Damascus, March 9, 1932
If one has the advantage of a scientific upbringing there would be no doubt of the existence of ties that bind us to life's innocent pleasures that we, as human beings, like to taste and experience. This upbringing allows one to analyze worldly phenomena that surround us and to explain the mysteries of existence based on scientific principles within the scope of their accuracy. It could explain the sense of well being as one appreciates fascinating visions. Our duty as a researcher enamored with rigor and precision is to cultivate the desires and leanings which we bear deep inside and to nourish our feelings with the sources of refined pleasure. We should do so without seeking to know cause and effect so as to appreciate beauty's secrets and direct our leanings towards what captures the soul and enlightens its path. All the more as we don't provoke desire. If we put aside the key to sensual pleasure, our life need not worry about its devastating undercurrent. Our life will glow, not by repressed desires, but by the purity of the soul and the probity of conscience.
All men with blood in their veins are attracted either to the weaker sex or, (for example) by the enchanting melodies of music. Such sources of sensual pleasure exercise a spark like that of a chemical reaction that sweeps them in a direction not necessarily of their choosing. Rare are those who reflect deeper into the mysteries of this attraction to understand its essence and to master the energy that highlights its spiritual character. Rare are those that make it the source of the magic power of the creative genius; one that requires the absolute surrender of the corporal to a mind able to penetrate with intelligence. The world has evolved; knowledge has opened before us vast horizons allowing us to see zones of clarity and fog with regards to the heterogeneous impulses and the contradictory hopes of instances affecting our psyche.
Consequently, the intellectual must not engage in a philosophical contemplation on life based on imagination, logical deduction or a beam of enlightenment from the pure mind. He should adopt as many varied criteria as he wishes to use in his philosophical approach in the face of life's meanderings. He should be prepared to experience the bad in all of its forms as he does for the good. Thus his judgement will be in accord with his field of observation and will strengthen the basis of his constructs. He will adjust the different elements to obtain an ordered set of results. The intellectual must not lead a reclusive life nor must he succumb to the various temptations of pleasure or conduct his life in the exact middle. The weak souls in the middle are ignorant of the limits of their spiritual being and thus are unable to reflect in the appropriate manner. On the contrary, the intellectual must always be attentive to the shifts of his conscience so as to determine its limits be they close or distant. He must be wide open to life's experiences to educate himself and to understand the force that drives it and on what pivot point it is manifested. He must master its control levers whose (improper) use allows rudeness or meekness in the hands of weak souls and the mentally debilitated.
I don't know how my pen led me on this path. It was not my intention at all to reflect in this manner. All I wanted was simply to discuss with you an hour of song during which I was under the spell of musical melodies. I was literally bewitched. I wanted to share the impressions I experienced in my isolation in the midst of an environment which echoed these refrains. My goal was to convey to you my thoughts about the gifted talent of a man and the manner in which he sought to transcend life's realities. And so it was during this hour that a great virtuoso of the violin named 'Chawa' was revealed to me.
I went to a concert conducted at the University of Damascus with my mind still loaded with a bout of bitterness at my encounters with some Middle Easterners who I saw emulating the (European) West. I thought one would not find among them a master artist of authentic oriental music. Instead my mind conjured a distorted image of a poor imitation of some European talent whose attributes of grandeur and strong character had great influence. We became accustomed to hear Syrians say, like many others from the Middle East, that they owe their ascendancy to their revival but in reality the origin of such (relative) success is to be found not at the level of creative genius but rather in imitation and plagiarism.
I entered the university amphitheater which was packed with the young and old alike. I wondered about the motives which prompted such a large attendance at this concert. Did this brilliant artist inspire a certain attraction because he imitates the West? Or is it that the (Syrian) public accords great curiosity because he is Egyptian? In reality, one can invoke all possible motives to explain the Damascus' public attraction to this great evening of music. The audience consists primarily of young intellectuals from well to do families who know how to appreciate the arts. Like the rest of Middle Eastern youth, they defend everything the West supports and pushes back against what it rejects, even if it is contrary to their nature.
They are equally fervent to all that is Egyptian. The cultured Syrian is more Egyptian than an Egyptian and greatly admires Egypt's progress. The persona of Saâd (Zaghloul) and Nahas (Pasha) exerted influence not only on the banks of the Nile but also on the rest of the Arab world and especially in Syria, a land wherf nationalism and sacrifice are abundant. Just as it did in our country, the Egyptian press conquered all. Contrary to our newspapers whose hands are tied, everyone found theirs to be more open. When the Egyptian press speaks about Egypt and its talent, it does not do so with the dry style inked by Syrians. Rather it entertains you, it seduces you and finishes off by sending you towards solemn and addictive respect. In fact, Egypt has become in our days the leader of the Arab world. It owes its ascendency to its press which is circulated everywhere and allows it to establish solid rapport with the large masses of the Arab readership.
I am firmly convinced that if the Egyptian 'Wafd Party' wished to encompass the entire Arab nation and guide it under its leadership, it would have succeeded with relative ease. With its action plans based on rights and liberty it would present itself effectively against Western influence in the Middle East; even if it means some effort would be needed to overcome the credence of the latter's spiritual supporters. It is also possible to affirm that the nationals of these countries know more about Egypt and Egyptian resurgence than about their own. Hence one should not be astounded if the presence of such a large attendance this evening can be explained by the fact that the main attraction comes from Egypt, a country which the Syrian places high in his esteem.
The concert began at 9:00PM and finished a half hour past midnight. I have no recollection of how time flew by and how I was unaware of it. My life therein was forgotten. I forgot me. I have an impression that an opaque curtain obscured my thoughts during these long hours. My soul was detached from my body and settled in a world that was not this material world. The music ended but my soul continued to hum its magical melodies long after the show's conclusion. It would have wished to listen to them anew again and again and, if possible, for life.
Our soloist did not possess a technical mastery of his art nor an academic competence in the musical disciplines but he was inspired with natural talent. It was sufficient to listen to his feelings and deep sensitivity translated into a musical composition which he performed on the violin to rhythmic beat of his heart. At the end of each piece, he was covered with sweat. It was as if he had just completed some overwhelming piece of mental and physical labor. Instead he was exhausted by his concerted mental effort and by the agility of his hands to render as faithfully as possible the inspiration from his musical muse. He was not bound by rules of the art governing the play of musical instruments. He translated the sensations he felt from his artistic creativity and sought inspiration from the utmost depth of his heart. He stood upright under the blaze of the footlights holding his violin like his life's only companion and played it with incredibly lively moves. Between the instrument and violinist there existed a perfect communion of intent.
It is difficult for me to explain or describe these acoustic vibrations that moved us to withdraw deeply into our inner selves so as to savor with our souls heaven's eternal joys and let us glimpse a world bathed with grace and light. Suddenly a beautiful voice rose alongside the violin reciting a verse with admirable smoothness.The violin responded in like manner so much so that we could not tell which of the two sounds came from his voice or his instrument. We were fascinated by the violin's prowess of imitation and wondered if it did not better express a reality of the human voice than the vocal chords of the man himself. In truth it was the soul of the soloist expressing enchanting tunes with all the might of his talent and the mark of his creative genius.
Then we saw our artist's talent at its peak. He no longer limited himself to imitating human voice or musical tunes. He imitated birds of all species and colors, chirping and cooing like them. He imitated a child crying. He called all to prayer with almost sublime meditation. He evoked an impression of hearing the delicate melodic voice of a muezzin's respectful and heartfelt plea for forgiveness and grace in the dawn of a day still lit by moonlight; crying out "Prayer is better than slumber!." Indeed prayer is a lightening of the heart as well as a means to chase away laziness and to welcome sunrise with freshness and renewed vigor.
He mimicked the sound of a moving transport vehicle and let you be lulled into a beautiful dream of coming on board as you hear the engine rev up for departure. You say farewell to your family. Warm tears intermingle as you embrace cheek to cheek. You hug tightly those most dear. And then the vehicle takes off carrying a body deprived of its soul.
He also imitated a boat floating on the Nile while the sound of oars reverberated in your ears. You feel the sensations of a sweeping view of the Nile River appreciating its beauty and its seducing power graced by nature. I don't know how an Egyptian would react listening to this artistic excerpt from his every day life nor how he would feel. As for me, having never seen the Nile or heard its lapping waves, I admired an (imagined) river that woke up all my emotions. I could hear the oarsman and I saw nature in all its splendor. I don't know if Egypt has scenery as lovely as those I saw that evening.
