into the throat of Egypt, and removing his regime seemed either impossible or deadly to Egyptian society. Wassouf took the song and was able to capture the soul of the idea that Negm had embedded into the song’s metaphor. It crawled into people’s hearts and made listeners inside and outside Egypt imagine a common wretched reality, stretching far across the borders that had isolated and restricted their movements and denigrated their human dignity.

When I had to leave Lebanon at the start of the new millennium and I went searching for my own dream in the United States, I made sure that I packed Wassouf’s CDs and cassettes. Each time I listened to Wassouf’s music in the United States, I noticed that his singing induced a different effect within me that was different from the feelings illicited through my origins, listening to his music living in my home in Beirut. I also found out that among the community of Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, and Lebanese living in in the United States, Wassouf’s music proved to be a cure remedying the soul-crushing alienation one feels in a socially cold place such as the United States.

By the year 2001, Wassouf was ushered in as an official genre of his own, and a wave of new singers emerged and continue until this day to imitate his style of singing, even to the extent of mimicking his voice when it started to sound damaged and exhausted. Wassouf’s simple dressing style of a black t-shirt, blue jeans, a perpetually well-trimmed beard, was and still is the “Abu Wadi‘ must-have signature” for these upcoming singers who have yearned to emulate and personalize him within themselves.



On their way back home, Palestine.

“What we are hurtling toward is a world demarcated into fortified Green Zones for the super-rich, Red Zones for everyone else — and black sites for whoever doesn’t cooperate. Europe, Australia, and North America are erecting increasingly elaborate (and privatized) border fortresses to seal themselves off from people fleeing for their lives. Fleeing, quite often, as a direct result of forces unleashed primarily by those fortressed continents, whether predatory trade deals, wars, or ecological disasters intensified by climate change.” (Naomi Klein, The Intercept, June 10, 2017)

While I was writing this article, I came across an adapted excerpt by Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (2017). As I read it I was touched by the paragraph that I quoted above. I noticed that Klein’s words began to stimulate my imagination; drifting my focus away from her text to a stream of images that flashed in my head showing me a place I knew well.

I couldn’t help but think that Naomi Klein’s description of “black sites for whoever doesn’t cooperate” represented Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon; one in particular that fits her description exactly is the Ain al-Hilweh, a camp located in the south of Lebanon.

The Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, inhabited by 120,000 people, is situated within Lebanon’s third largest city, Saida. Known locally as the capital of the South, as one enters Saida from its main boulevard, one sees clean streets, wide sidewalks, luxurious shopping malls, restaurants, car dealerships, and luxury apartment buildings. Here, in this section of this tiny Mediterranean city, one keenly feels the affluence and exclusivity of what Naomi Klein above calls the “Green Zone.” However, just less than one kilometer away from the glitzy facades, the road becomes narrow and dotted with potholes. Then, as one ventures through side roads, the vibrant colors turn into layered shades of grey. The streets are adorned with heaps of litter and trash bags. Apartment buildings sprout up randomly, indifferently violating municipal regulations for urban constructions. Though these affordable residential boxes are not entirely unwelcoming, they still lack the shine and functionality of the luxury buildings towering over them from the boulevard. This stretch of concrete is where the masses are condensed.

In all of Lebanon’s cities, the proximity between the haves and have-nots is a constant reminder of the injustice that separates these two social groups. But in Saida, Ain al-Hilweh constitutes another layer, only two minutes beyond the masses in their “Red Zone.” The inhabitants are forced to pass through checkpoints to enter and exit the camp, where they are subject to ID checks, strip searches, and random arrests and interrogations.

Fortress Europe, Proxy Borders ///

 During the summer of 2015, a number of Palestinians from Ain al- Hilweh, joined by a few other Palestinians from different camps, were arrested by the Lebanese Navy. After their boat had made it a few nautical miles past the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, setting course for Turkey, the escapees were surrounded by Lebanese naval vessels and were towed back to Lebanon. One year before, in September 2014, 107 people, composed of 99 Palestinians and eight Syrians, had hopped into a smuggling boat that promised them a runaway voyage to Italy. The Lebanese smuggler in charge demanded $6,000 per adult and $900 for children under ten. After the boat was captured by the navy, the Palestinians on board were jailed for three months without trial, accused of fleeing Lebanon illegally. All 99 of them had lived in Ain al-Hilweh.

Due to the harsh conditions that these Palestinian refugees were subjected to while in jail, demonstrators tirelessly appealed to Lebanese lawyers to come to their defense and fight for their release. As one Palestinian civil-rights activist then told me, “In Lebanon we are forced to live in open-air prisons and Lebanese people accuse us of being the source of everything that goes wrong in their country. We are constantly reminded that we are a burden. So how come when we try to run away and leave Lebanon for good the Lebanese security hunt us down and force us back to this place? I don’t get it! Let us go away — no, we are not allowed. Let us live in Lebanon with dignity and equality — no, we are not allowed. Are we supposed to die in silence inside our camps?”

These and similar incidents were initial indicators that Lebanon was actively working to protect “Fortress Europe.” And as the news suggests, this client relationship has only intensified. At a meeting between EU and Lebanese security officials last year, EU Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen explained that the EU was “already involved in Lebanon’s security sector through a series of initiatives, including the ‘Integrated Border Management’ project,” (The Daily Star, June 6, 2016). At the same meeting, the head of Lebanese General Security tried to imply that his forces, rather than acting out of self-interest, had an altruistic motive at heart: “In this fierce battle, Lebanon is acting on behalf of the world in general, and Europe in particular, especially in the prevention of illegal migration,” (ibid). This collusion between EU and Lebanese elites gives weight to Klein’s alarming vision of Europe, Australia, and North America “erecting increasingly elaborate (and privatized) border fortresses to seal themselves off from people fleeing for their lives.”

Dying to Escape ///

 On May 15, 2011, a large group of Palestinian refugees rushed to the border between Lebanon, Palestine, and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Syria to commemorate the Nakba. A fence was all that stood between them and a squadron of Israeli snipers who did not hesitate to shoot and kill anyone zealous enough to try returning to their proper home. Eventually over fifty thousand people had amassed in a symbolic gesture demonstrating that the land on the other side was where their freedom laid. As this realization dawned upon the young, a spark of defiance arose at the thought of returning to the hardship and confinement of the camps, and they resolved to cross the border despite the risk. Palestinians of all ages on that day were filled with a shared yearning, as they came face to face with the land of their ancestors. While the immensity of the uprisings against dictatorships across the Arab world that year may have made this day on the border seem insignificant by comparison, it gave birth to a resolution which remains in the minds of many to this day: that there is no alternative to the misery of the camps but the right of return.

By the end of the day, people were forced to leave the border, and went back to their camps with bloodstains on their clothes and martyrs to bury. Fifteen Palestinian men had been killed, and many more wounded, after Israeli soldiers opened fire on the protesters. While we sat in the bus on our way back, I was dumfounded by what just happened. I kept wondering about the drive that makes people risking the most precious thing of all, their lives, in order to flee a place that was not even a warzone. Was it because the youth had had their wings clipped over and over again by the confinement and bleakness of the camps? Why had they decided to risk it all and run away from the only place they had ever known?

It is not hard to imagine how the future will look for the recent wave of refugees scattered across Asia and Europe. People from Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere are pushed out of their homes by highly technological conflicts and proxy wars that don’t seem to have any end in sight. These people likely face the same fate as Palestinian brethren who have been forcefully displaced and relocated in refugee camps since 1948, when a predator state called Israel began occupying their lands.

Inside the camp, aid and handouts, whether by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) or local and international NGOs, have about the same efficacy as a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The camp’s social well-being degrades by the minute. Networks of local women’s associations, doctors, engineers, and other initiatives are daily stopgaps, triaging wounds while hoping not to crack under the immense pressure created by the need to do more despite the total lack of resources.

Inside the inhumane camp.

