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!