My eyes were teary, my heart heavy as I listened to the show by "Chawa." I felt a deep nostalgia for my homeland which I evoked with a vision of being on the BouReg Reg River enjoying countryside scenes on both its Rabat and Salé banks. I had a glimpse of these two towns, their dwellings and lighthouses with their revolving lights. The setting sun cast golden rays from the horizon, their reflection from the ocean's surface shimmered with the waves. Multicolored clouds with surreal beauty fascinated and enthralled even the coldest minds and hearts.
I recalled I was once with a small group of youth bound by solid friendship and by like of mind aboard a raft. We listened at times to music and we also observed in silence the majestic landscape around us. We could feel tremors and tension in our bodies as we enjoyed this grandiose show. It beckoned us to kneel before the Creator of this beautiful universe.
At the end of Chawa's show, people were in a drunken state. Even without drink our artist's enchantment has them staggering as they walked. I turned towards my friend and said, "He was not, as I had feared, an imitator at all. He is a genius without equal. Egyptians should be proud and place him among its great men and on the highest summits of their country".
Instrumental and vocal music, poetry, paintings and sculpture are (among) the various disciplines in the fine arts. Man's relationships with these disciplines can be defined scientifically and justified in a convincing manner to one's mind. But what interests us beyond definition or justification is to know how a man of science is able to remove the veil to expose the inclinations that impart a deep influence on the mind.
Such a question is all the more poignant since science has yet to succeed in exploring all areas of subjective psychology. It has not yet been able to totally explain man's personality and the diverse examples of his psyche. Nor has it been able to identify all the reactions and motivations that form the essential constitutive factors of behavioral psychology, whatever the causes on which it is based or the results achieved through its research.
The psychology of man is not formed spontaneously nor is it the result of an unpredictable reaction. It follows nature through its various phases over years and acquires a complexity which makes the effort to analyze and to go back to an original cause difficult. If we could succeed in the study of nature's evolution and its upheavals across time, we would have no difficulty in revealing hidden secrets and latent impulses that we confine within ourselves.
Man's appreciation for the fine arts is but an expression of a liking which takes root deep inside him under the influence of natural factors. It is so fused that one no longer speaks of it as a liking. Instead it is a feeling from deep within that overflows its vast domain and has no seat from which to reference itself. The inclination which attracts one to the fine arts is measured by the natural dispositions of man who, as he makes progress and reaches new levels of artistic appreciation, becomes more imbued with the arts as they strike more of his emotional chords.
Music acts on man whatever his inclinations or his taste but song is not as unanimously appreciated. Fewer like it as much as those who enjoy instrumental music. The same is true about poetry and the other fine arts. Look at sculpture, for example. Only a minority appreciates its still beauty and its representation of life.
As far back as I can trace my memories, I recall that instrumental music always fascinated me. To the point that I wished that the soloist singer would stop so I could better listen to the harmony produced by the musical instruments. I often sat beside groups of musicians to accompany them with a rhythmic tapping on a table. The racket would irritate them and would bring members of my family to prevent me from enjoying myself in this type of exercise, one which was not compatible with good conduct and proper behavior. Who knows? If they had encouraged me instead, I could have been not only someone who loved music but also a true musician who can translate his feelings into musical expression and interpret them with unrestrained fingers.
I also recall that I hated painting; I saw nothing of beauty in it. I thought that the Western world's penchant for it was no more than a presumptuous fraud. I gazed at paintings and did not see any signs of artistic creativity. The cause of this deficit in appreciation lay from my old convictions that art must be tangible which meant I lacked proper sensitivity and feeling.
But now I have begun to see in the fine arts that which I hardly perceived in the past. And I told myself that my spiritual and emotional aptitude has passed the test of resisting ignorance. From now on it is on a course to develop further and it seeks to explore new domains whose scope I have yet to imagine.
Those are the impressions I have kept being fully aware that they contain views which would be discarded by my mind in the near future when it would have reached maturity. However I wanted to record my thoughts during an early period of my life. I know that as the human mind develops day by day and becomes more refined, it will show a natural passion for beauty and a worship for all that leads it to enjoy the fine arts with renewed feelings.