Oh Mother -Ya Oummi يا اُمّي

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Pathé-Marconi poster for Ouerda (Odysseo-Génériques)

This post is dedicated to all mothers, even to those who don’t like Arabic music or culture (*cough cough alt-right mother*). 

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Hagège’s mother (from “Youssef Hagège – Le Dernier des Mohicans”)

Youssef Hagège left his mother in 1946, at the age of 27, to play the ‘oud for the Tunisian star Louisa Tounsia at the Parisian Cabaret La Casbah . “Je suis venu pour six mois à Paris. Mes parents m’ont dit: “Tu vas, mais tu reviens!” Six mois! De six mois jusqu’à maintement!” (quotes from this sweet little documentary about his life).

In 1950, after four years in Paris, Hagège, who had always lived with his Tunisian Jewish family before leaving for a life in show-business, wrote a poem in French. “Le soir avant de m’endormir, quand je regarde ta photo, maman/ mon coeur s’étreint de souvenirs, et te dit encore à bientôt, maman.” From the poem he created the song “Ya Oumi” for another one of these Oriental Cabarets: the Tam-Tam (Tunisie-Algérie-Maroc), owned by the parents of a certain Ouarda Ftouki. Ouerda, just 12 years old, performed the song at the Cabaret, and two years later recorded it with Pathé. She became the great star “Ouerda al Djazaïria” (one might even say the new Louisa Tounsia).

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Ya Oumi! Created and sung at the Cabaret ‘Le Bolero” of Casablanca, at Radio Alger, Radio Maroc, as well as at all the Oriental cabarets of Paris (from “Youssef Hagège – Le Dernier des Mohicans”)

To generate the lyrics for this song, which can’t even be found in Arabic online, I went to the original sheet music which is available in Youssef Hagège’s collection at Odysseo-Génériques. From his transliteration, which is sometimes incorrect by academic standards (he writes “k” where the Arabic is ق), I pieced together these lyrics and translation the best I could. Certain parts are different from his transliteration: by listening (and re-listening, and re-listening…) to Ouerda and Line Monty’s versions, I could tell that they were singing “telbek ya rabbi”, and not “telkeb ya rabbi” as Hagège had typed up. Telbek, طلبك, means “calling for, wishing for you”, where as telkeb would mean تلقب “she gives the title”, which makes little sense.  

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From Ya Oumi’s sheet-music. It says “by José de Suza”– that was Hagège’s stage name (Odysseo-Génériques)

So here, in its first-ever attempt at translation, Ya Oummi:

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

Oh mother, oh mother, oh mother

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

You name is always on my lips

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

من يوم اِلي عينيا شافُ الدونيا

From the day my eyes saw the world

شافُك يا اُمّي

Saw you, oh mother

 لعزيزة عليا

So precious to me

ضحكُ معك

With your smile

ضحكُ معك

ضحكُ معك

و بقاُ ياصيرُ شويا

And I stayed and I grew up a bit

مو حال ننسى

I won’t forget you

مو حال ننسى

سُندك إلي ضمني

Your support which protected me

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

من يوم اِلي نطق فُمي قلُ وتكلم

From the day I opened my mouth and spoke

عمري يا اُمّي

My life, oh my mother

انا فيك من سالِم

I am safe with you

نُفرح معك

I rejoice with you

نُفرح معك

نُفرح معك

نُفرح معك

و معك نُسهُر نتعلم

And I stayed up studying with you

نُشْكُر حليبك

I thank your milk

نُشْكُر حليبِك

اللي يجري في دمّي

Which flows in my blood

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

من يوم بعدت عنّك طال عليا وحشي

[I’ve been] wild from the day I left you, you continued to look over me

بغُرْبتي يا اُمّي اِمرر احنيا

While I was abroad, oh mother, I stopped craving for you

ابداً

Never

ابداً

ابداً

خيالِك يخطى عينيا

Your image is traced [in] my eyes

و في وِدنيا

And in my ears

و في ودنيا

صوتك دايم في اِغانّي

Your voice is always in my songs

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

من يوم اللي بعدت عنكُم يا اُمّي و ناست

From the day I left you all and I forgot

سحراً انخمم و اروح اِناسي

I feared that magically I would go and forget

نتفكر

[but] I think (about you)

نتفكر

نتفكر

نتفكر

معكم نزها ونقسي

Together we thrive and struggle

طلبك يا ربّي

I implore you, oh Lord

تلقب يا ربّي

نموت كان بَن ناسي اُمّي

I’d die before forgetting my mother

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي، يا اُمّي

اِسمِك دايماً في فُمي

 

Notes:

مو حال: “There is no circumstance”, Maghrebi way of saying “no way”, equivalent to Levantine مُستَحِل

لعزيز : What would be in formal Arabic العزيز, with the Maghrebi “lunar lam” (lam without aleph).

The verbs نفرح, نشكر, نتعلم are all in 1st person singular. 1st person singular and plural (present and future tenses) are the same in Maghrebi Arabic.

اِمرر احنيا: verbمرّ )to pass by) with a spoken form of حنان\حنة\حنين, compassion, yearning, nostalgia

ودن: ear. Maghrebi form of اذن

دايم: Here the construction uses the active participle of the verbدام  rather than the usual derived adjective دايماً, always.

انخمم: From verb خم ، which means “to do”. The form shows up in many Maghrebi songs. Nass el Ghiwane: مـــــــــا نخمم ف ضيق الحال: Do not think of misfortunes

Also in a song about mothers: :” Goulou Imama”: انا هنا ديما نخمم فيك : “I am here, I always fear for you”

and in “Wala Lela” by Balti: نخمم بالحركة في بالي “I think about migration”

نزها : from زها, to blossom, to thrive. Here the n is for 1st person plural.

نقسي: You can tell a verb is Maghrebi when it’s not in dictionaries but pops up in songs from the region. In Mazalni Maak by Dahmane El Harrachi: “معاك نقاسي”. Dictionary definition of قاس is to measure, but here seems to do with commiseration.

Note on musical preferences: though some consider Line Monty’s version to be the finest, I’m not such a fan of her operatic/Edith Piaf-imitation voice all the time. It simply does not match the song’s lyrics. Ouerda’s 12-year-old voice encapsulates the 12-year-old inside the poet who wrote these lyrics longing for his mother– and touches the child inside the listener. One of the greatest accomplishments of Arabic music is how the voice of children is elevated –I much prefer Ouerda and George Wassouf’s voice in their teenage incarnation. Whereas kids in Europe and the US either sing in choirs or bubblegum pop, the vocal art of children is taken seriously in Arabic music. The fleetingness of the kind of pitch they can achieve only adds to its beauty.

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