Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Echoing others
Jorge Drexler as a ‘moro judío’; Mike Ladd and Vijay Ayer

In 2001, Jorge Drexler wrote a song called "El pianista del Gueto de Varsovia" in which he imagined that he was the Polish Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. Drexler — who now lives in Spain but was raised in Uruguay by Polish Jewish immigrant parents — said that if he had born somewhere else in some other time, it could have been him. He has the same hands; he has the same history. "Dates," he sang, "they’re just dates." When I met with him last year, he told me that to his surprise, the song had garnered him praise in Israel, another country where he once lived. On a recent trip back, he learned that the song had become popular with nationalists, its trans-generational message of identification with genocide and victimization interpreted as a reminder of why Israel exists, why the securing of borders and the occupation of territory remains a mandate.

Not long after, Drexler’s mentor, the Spanish singer-songwriter Joaqu’n Sabina, handed him a poem by the late Madrid writer Chicho S‡nchez Ferlosio that included the lines, "I am a Jewish Moor who lives with the Christians. I don’t know which God is mine nor which are my friends." For his new Eco (Dro East West), Drexler has turned the poem into a follow-up to "El pianista del Gueto de Varsovia" — a response to his music’s misappropriation in Israel. "Milonga del moro jud’o" finds Drexler asking not "What if I had been born in Poland two generations earlier?" but "What if I had been born in Ramallah instead of Uruguay?" What if he had been born a Jew in an Arab city? Belonging is not a fact, the song insists, but a question.

"Milonga del moro jud’o" would have been provocative at any point in the Israeli/Palestinian past, but with lines like "I didn’t give anyone permission to kill in my name," it has an added urgency in the wake of the Sharon administration’s assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin in the name of "self-defense" and "the war against terrorism." Both justifications are misnomers. Self-defense is hard to argue in a fight between aggressors set on each other’s decimation. And Sharon’s war is less a war against terrorism and more a war of terrorism, of terror begetting terror, blood begetting blood, of living and dying by a sword that you won’t let go of.

Drexler’s song is a milonga, an Argentinian style that traces its roots back to Arabic Spain, and it begins with Drexler in Jerusalem, facing holy walls and commandments that lead only to laments and wasted lives. "I am the dust of your wind," the Jew in the Diaspora sings, "even though I bleed from your wound." He enters the debates over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with a clever allegorical turn — he is an Arab Jew who is caught in the crossfire by his dual belonging. Every time a Palestinian is killed, his own blood is shed.

Drexler asks Israel for forgiveness for never enlisting under any flag. "Impossible ideas," he says, " are worth more than a piece of sad fabric." His voice never rises above a calm, graceful purr. When he sings, "There’s no death that doesn’t also hurt me," it’s not the vitriolic condemnation of a politician but a poet’s sad statement of what ought to be a self-evident truth.

And yet Drexler’s refusenik milonga still has an incredible political value: a Jew imagining that he is Palestinian. As both the Sharon/Hamas showdown and the September 11 commission hearings remind us, international political culture since September 11 has increasingly become defined not by understanding or even analysis but by blame. The firestorm that erupted in the White House after Richard Clarke pointed the finger at his former bosses is just the most obvious example.

On their song cycle for post–September 11 airports, In What Language (Pi Recordings), poet Mike Ladd and pianist Vijay Ayer tune out the Clarke-Rice-Cheney culpability farce and listen instead to the voices that C-Span won’t pick up. The album’s 17 songs are told from the perspectives of global workers on the move: Indians and Africans in New York, an African in Paris, an Iraqi businessman who used to work for the World Bank, an Iranian filmmaker, a Senegalese vendor. If "history has become the recording of echoes," as Ladd says on "The Density of the 19th Century," then In What Language is their involuntary playback over airport loudspeakers: multiple languages ("seesaw of inflections," "pretzeled speech in flux") echoing one another to the tune of x-ray scanners, passport stamps, and taxicab meters.

In What Language asks that we listen for echoes of ourselves in the echoes of others. After all, skin tones and surnames are just necessary deceptions, the masks worn by the many histories that make up who we really are. "Perhaps folks don’t expect so much sea in one shell," Ladd muses. Or maybe, as Drexler’s moro jud’o suggests, it’s the opposite that’s also true, that folks don’t expect to find so many different shells born of the same sea.

Issue Date: June 4 - 10, 2004
Back to the Music table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group