Dystopia Sustained by Misrepresentation ///

 Ain al-Hilweh is a space that produces vicious circumstances, which drive people to contemplate radical solutions; anything is worth transcending the constant, soul-crushing oppression of daily life there. While it is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, comprising over 120,000 people, Ain al-Hilweh is stuffed into only 0.8 square kilometers. Inside this dystopia people are pickled into makeshift buildings stacked one against the other, able to navigate the camp only by way of a maze of narrow alleyways. In 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the entire camp was destroyed by Israeli bombardment. After the Israeli military had leveled the buildings and kidnapped or executed most of the men, the camp had to be rebuilt from scratch by the women returning after Israel’s withdrawal further to the South. Earlier this year, an additional repressive structure was added to further choke the camp. A grey concrete wall was erected around the camp at the behest of the Lebanese state — which for a country supposedly at odds ideologically with its neighbor to the south, seems to share many characteristics with the apartheid wall built by the Israeli government in Palestine. The construction contract for the wall was awarded to a private company owned by a prominent Lebanese politician and paid for by the Lebanese state, is another method deployed to enhance the restriction of bodies in Ain al- Hilweh. To the Palestinians who found it sprouting outside their windows, this brutal wall symbolized the trouble to come.

That 120,000 people have to carry on the essential daily functions of life within the camp is simply invisible to the general consciousness of Lebanon. The first time I went to Ain al-Hilweh, I was twelve and Lebanon had just gotten out of a fifteen-year-long civil war. Back then, the wretchedness of the camp was indistinguishable to me from the rest of Lebanon. I was working as an assistant for a cheese merchant, who had five hundred kilos of cheese that had long since passed its expiration date and was quickly turning green and moldy. The merchant decided that his company was not going to throw the cheese away and lose money, but instead that it would cut the price and sell it in Ain al-Hilweh. Because, as the merchant had put it back then, “Palestinians will eat anything. Go and sell it for half the price. We’ll say its fancy European cheese.”

The second time I went to Ain al-Hilweh was in 2008. I was working as a fixer and translator for foreign journalists. That was when foreign journalists in Lebanon were going to Palestinian refugee camps looking to sensationalize a story and sell it to their first-world audience — today, they go to Syria. A book called Everyday Jihad (Bernard Rougier, 2009) would surface soon after and produce a Western cadre of self-declared “jihadi experts.” The book reduced the suffering and sense of betrayal of Palestinians from Ain al-Hilweh to a narrow reactivity and an exaggerated crudeness perfectly tailored to the rhetoric of the “War on Terror.” One day during that time I found myself working with an American journalist who described himself as a “war reporter” and a “Middle East politics and security expert” — despite having never bothered to learn to speak the language, let alone understand the culture. This “war reporter” had been embedded with the invading American army in Iraq for so long that he seemed to parrot the chauvinism and aggressiveness of a common soldier. He would walk around the camp with a giant telephoto camera hanging off of each shoulder, like some bewildered cowboy in a modern Western. He’d insist on going to Ain al-Hilweh just to wait around outside the main mosque. Sitting on the adjacent street during Friday prayers, he would point at every bearded man as a “possible jihadi,” and since this “expert” didn’t speak the language, he was ordering me as his interpreter to “Go talk to that Salafi. Find out where he was fighting in Iraq.” If I hesitated, he would shout toward the man “As-salamu alaykum,” followed by “Shako mako” (Iraqi slang for “What’s up”), the only phrases he had managed to learn in all his years in the region. Any snarls directed at us in response were taken as a sign, for this journalist, that the offended party was “definitely an Al-Qaeda fighter.”

One Friday, as I looked around me and took in the dystopic atmosphere of the camp, I remembered my first trip when I was twelve and I remarked that as Lebanon has been rebuilt following the massive destruction wrought by its civil war, Ain al-Hilweh was allowed to descend deeper into decay: the densely packed concrete buildings made it impossible to see the sun, there was more traffic, the population climbed, and public space began to disappear. At one point I asked the journalist I was assigned to why he didn’t want to write about the obviously inhumane conditions Palestinian refugees were subjected to at the camp, and how this was a direct result of their country being occupied. He looked at me, as if I had just said the most irrelevant thing, and answered condescendingly, “They lost the war, Israel won. There is no story here.”

