I wish you could hear this oud--the way it winds around, spirals up and flutters the high notes. When Marcel Khalife plays Caress, my heart moves forwards, my fingers fill, my stomach warms. I fall into the string of notes, everything shifts out of my head and into the body. I am located. I am in the state of grace where writing originates. I am free.
Music is the geography of my writing, the landscape of the journey my words take as they move from me to the page. It leads me to the finer line, the luminescient word cluster, the vibrant structure. I keep beat with the music or counterpoint it, we are on a ride that infuses my writing with a rhythm that comes from a natural connection. Music also serves as a shield, I am protected by its fullness, keeps me from eavesdropping on the real estate agents at the next table, or the baristas with blue streaked hair. I don't get up to sort laundry, rifle through the refrigerator or just walk through the house. I am grounded.
I grew up in a house addicted to music: my mother sang big band tunes while she ironed. Arabic music came out for every dinner and party, we line-danced through the house. We choreographed routines to motown songs, learned every Beatle lyric in order on each album, sang protest songs, smoked to Led Zeppelin, learned guitar, piano, accordion and various band instruments, and collected jazz albums. We had lots of jazz, great great musicians that loved their instruments deeply and passionately. I could tell my life story through the music i loved at every moment, from Joni Mitchell to Roy Hargrove, Marvin Gaye to Anthony Hamilton.
So it's pretty natural that when writing, i would go to my base, to music. But i realized pretty quickly that what i chose to write to was vital--if i flipped into Hip Hop, my sentences got sharp and monotonous, some jazz vocals led me to relentless poetic sentences that had no point. Going to Marcel Khalife was like following my compass home. In his complicated arrangments, i couldn't settle into a beat, or get lost in a lyric, I could only hold and catch the wave as the music moved in and out, brushing my skin, scraping my arteries. He lines my prose, Simon Shaheen, my poetry; to get into the deeper life, the purpose and impact of my writing, i need to descend into thought--bass--Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, bowh bowh bowh.
For a while there, music had become background for me--driving, exercising. I had lost attentiveness to it. Because i needed music for my fitness classes, I counted the beats per minute more than checking out the lyrics or the licks. When i started to write in cafes, like the other writers, i had plug my ears to concentrate on my writing. After a few attempts that messed me up--Sketches of Spain lost me in Miles' horn, I sang along with India--Nah. I couldn't choose music that excited me; I needed music that penetrated me. And so i had to learn to listen, again. Listen in the old way, when folks put on records and everyone sat around watching the turntable while they absorbed the music.
I have come back to it heart and soul, learning what is helpful to my writing and what is wonderful for other things, like listening. Complications of arrangments captivate me but so do irate solos, vocalists from the Magreb move me with their passion and not understanding the words keeps me from singing along. It's a great and ongoing experiment. I listen to see what else i might include in this great orchestration of my writing and my music--a conjunction that is hard to separate.
When i sit down to the blank white page, i no longer stop to find the words, i look for the notes on which i will sail to take my writing on its journey.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports