PALESTINE, ISRAEL, AND THE POLITICS OF POPULAR CULTURE
Duke University Press Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-3516-0
Chapter One HISTORICAL ARTICULATIONS
SALIM TAMARI Wasif Jawhariyyeh, Popular Music, and Early Modernity in Jerusalem
The great singer Shaykh Salama Hijazi was already half paralyzed when he was invited by Mayor Hashim al-Husayni to come from Cairo to Jerusalem to celebrate the Constitutional Revolution of 1908. His orchestra was led by George Abyad, and a huge tent (surdaq) was set up for him in the terrace facing Jaffa Gate on the road to the train station. Shaykh Salama performed sketches from several of his musicals, including Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi and Romeo and Juliet. At the time I was eleven and was lucky enough to attend (with my father) several of his performances. Salama was dragging himself on stage, yet despite his handicap the audience was ecstatic with delight. People were moved to tears as he sang "Hata li khamarataal-shifa" [Pour me the wine of deliverance]. Even the Greeks in the audience, who did not understand a word, were crying. At night after some begging I was admitted to meet the Shaykh where I kissed his hands. Admission to Shaykh Salama's concerts was half a French Pound, a fortune in those days.-WASIF JAWHARIYYEH, Ahwal al-Quds al-'Uthmaniya fil-Mudhakkarat al-Jawhariya [Ottoman Jerusalem in the Jawhariyah memoirs]
Conventional approaches to the study of modernity in Jerusalem regard the city in the late nineteenth century as a provincial capital city in the Ottoman hinterland whose social fabric was basically communitarian and confessional. Ethnicity and sectarian identities were identical in that confessional consciousness was defined by ethnic-religious terms and the boundaries of these identities were physically delineated by habitat in the confines of the Old City quarters. The quartered city corresponded, in this approach, to the ethnoconfessional divisions of the four communities: Muslim, Christian, Armenian, and Jewish. In these quarters, conventional accounts argue, social nodes were more or less exclusive, physically defined, and reinforced by mechanisms of mutual aid, craft specialization, ritual celebrations, internal schooling systems, and, above all, the rules of confessional endogamy. Although a substantial degree of interaction existed in the city, it was confined mainly to the marketplace and ritual social visitations. The modernity of the city is seen as the product of the breakup of the Ottoman system under the triadic impact of European penetration, Zionist emigration, and the modernizing schemes of the British Mandate.
In this essay, I use my reading of the diaries of a Jerusalem musician, Wasif Jawhariyyeh, to suggest substantial weaknesses in this paradigm (see figure 1). I suggest that Jerusalem's modernity was a feature of internal dynamics in the Ottoman city and propose that the social structure of the walled city was much more fluid than is generally believed; further, I suggest that the quarter system signaling the division of the Old City into confessional bounded domains was introduced and imposed retroactively on the city by British colonial regulations. On the eve of the First World War, although Jerusalem had a strong communitarian makeup in which religious identity was highly pronounced, communal boundaries were not defined primarily by confession or ethnicity (except for the Armenians, who congregated around the Armenian patriarchate) but by the Mahalla, the neighborhood unit. This unit was reconstituted under the British Mandate in favor of the quarter system (hayy or hara), which was based on distinctly religious sectarian identity, and within it of denominational subidentity. The communal bonds of confessional affiliation were superseded and supplemented by bonds of patronage and clientalism.
Jawhariyyeh, who was a musician and an interpreter of popular Arabic music, left memoirs (together with his unpublished "Musical Notebooks") that can be gainfully read as a record illustrating the formation of a regional tradition in Mashriqi music. This transformation transcended the regional boundaries of greater Syria and Egypt through the interaction between a new technology (the gramophone and the vinyl record) and the creation of a novel arena for the diffusion of a new musical market and new musical tastes enhanced by the increased mobility of performers between Egypt and Bilad al-Sham. However, I focus on Jawhariyyeh's exposition of quotidian life in Late Ottoman Jerusalem. His vignettes of daily life allow us to (re)discover a community that is no longer with us, and his account sheds significant light on the modernity of Palestinian urban life, both in the confines of the seemingly ghettoized old city and in the emancipated environment of greater Jerusalem. The memoirs tell a tale of a Late Ottoman and early Mandate Jerusalem with a thriving nightlife and a considerable degree of intercommunal interaction and cultural hybridity.
I am aware of conceptual problems in using the term "hybridity" to describe the city's cultural scene in the period around the time of the First World War. The current usage of this term generally refers to the proliferation of multiethnic identities sharing the same space and creating creolized cultural forms as a result of their interaction, the reference here being to lifestyle, dress codes, cuisine, and even language. The main arena of this hybridity is the postindustrial metropolitan city that has witnessed large-scale third world migrations in recent decades, creating multiple ethnicities of habitations and dual categories of identity-citizenships. In the case of prewar Ottoman Jerusalem, by contrast, the city fostered a communitarian identity, a prenationalist confessional consciousness competing with emergent but vigorous Arab nationalist and localized (Syrian Palestinian) sentiments, as well as an embryonic Jewish-Zionist movement vying for the allegiance of native Jewish communities. A local narrative like that of Wasif Jawhariyyeh compels us to rethink these categories of analysis and ultimately to reimagine the city's social history.
The Memoirs are mostly written in the anecdotal style of the street hakawati (storyteller) that mesmerized Wasif's childhood. The stories told by the traveling performers of the Sanduq al-Ajab (Magic box) and Qara Qoz (Shadow theater), in Turkish and Arabic, are described in vivid details as he recalls them from the alleys of Mahallat al-Sa'diya and the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem before the Great War. This style tends to camouflage a profundity in the narrative precisely because of its simplicity and seeming frivolity. One can capture its panoramic depth only after delving into the networks of social and personal webs that are woven by the author. The reader is reminded of F. W. Dupee's remarks about Flaubert's Sentimental Education: "It was [his] feat, and one that followed from his comic aims, to have made an epic novel out of the accumulation of anecdotes. The novel is epic because the fates of numerous characters and a major revolution are embraced in the action; it is anecdotal because each episode recounts, as I think anecdotes do by nature, the momentary defeat or the equivocal victory of someone in a particular situation." In Jawhariyyeh's case, the revolution was the Great War, and the fictional characters are the infinite but real Jerusalem people he encountered in his neighborhood, in the new city outside the walls, and during his convoluted career as a musician.
The 'Ud Player and His Family
I was born on Wednesday morning the 14th of January 1897, according to the Western calendar, which happened to be the eve of the Orthodox New Year. At the moment my father was preparing a tray of kunafa [a dessert made with vermicelli and cheese], as was customary then in Eastern Orthodox households. I was named Wasif after the Damascene Wasif bey al-'Azm who was then my father's close friend and the sitting judge in Jerusalem's Criminal Court.
Thus opens the memoirs of Wasif Jawhariyyeh, one of Jerusalem's most illustrious citizens: composer, 'ud player, poet, and chronicler. They span a period of forty-four years (1904-1948) of Jerusalem's turbulent modern history, covering four regimes and five wars. More significant, they mark the transition of Palestinian society into modernity and the breaking out of its Arab population beyond the ghettoized confines of the walled city.
Where do we place the Jawhariyyehs in the social hierarchies of Jerusalem at the turn of the nineteenth century? Wasif's father and grandfather both occupied important public positions, but the men of the family also passed through a number of more modest occupations. Wasif's father, Jiryis (Girgis), was the mukhtar of the Eastern Orthodox Christian community in the Old City (1884) and a member of Jerusalem's municipal council under the mayoralty of Salim al-Husayni and Faidy al-'Alami. Trained as a lawyer, he was well versed in Muslim Shari'a law and spoke several languages, including Greek, Turkish, and Arabic. He worked briefly as a government tax assessor but later turned to private business as a silk farmer and café proprietor. He was also a skilled icon maker and amateur musician, which accounts for his encouragement of Wasif's musical talents. Wasif's mother, Hilana Barakat, descended from a leading Orthodox family from what later became known as the Christian Quarter. The Jawhariyyehs' social position in pre-Mandate Palestine must be understood in relation to their critical bonds as protégés of the Husayni family, feudal landlords and patricians in Jerusalem's inner circle of a'yan (notables). We can say with some certainty that the family members skirted that precarious space between artisanal work and the middle ranks of the civil service.
Wasif traces the beginning of his musical career to the "year of the seven snowstorms," a typical mode of chronicling in semiliterate cultures, which he later figures was either 1906 or 1907. He was nine years old, and on the festival of St. Dimitri the Jawhariyyeh household was celebrating the birthday of his namesake, their neighbor and friend Mitri 'Abdallah. Khalil (Wasif's older brother), then an apprentice carpenter, constructed for Wasif his first tambourine.
