زياد الرحباني – Ziad Rahbani: translating some of his untranslated songs


Ziad Rahbani has composed hundreds of songs, only a handful of which are translated online. Here are some of my favorites that I just needed to understand, so I spent a few hours translating them, and found out just what that these rock/bossa nova/bar jazz songs were about (power shortages, unrequited love, and casual sex). 

Wala3t Kteer – ولعت كتير

This song was incredibly difficult to translate: it’s full of words with secondary meanings, references which range from pre-Islamic history to brands of detergent, and so much Lebanese slang. When I got stumped on a word and asked a Lebanese friend, even they were like ‘wtf does this mean?’.  I was told that مولد was Mawlid, the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday, but in fact it’s also the word for generator.  So بليز forgive any mistakes in the translation!

The song is about a wife fed up with the endless problems in her house: matches, water and power are all gone, the walls are falling apart; meanwhile, the husband thinks he’s ‘powerful’. She feels lied to; he told her it was a villa, but it’s actually just a bird’s nest. In the song’s finale,  the said brutish husband blames it all on Lebanon’s social issues: But I’m attached to the countryside, scattered with hashish./ The Beqa’ is clean, but you can’t live there’. Not really sure what that has to do with not having any dishwashing liquid in the house (of course Lebanon’s electricity crisis is due to its political situation, but I don’t think that leaves this guy off the hook).

ولعت كتير خلصت الكبريتي
I ignited too much, I finished my matchbox [colloquial, lit: sulphor]

لا انت الزير ولني نفرتيتي
Aren’t you Al-Zeir and I Nefertiti?

من فضلك تبقى لما بتيجي المي
Please stay when the water comes

خلي المي وصل عال التتخيتة
Make the water arrive in the [water tank in the] attic

[In Lebanon it is common that water can’t reach the higher floors of some buildings, so it is pumped up from tanks on street level]

ولعت كتير خلصت الكبريتي
لا انت الزير ولني نفرتيتي
من فضلك تبقى لما بتيجي المي
خلي المي وصل عالتتخيتي

قايلي بيت مش قايل تخشيبي
You tell me this is house, you didn’t say it would be a shack!

كيف هيدا حيط و نصو مهدى بسيبي
How is this a wall, if half of it crumbled with a ladder [ بسيبي could also mean ‘because of me’]

على كل هلق لما بتيجي المي
Anyway now when the water comes,

سكر هاي والا يعني مصيبي
Close it [the faucet], or else it means disaster!

عم بحكي رد عليي
I’m talking, answer me

و بس تحكي اتطلع فيي
Just speak, look at me!

إذا فكرك قوي يا فهلوي
If you think you’re strong, oh you smarty-pants

منك بها القويي
You’re not strong [lit: you’re (منك =ما انت not) with it the power]

عم بيحكي رد عليي
و بس تحكي اتطلع فيي
إذا فكرك قوي يا فهلوي
منك بها القويي

و لا يوماً رح بتصير
And you won’t survive for a day

ولعت كتير خلصت الكبريتي
لا انت الزير ولني نفرتيتي
من فضلك تبقى لما بتيجي المي
خلي المي وصل عال تخيتي

جربت الفيش شرقط بين ايديي
I tried the cable, it short-circuited between my hands

أنا بدي عيش عيشة طبيعية
I want to live a natural life

هاي جارك عندو مولد
Here’s your neighbor, he’s got a generator

قلو بليز مد بريز
Tell him to please (بليز!) extend the cable

خدمني اتوصى فيي
Serve me, take care of me [lit: give me recommendations]

فاتح سلطان عليي
I turn on the power for myself

و فاشل مية بالمية
And there was total failure [lit: it failed one hundred percent]

إذا فكرك حلو ,لا مش حلو
If you think you’re sweet, no you’re not sweet,

أنا عندي الأولوية
I have the priority!

مستلشق قصداً فيي
You’re being clingy  on purpose!

فكرك قوة شخصية
You think you’re a strong character

اذا فكرك حلو لأ مش حلو
أنا عندي الأولوية

و لا شكلك فاهم كيف
And your face shows you can’t understand why.

وين هوالسيف بشو بحف الكسرولا
Where’s the soap to scratch off the casserole?

ما في شي نضيف و لا ناوي الحمد لله
There’s nothing clean and he didn’t even try, oh god!

قللي كيف ممكن انو تسكن بنت عندك انت
Tell me how you can make a girl live at your place

قللي شو بتعملا
Tell me what you’re doing!

وين هوالسيف بشو بحف الكسرولله
ما في لوسيورو لا جايب مازولا
There’s no ‘Leisure’ [washing liquid brand], and he didn’t bring ‘Mazola’ [another brand]
قللي كيف ممكن انو تسكن بنت عندك انت
قللي شو بتعملا

قايلي انها فيلا
He told me it was a villa

و هي ولا نكزة فيلا
Not even for a joke [lit: poke] is it a villa!

ليك ملا فيلا لا حول الله
Hey you, it’s not a villa for her [ما لها=ملا], oh god it’s hopeless [حول الله=shortening of exclamation لا حول و لا قوّة إلّا بالله]

انت تعا شوفا كلها
You come, and see it [for yourself]!

