I drew her
throat, that incredible throat, perhaps even more
incredible than her face. I looked at no pictures, but
drew her as one of her records played, and her voice,
liquid like a molten metal, poured into the room. The
lines stopped when they reached her hair: I had to look
at a picture then. I had enjoyed drawing that splendid,
unattainable, unimaginable voice. Could I draw it? Can
the stroke of a pen translate for the eyes the pure
aural delectation that one experiences when listening to
the incomparable Umm Kulthoum? As I draw, I am
transported back in time, I am sitting at one of her
concerts, bathed in sound, shouting out despite myself:
I summon that
instant, willing myself back into my seat at that
concert hall. The present seems insipid in comparison,
but my memory is accustomed to these prodigious feats of
purely cerebral yoga. Then is now. It is difficult, but
of memory, here, is its capacity to act as a sieve,
retaining only the very best moments: now I can see her,
the throat swelling as her pure voice rushes through in
song, her arms stretched out to encompass the last notes
as they leave her, soaring into the air. "You are
my life": this is what she sings; "what I saw,
before my eyes laid eyes on you: a whole life wasted,
how can it be counted as my life?"
The lines of
her face are taut, like the strings of the orchestra
that frames her. Sometimes they cross, like the
violinist's bow across the chords; then they curve, like
a harp, or a tambourine.
has lifted his baton; she is a lute, a violin, preparing
to sing, her lungs filled to bursting with the pure
oxygen of music. The qanun sings to her, a hymn of
passion and temptation, and she replies.
Her dress is
embroidered in rhythmic patterns that take up the
music's theme, echo it, rise and fall between the
urgent, persistent strains of the Voice. She returns to
the refrain, holds it, repeats it, differently every
time: there is infinite variety in each eternal harmony.
Bubbles of sound rise and hover; there is no use waiting
for the explosion, for it will not come.
There is a
secret here, in the fluttering hands, the face like a
pale full moon raised to the heavens, scrutinising the
sky for signs of faith. What it is, I cannot say.
Everyone knows it. It sings for itself.