Qustandi al-Sus was one of the most famous singers in the Mahalla-he sang for Shaykh Salama al-Hijazi on his renowned 'ud most of the evening, then they allowed me to perform; I danced the dabke, then I sang a piece of "Romeo and Juliet" to the melodies composed by Sheik Salama and the accompaniment of Qustandi's 'ud. When the latter heard me he was so pleased that he handed me his precious 'ud-which drove me into a frenzy-and I began to play it and sing to the tune of "Zeina ... Zeina." The next day my father took a barber's blade and forged me a beautiful handle for my tambourine ... thus began my musical career at the age of nine. (41)
The Jawhariyyeh house was the perfect setting for his budding musical talents. All the family members, with the exception of Wasif's younger brother Tawfiq, who was tone deaf, either played instruments, or sang, or enjoyed good music. Jiryis was one of the few Jerusalemites who owned a His Master's Voice phonograph, and he had a number of early recordings by leading Egyptian singers, such as Shaykh Minyalawi and Salama Hijazi. He encouraged his children to lip-synch in accompaniment to these records, and was particularly severe with Wasif when he made mistakes. Jiryis was also keen to host prominent singers and musicians visiting Jerusalem. One of those, the Egyptian 'udist Qaftanji, spent a week with the Jawhariyyehs, and from him Wasif learned a number of melodies that he used to sing during summer nights on the roof or in the outhouse (19). Jiryis was sufficiently moved by his son's desire to allow him to accompany a number of well-known performers in Mahallat al-Sa'diya to learn their art. They included Hanna Fasha, who crafted his own instruments, and Sabri 'Abd Rabbu, who sold Wasif his first 'ud when he was eleven. Jiryis was so impressed with Wasif's persistence that he hired one of Jerusalem's best-known 'ud tutors, Abdul Hamid Quttayna, to give him lessons twice a week.
As was customary in the Old City, Wasif was apprenticed to a number of jobs during his boyhood. These assignments supplemented his formal schooling and often furthered his evolving musical career. In the summer of 1907, at the age of nine, Wasif became an apprentice in the barbershop of Mattia al-Hallaq (Abu 'Abdallah). A barber in Ottoman Jerusalem was much more than a hairstylist: he was an herbalist, was trained to apply leeches for bloodletting and vacuum cups for congestion relief, and in general performed the function of a local doctor. It is possible that Jiryis wanted one of his sons to acquire such a vocation, but Wasif had other ambitions.
I would hold the customer by the neck while Abu 'Abdallah was washing his hair so that the water would not drip down his shirt. Water was poured from a brass pot and would flow directly from his head to another brass container that was clasped around the customer's neck. [Initially] I was delighted with this first job. In the evening my brother Khalil would pass by in the company of Muhammad al-Maddah-a qabaday [tough guy] and grocer from Mahallat Bab al-'Amud. Muhammad was initiating Khalil into the arts of manhood and both of them would take me to their uda [a bachelor's apartment equivalent to the French garçonierre] where we would play the tambourine and sing. (46)
Wasif learned creative truancy during this period. He would escape his master's shop to listen to the 'ud played by Hussayn Nashashibi at another barber salon, that of Abu Manwil, whose shop was owned by the Nashashibi family. It was in this period that Wasif's obsession with 'ud performance began, and he started to seek out musical instruction.
Contrary to the impression conveyed by Wasif's comments about his truancy and rebelliousness, he had a substantial degree of formal schooling in addition to his musical training. This education is reflected in his polished language, rich poetic imagination, and elegant handwriting. References abound in his diaries to classical poetry and contemporary literature by figures such as Khalil Sakakini, Ahmad Shawqi, Khalil Jibran, and others. Wasif and Tawfiq first attended the Dabbagha School, which was governed by the Lutheran Church next to the Holy Sepulcher. At the Dabbagha,Wasif was taught basic Arabic grammar, dictation, reading, and arithmetic. He also studied German and Bible recitation. His school uniform was the qumbaz (traditional robe) and the Damascene red leather shoes known as balaghat (17). In 1909, when Wasif was twelve, the brothers were taken out of the Dabbagha after being savagely beaten by the mathematics teacher for mocking him. For several years thereafter, Wasif accompanied his father in his work as overseer of the Husayni estates, occasionally performing as a singer (and later as 'ud player) in the neighborhood.
When Khalil Sakakini established his progressive Dusturiya National School in Musrara, Jiryis intervened with the mayor to have Wasif admitted as an external student. Sakakini had acquired a reputation for using radical methods of pedagogy in his school and for strictly banning physical punishment and written exams. In addition to advanced grammar, literature, and mathematics, the curriculum included English, French, and Turkish. Sakakini was a pioneer in introducing two disciplines unique to his school at the time: physical education and Qur'anic studies for Christians. Wasif was strongly influenced by his study of the Qu'ran.
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