Sanctions vs. Steadfastness ///

 Accounts such as the ones produced by this cowboy journalist or Every Day Jihad wrongly portray the camp as a source of “global jihad,” a depiction that blatantly misrepresents daily life in the camp and vilifies its inhabitants. The most dangerous aspect of such a distortion, passed off as common knowledge, is that it deliberately erases from public discourse the oppressiveness of the space and its underlying causes. Consistently ignored is the fact that the occupation of Palestine is the reason there are Palestinian refugees in the first place; which makes it easy to issue dehumanizing reports about arbitrarily embittered Palestinians from Ain al-Hilweh to rest of the world. In the imagination of Western journalists and researchers, the camp is simply a place to “mingle with terrorists” to write career-launching reports that cater to the military-industrial complex and the so-called “War on Terror.” These misrepresentations and fabrications about Ain al-Hilweh are later cited in security reports used by the Lebanese government to qualify for military aid on offer from the United States. Thus the security narrative that rules imaginaries of Western pundits plays a crucial role in transforming Palestinians in Ain al-Hilweh into violent, inhuman subjects who can only be controlled by incarceration.

Security sanctions hit Palestinian bodies from all directions, whether as a result of internal fighting provoked by the foreign manipulation of corrupt leaders in Palestine, or by international proxy conflicts orchestrated by Lebanese politicians to take place inside the invisible theater of the refugee camp. Then there are the socio-economic sanctions, which stunt the progress of one generation after another. These measures are actually the most brutal. Palestinian students who have just graduated from university have to deal with the painful realization that they won’t be able to practice the profession they have spent precious years studying for. After more than six decades of forced displacement, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are still largely excluded from the formal labor market. As a result of discriminatory laws and biased attitudes, Palestinians are banned from practicing over seventy professions. Finally, there are sanctions with regard to ethnic identity which have to be navigated: being a Palestinian in Lebanon means that the moment one steps outside the camp, one becomes a suspect. Every Palestinian male stopped at a checkpoint by Lebanese soldiers is arrested and held at a police station until they can prove their innocence, which can take weeks. As these sanctions repeat and multiply, the symptoms they are meant to treat only worsen; thus they become more and more brutal over time.

Many boys and girls in the camp with access to information through the Internet know the reasons for their dehumanization. They read, think, and discuss and lament their plight. Most of the time they reach a dead end, for there seems to be no way to escape such an oppressive space in an increasingly hostile hosting environment. Many Palestinians fleeing the current war in Syria came to Ain al-Hilweh for refuge, only to be so appalled by the brutality of life there that they chose to go back to the war they fled from and “die with dignity.” For those who for whatever reason are forced to stay, as their wellbeing deteriorated, these desperate individuals from Syria joined a local trend of giving up to the ultimate form of escape by ending their lives on their own terms and departing from misery.

But not everyone falls into despair. Some endure, and decide to challenge the brutal conditions forced upon them. In Ain al-Hilweh, as in many wretched places, there are some who face reality with a radical steadfastness, and as the sanctions continue to punish them, they grow angrier and more vengeful. They find solace in religious spirituality, lacking the privilege to entertain other worldly ideologies or recreational drugs. They nourish their souls by reading the holy poetic texts from the Quran, and they imagine an afterlife that must be good, because life in the camp, the only one they know, is cruel and unjust. These who harden by the day, facing the reality of the camp, rebel using whatever tools are available to them. And when they lash out against those who profit from their subjugation, they are ridiculed and criminalized. They are portrayed as “jihadis,” brainwashed terrorists. Nobody bothers to learn how they struggle every day just to exist, to preserve a bare minimum of their dignity. They are survivors, who try to hold their community together as they bide their time. They know that their steadfastness is in their DNA: a Palestinian instinct unites them, to hold fast until the day comes when they’ll pack a bag, turn their backs on the camp, and head south to Palestine, the only place they can truly call home.

This was first published on The Funambulist by MOHAMAD-ALI NAYEL:

No Truth but The Truth of the Blue Man.

bassel and ghassan











It’s like whatever truth Palestinians speak of has no legitimacy until an old man chilling on a “humanitarian” retirement plan says it has and puts a blue stamp on it (or until a super star graffiti artist forces his absurdity unto it). Then the people start getting it; beware the people when they get it. Them people with a knack for opinions are suddenly woke! Hide. Quickly log-out. They get it now; it’s understood. And by getting it they are endowed with the feeling of an unexpected illumination of wisdom saturating their senses. They become like a fidgeting moth, the blue old man’s confirmation of a truth they were so blinded about up until now is so bright it causes a nerve-racking urgency that spreads and takes over their wits. They rush to share their realization: they spin the wheels, bash the keys, their opinion must be heard. “Oh! what??? Did you see that? It turned out to be an occupation? Those Palestinians were not lying. Damn, it is true”. And while indulging the hype they continue dumbfounded, their knees jerk, more reactions flow. The word must be spread now that someone other than the Palestinians has spoken it, “Oh shit it’s an apartheid yo! Now I have no doubt about it. Did you see it? The UN just said it! Why didn’t we ever saw it that way? Now the UN saw it 70 years later we get it”.

In the meantime, Palestinians; people refugees besieged and under-occupation continue what they have been doing for the last 70 years; resisting and existing by any means necessary. Generation after generation standing up to apartheid by any means available. Thank you Mr. UN man we will continue to blind ourselves from inalienable truths until you tell us where to look.

الصيف الذي أنقذني فيه سلطان الطرب

في المعازف  

ابو وديع

أردت أن اكتب عن جورج وسوف لأردّ له الجميل. حكايتي مع الوسوف بدأت عندما كنت في العاشرة من عمري، في صيف ١٩٩٢. حين انتهت المدرسة سألت والدي “بابا هي الصيفية حنطلع عالصيد؟” فرد بنبرة حادة “إذا بدك تطلع عالصيد روح شتغل واجمع حق الخرطوش، أمك واخواتك أحق بالمصاري”. بعد هذا الإعلان انحصر تفكيري بكيفية تدبير كلفة الخرطوش. قلت لنفسي حازماً ‘بدنا نطلع عالبقاع ونروح نتصيد’، ثم بحثت لأسبوع عن عمل لمدة لحين بدء موسم الصيد، ووجدته كمساعد عند ميكانيكي الحي، محمد.

بدأت عند محمد أعاونه في تصليح السيارات. كان محمد يتوقف عن العمل في الساعة الثالثة كل يوم ويستعد لرحلته اليومية لصيد السمك، تحديداً سمكة المواسطة وهي النوع الأكثر توافراً (ممكن الوحيدة) على شواطئ بيروت. المواسطة تحب المجرور، هكذا تُعرف، تعيش وتقتات حول العديد من مجاري الصرف التي تصب في البحر. كان محمد يعود الى المحل مساءً وبيده حوالي كيلو من السمك، ونكون أنا وبلال، الصبي الآخر، قد انتهينا من تنظيف المحل وكامل العدة. كان المعلم محمد يقدس هذا الطقس اليومي: السمك والعرق وجورج وسوف. هكذا كافأ نفسه يومياً بعد الغوص في شحم السيارات وزيوتها. خلال الدوام كنت أسرد وانسجم تماماً مع صوت أبو وديع يصدح بين جدران المحل المظلم العابق برائحة الشحوم.

ذات يوم، دخل المعلم محمد الى المحل حاملاً غلته من السمك، فوجدني منغمساً في التنظيف رافعاً صوت الستيريو والهوى سلطان يلعلع. ركض بلال إلى الستيريو واطفأه بشكل عصبي ومفاجئ خشية من المعلم، ثم صاح “معلم ولله ما أنا، هيدا هو، هو اللي دور الراديو”. فما كان من المعلم إلا أن ردّ عليه: “كول خرا يا بهيم. ما سألتك مين دوّر الراديو. رجاع دوّره وفلّ عبيتك”. عمّ سكوت ثقيل في الورشة. جمد بلال في أرضه لثوانٍ ثم انصرف بسرعة، وبقيت أنا ومحمد الذي صرخ صوتا ناحيتي ‘شو وليه شو ناطر، دور الراديو ولعب الكاسيت من الأول وركب الطاولة بسرعة يالا’ وانصرف إلى تنظيف السمك. لما أصبحت الطاولة جاهزة جلس المعلم لتناول السمك ورشف العرق البلدي، وعندما بدأت بالانسحاب من المحل دعاني للمرة الأولى للجلوس وتناول السمك معه. جلست مقابله آكل بصمت وأتمنى أن يمرّ الوقت بسرعة. كنت أيضاً أشعر بالذنب تجاه بلال. حين بدأ محمد يشرب الكأس الثالث قال “شو يا عكروت شكلك صاحب راس عن زُغر1؟” ابتسم ابتسامة رخوة سببها الكاس ثم تابع قائلاً “إذا عجبك كاسيت جورج فيك تدوره بالمحل ما عندي مشكلة، بس بشرط هيدا الكاسيت بس، وما تخلي بلال يمد إيده عالراديو. وإذا بيتمنيك عليك حسابه عندي”.

