Majida-El-Roumi “Kalimat” (Words)

In the early 1990’s I was introduced to Majida El Roumi. I call her the “Nightingale of the Middle-East” in deference to the “Nightingale of India”. I present to you her most popular and beloved song (which is, unfortunately, in two parts due to YouTube’s limitations on the length of videos):


This is the original sound recording. You will find different recordings of this popular song performed in various concerts worldwide.

In my opinion, this nightingale has done for Arabic music, what Salil Chowdhury did to Hindi Film Music – learned, absorbed, and inculcated Western Classical ideas into their own traditional music.

Preferably, you should listen to “Kalimat” at a very, very loud volume as is possible, sitting at a comfortable distance away from the speakers, such that the nuances of the entire orchestration reach you, without jarring.

Listen to the orchestration. The themes are bold, the orchestration switching between arrogance & gentleness, adamant & empathetic. The rhythm pulses like a heartbeat, that races to a level of excitement and then never looks back. And within that level of excitement, the orchestration manages to find adrenaline as well as empathy. Beautiful as well as artistically, musically, almost impossible. These are emotions sweeping both mind and heart, and the music symbolizes not only your pulsating heartbeat, but also your analytical mind.

Thanks to HyperActiveX’s comment below, I realized, I had not credited the composer Ihsan Al-Mounzer sufficiently. Here he is, rehearsing his own masterpiece (this is an invaluable video in itself – see how he performs the whole composition on just the piano!)

Finally, to the interpretation and meaning. I don’t understand Arabic, neither did I know about what the lyrics of this song actually meant, until more than a dozen years after I began to love it. For me, it evoked a multitude of emotions – a feeling of cataclysm, how man can conquer nature ultimately, and so on. But the actual lyrics mean something totally different and they are wonderful. Here is the original, intended, meaning (courtesy):

He tells me,
When he dances with me,
Words that aren’t like words
He takes me underneath my arm
And plants me in a cloud

And the black rain in my eye
Pours down… pours
He carries me with him… he carries me
To a night on a rose-filled terrace

And I am like a child in his hand
Like a feather carried on the breeze
He carries for me seven moons
In his hand a bunch of songs

He gives me a sun… he gives me
A summer and a flock of swallows

He tells me… that I am his masterpiece
And I am equal to thousands of stars
And that I am a treasure… and that I am
More beautiful than any painting he’d ever seen

He tells me things that make me giddy
That make me forget the dance hall and the steps
Words that upturn my history
That make me a woman in seconds

He’s builds me a castle of illusions
I don’t live in it except for a few moments
And I return, I return to my table
With nothing with me… except words

Isn’t it wonderful? I have a very old recording of Majidah herself performing on stage on a VHS cassette, and it is priceless. Music can say so much, and say so many different things to different people!

Hope you like this.

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  • “And I am like a child in his hand
    Like a feather car­ried on the breeze
    He car­ries for me seven moons
    In his hand a bunch of songs”

    Even after translation, that is so beautiful. There is a reason why we love, because love is all around us and we are besotted with it. We are engulfed in it. After birds, rivers, and the wind – music is the one that transcends borders, no?

    I was reminded of this song from Refugee:

  • fabulous music … the variations in the basic theme …oof …
    also reminded me of the early shankar jaikishen (the ghar aaya mera pardesi type of variation –

  • Thank you, Atul. Yes, you expressed it beautifully 🙂

    I wonder how others who listen to this song for the first time and know the meaning of the lyrics beforehand will fail to have their own interpretation of the music, the way I did. Interesting…

  • @Calamur – Yes! This is not only very reminiscent of Shankar Jaikishen, I think they would have absolutely loved this music! 🙂 Thank you for listening & sharing.

  • Great stuff! Superb lyrics, beautiful music and lovely voice indeed. The credit for the composition and arrangements ought to go to Ihsan Al-Mounzer, I believe.

    Wanted to add that in addition to Salil Chowdhury, other great music directors of old Hindi films (notably S D Burman, Madan Mohan, Hemant Kumar, etc.) have also experimented extensively with Western music (instrumentation, melody/ harmony/ rhythm, etc.) with some fantastic results. Deserve to be recognized as the original masters of what we later came to know as “fusion”.

  • @HyperActiveX Yes! Thank you so much. I have added another video to the post, after your comment.

    Many of the greats of those days have brought Western ideas to Hindi film music as you point out, and I completely agree. I mentioned Salilda only because based on my conversations with industry folks, his understanding of Western Classical was greater and deeper.

    Thank you for enjoying and reminding me to credit Al-Mounzer. 🙂

    • My pleasure, entirely, dear friend.

      And you’re right – Salilda’s understanding and use of the Western Classical idiom is probably the most profound. But when it comes to Jazz, I believe S D does a magnificent job. His use of wind and brass instruments such as saxophone and clarinet (mostly used in traditional jazz) is just marvelous! Two songs come to mind: (1) Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si from Chalti ka naam gaadi (note the use of xylophone, guitar and wind and brass instruments) and (2) Roop tera mastana from Aradhana (note the use of accordion, xylophone and sax).

      • If I were referring to Jazz influence, I would have mentioned only SD 😀

        Thank you for taking the effort to share these SD jewels. I’m extremely grateful. SDda was instrumental (ha ha) in bringing Jazz to mainstream Hindi film music. I suspect he had not insignificant encouragement from his son! 🙂

  • He gives me a sun… he gives me
    A summer and a flock of swallows

    Thank you for bringing her music to our world. I listened to it once and then again. Eyes closed, speakers on. The music seeps through you and lifts you to the deserts of Arabia. It is a Rumi experience. Love ,music and ethereal experience of a mystical kind. I have listened to a lot of Arabic music especially Iranian music , whirling dervish and others. extremely enriching experience.
    This song reminded me of a poem I wrote long ago. Sharin it with you

    Do listen to Dalida ,she was from Egypt. A soulful singer.One of the first singers to break through the barrier separating Arab and Western musics. She committed suicide in 1987. A lonely life. Salma ya salama is one of her most known songs.

    Pleasure to read your post. Thanks again.

    • Thank you! Will listen to Dalida at leisure. Much appreciated!

  • Thank you for the introduction to this piece of sheer brilliance! Loved it 🙂

    • My pleasure, Sir. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Thanks for sharing this.She sings better than lata mangeshkar.

    • My pleasure, thank you! Better than Lata? Ha ha! 🙂

  • Abdullah Mughram

    You have forgotten one person whom also deserves some credit, and that is the poet who wrote these words. His name is Nizar Qabbani.
    He writes great love poetry, because he knows what true love is. 

    • Thank you, Abdullah! No, I didn’t forget, I just didn’t know who the poet was…appreciate your help!