قايلي انها فيلا
و هي ولا لحظة فيلا
And not for a moment was it a villa
ليك ملا فيلا لا حول الله
انت تعا شوفا كلها

اي شي عش فراخ كبير
If anything it’s a huge pigeon nest!

صارلو شهرين عالمجلى البقلاوى
The baklava’s been in the sink for two months!

و بتدبل عين انو انت حلاوى
You lower your eyes thinking you’re sweet [lit: in that you are sweetness]

و الأنكى وقح و جلغ والك عين
But you’re spiteful, insolent, and vulgar, and you have pride [lit: you have an eye]

بالعينتين تقللي البيت مساوى
Tell me with both your eyes that this house is [really] finished

Ziad answers…:
و لي نشبت الريف على نسرة حشيشة
But I’m attached to the countryside, scattered with hashish

البقاع نضيف بس مش قدو العيشة
The Beqa’ [valley full of hashish plantations] is clean, but you can’t live there

و من صيدا سحبة وحدة للبترن في كاميون
And from Sidon they take one for the boss [patron] in the truck [camion]

عبا صدري فيشي
Stuff loaded up on my chest


Shu bkhaf- شو بخاف

The song is an adaptation of  Luiz Bonfá’s Manhã De Carnaval, true to the Bossa Nova spirit of the original. Like most of the songs he wrote for his mother, Shu Bkhaf is about a woman who clearly loves more than she feels loved, is terrified of loneliness, and longs for attention (disagree? check out the lyrics for Habeytak bil Sayf, Bktub Ismak ya Habibi, La Inta Habibi). The songs are lovely, but as a repertoire they emphasize a woman’s emotional dependence on men which is slightly creepy. Think of these lyrics in the context of a man writing lyrics for his mother which go ‘He told to her wait, but he left and forgot her, and she pines away in the winter’, ‘Your name will remain, my love, and my name will be erased’, ‘They talk about you, my love, and I am forgotten‘. Talk about self-deprecation. But still, lovely. 

شو بخاف دق عليك وما لاقيك
How I fear to knock [on your door], and to not find you

شو بخاف بنص الليل ما حاكيك
How I fear, in the middle of the night, to not speak with you

شو بحس الليلة صعبة
How I feel the night is difficult

بسمعها ضربة ضربة
I hear it tick by tick [lit: blow by blow]

بيخطرلي آخد حبة
It suddenly think of taking a pill

تا اقدر نام
So I can sleep [تا means حتى in Lebanese]

شو بخاف حتى الخط ما يلاقيك
How I fear that even the [phone]line won’t find you

شو بحس انو لازم يلقيك
How I feel I need to meet you

وتردوا حكي
And for you to speak to me [lit: you (pl) answer speaking]

وظل عم حاكيك
And I keep speaking with you

My love

تا اقدر نام
So I can sleep

شو بداري هالحب حتى يدوم
How I take care of this love so it will last

شو بخاف انت وهون فجأة تقوم
How I fear you will suddenly get up from here [and leave]

بتصوّر صورة وحدة
I take one photo

مش حلوة سودة وحدة
It’s not a pretty one, it’s black

والليل الصوت بودي
And the night sends me away

ولو مش مفهوم
And I can’t understand it

يا ريت بيتك كان منو بعيد
If only your house weren’t far
[ياريت colloquial of ياليت]
[منو colloquial of ليس]

والباب تحت البيت مش حديد
And the house gate weren’t of iron

بلحظة بلاقيك
Then I could meet you in a moment

وبطلع تا حاكيك
And go up to talk to you

My love

تا اقدر نام
So I can sleep


Un Verre Chez Nous – شو؟

The most Lebanese (ok, yes, cosmpolitan francophile alcoholic Beiruti) song ever. Sweet and jazzy, playing with a confusion in the sous-entendus, while confusing Arabic and French, and many the listener.

Quand est-ce que vous voulez venir prendre un verre chez nous ?
When would you like to come get a drink at our place?


Est-ce que vous êtes fiancé?
est-ce que vous êtes marié?
est-ce que vous êtes pédé?
est-ce que vous m’entendez?
Are you engaged? Are you married? Are you gay? Are you listening to me?

شو؟!! ياخي شو؟
What? Hey man, what?

Quand est-ce que vous voulez venir prendre un verre chez nous ?
شو ؟وهيدا شو بنعمل فيه ؟

And what would we do with him?

وهيدا شو بدك فيه ؟ 
What do you want with him?

ولشو عم بتلافيه ؟ 
And what are you avoiding?

! عنا الجو مدفيه 
We have a warm place

! بس شكله مش مريح 
But I’m not comfortable with him

! لا والله كل شي منيح
Walla, not everything’s nice

! صرلو جمعة ما حلّ
He’s spent a week here by himself!

! هو ما مشي المحل 
He won’t come to  the place!

شو ؟!! ياخي شو؟
What? Hey man, what?

Quand est-ce que pouvons-nous venir prendre un verre chez vous ?
When can we come and get a drink at yours?
! آه 
؟ chez nous تفتكري أفضل أنو تجوا أنتو ونسهر 
So you think it’s better if you came, and we stayed up at our place?

Oui !
And for what?
! نسهر يعني لنسهر أنو نسهر… بس أحكي شو
We stay up meaning we stay up to stay up… but what do you think?
تمشوا ؟ 
Let’s walk?
!!! يييييييييييييي 


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