هكذا أنقذني الوسوف صيف ١٩٩٢ من طغيان المعلم، وأكسبني نوعاً من الاحترام في الورشة. أتممت شهرين من العمل دون ضرب أو توبيخ على عكس بلال المسكين. بعد إنهاء العمل الصيفي أحصيت مدخراتي وذهبت لأشتري خرطوش الصيد، وأول كاسيت في حياتي: روح الروح. أذكر أنني لعبت روح الروح طول الصيف خلال رحلات الصيد وحفظت كلمات الأغاني بخشوع. كانت هذه أول موسيقى أتعلق بها، ألحاناً وكلمات وأداء.

بعد سنين، كان الوسوف حاضراً ليلة حزم الأمتعة حين أتت فرصة سفر إلى المهجر للبحث عن الحلم الأمريكي، أو ربما كما تخيل الأهل؛ لقطف المال من على الشجر. حرصت تلك الليلة في نهاية التسعينات على اصطحاب تشكيلة من كاسيتات الوسوف على رأسها كاسيت أنا مسافر. رجعت مراراً إلى الوسوف خلال سنوات الهجرة في لوس آنجلس، لعبته كلما أصابني الحنين واستحوذت على مخيلتي الحياة التي تركتها خلفي في الوطن. لم أكن وحيداً في ممارسة الطقس الوسوفي بل وجدته حياً عند الأصحاب من سوريا فلسطين والأردن. كاسيت أبو وديع هذا كان العلاج ضد قسوة الغربة.

أذكر ان المرة الأولى التي شغلت فيها أغنية أنا مسافر في غرفتي في أمريكا أصابني نوع من الصدمة. جمود وانفصال غير شعوري عن المكان والزمان الذي كنت فيه. كان صوت الوسوف يصدح في الغرفة وشريط من الذكريات والتساؤلات والمشاعر تلعب داخل رأسي الى أن تكّ الكاسيت وأرجعني إلى وعيي. أعدت الوجه الأول ولعبت الموال من جديد. سمعت الوسوف يغني “وإذا بهجري جرحتك سامحيني”، أخذت الأغنية نوعاَ من الثقل ومعنى لم أدركه حين كنت أسمعها في لبنان.

وعندما عدت إلى بيروت، باحثاً عن هويتي السياسية، دخلت الأجواء اليسارية وتفاجأت أن اليساريين لايتعاطون الوسوف. كانوا غارقين في شعارات مارسيل وزياد وجوليا وباقي الجوقة. قال لي “رفيق” مرة إن جورج وسوف يغني للبرجوازية، وهو بالتالي حليف البرجوازية ويجب مقاطعته. لم أفهم هذا “التحليل الجدلي” في تلك المرحلة واعترضت أن الرفيق لم ينصف أبو وديع، فرد الرفيق قائلاً إني ساذج.

انتِ وأنا ياريت عنا كوخ / مخبى بفي الحور والكينا / وما يكون عنا لا كهرباء ولا جوخ / ونعيش وما يعرف حدا فينا.

هل كان جورج وسوف ماركسياً، شيوعياً او اشتراكياً حين غنى هذه الأغنية؟ لا أعتقد أن أبو وديع كان يسعى الى تسويق أيديولوجية حين غنى هذا الموال الذي تحولت كلماته الى مانيفيستو يلخّص خليطاً من مشاعر حب ورومنسية وسط الحرمان والمأساة في أعماق بحر سميعة الوسوف. أصبح هذا الموال تعويذة لعشاقه، يُحفظ غيباً لتطمين النفس أن العيش في القلة ممكن وأن السعادة تكمن في البساطة. غنى جورج وسوف من تحت، من وحي العامة ليطرب الناس، لم يعرف مهنة أو صنعة غير الغناء؛ فكان صوته حرفته التي يخترق به كافة الطبقات والطوائف والأديان. على الأقل هذا ما شعرتُ به في لبنان في التسعينات وأول الألفية.

