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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  • Gaiz­abonts

    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:

  • Harini Cala­mur

    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 —

  • Mahen­dra

    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…

  • Mahen­dra

    @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.

  • Hyper­Ac­tiveX

    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

      .. and yes, Shankar Jaik­ishen too!

  • Mahen­dra

    @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. :)

    • Hyper­Ac­tiveX

      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).

      • Mahen­dra

        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! :)

  • tiku­li­cious

    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.

    • Mahen­dra

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

  • Atul Kar­markar

    Thank you for the intro­duc­tion to this piece of sheer bril­liance! Loved it :)

    • Mahen­dra

      My plea­sure, Sir. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • komal yadav

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

    • Mahen­dra

      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. 

    • Mahen­dra

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