موسيقياً، كان أكثر ما شدني إلى الوسوف هو الكيبورد والسينث، وألحان شاكر الموجي التي غنى عليها وسوف مجسداً الكلمات بشغف. عندما أطلق حبيــــت ارمي الشبك عقلب ما بينشبك أصبحت الأغنية النشيد غير الرسمي لدفعة مجندين الإجباري في الجيش اللبناني سنة ٢٠٠٢، ومن خلال اللعب على الكلام تمكن المجندون من شخصنة الأغنية، فبدل “لا تتمرجل على عاشق قلبه ابتلى/ معوَّد يحمل قهر معَّود يحمل سهر” صارت “لا تتمرجل على مجند بالبدلة ابتلى/ معوَّد يحمل قهر معَّود يحمل حرس”. تحولت الكثير من كلمات الوسوف إلى شعارات شخصية، وقد يكون ذلك بسبب الهم الشخصي الذي يتدفق خلال أداء الوسوف، خصوصاً عندما يبدأ بدخلة ملحمية جامدة يحسسك فيها بأنه على وشك ان يفرم شخصاً ما. خذ/ي هذا المقطع كمثال:

“جرحونا برمش عين يا عين كلامهم مسّنا/ سألونا نبقى مين مين قدمنا نفسنا/ قلنا احنا اللي القمر يا قمرما عرفش يذلنا/ الناس طلعوا القمر وقمرنا نزلنا.”

هذا الأسلوب جعله كبيراً بعين جمهوره وعشاقه، وتمثل بصوته وأدائه الذكوري الحِمِش المتحدي المتعالي الرافض للتنازل؛ “الناس طلعوا القمر وقمرنا نزلّنا”. كم من خلايا دماغية احترقت في سلطنة الوسوف، على عكس هاني شاكر وجمهوره الميالنكولي المنكسر. عدا عن هذا، ظل جورج وسوف كبيراً في عين جمهوره لأنه لم يجلجق يبهدل حاله في الإعلام، فمع بداية التسعينات وفورة البرامج الفنية ومحطات الساتلايت الطامحة الى تسويق رخيص للفنانين/ت كان ظهور الوسوف نادراً، حتى عرف بأنه لا يُحب الإعلام، لأنه يحب البقاء على طبيعته بينما “الاعلام كله تمثيل وكذب.”

طريقة استخدام او القاء كلمة “حب” في غناء الوسوف جعلت ترجمتها في الشارع، ودائما من خلال عشاقه، تأخذ معان مختلفة. تحولت كلمة حب، أو عبارة “شو يا حب” إلى كلمة تعني شيئاً محظوراً أو كلمة مرور أو رمز تعارف وتضامن بين جمهوره. ولكن السؤال هو لماذا جورج وسوف؟ عندما استفسرت من جيل أهلي قالوا ‘جورج وسوف رجع ذكرنا بأيام أم كلثوم’. أما بالنسبة لأبناء وبنات جيلي، مواليد الحرب الأهلية، كان أبو وديع من عرّفنا على عالم أم كلثوم وطرب تلك الحقبة. ولذلك فإن الاعتراف بشرعية الوسوف في استنباط ذلك الطرب جعله فناناً ثابتاً راسخاً كمنارة في ظلام بحر مغنيين انتشروا مع تفشي روتانا وتدفق أطنانٍ من الموسيقى الاستهلاكية. تحول جورج وسوف الى سلطان الطرب وأصبح جنرا بحد ذاته عندما ظهر في أواخر التسعينات فنانون جدد تمثلوا به وقلدوه بالشكل والمضمون، سواء من خلال التيشرت السوداء والجينز واللحية الخفيفة المخططة، أو في التقليد الببغائي لطبقة صوته، حتى في اسوأ أيامها.