September 2, 2016

Choral fun in old Medina

Abu ‘Abd Allah [al-Hishami?] said: One day, Jamila convened a gathering to which she wore a long burnoose, and dressed her companions in burnooses of lesser make. Among the group was Ibn Surayj, who compensated for his baldness with a hairy wig he used to put on his head. But Jamila liked the sight of his baldness, and when Ibn Surayj was given his burnoose, he uncovered his pate and said, "By the Lord of the Ka‘ba, you've pulled one over on me!" And he fitted the cowl of his burnoose over his head while the rest of the group laughed at his baldness.

Jamila then stood up and began to dance while strumming a lute, in her long burnoose with a Yemeni mantle about her shoulders. Ibn Surayj too stood up to dance, along with Ma‘bad, Ghariḍ, Ibn ‘A’isha and Malik, all of them costumed like Jamila, with lutes in their hands which they played in time with her strumming and dancing, and joined their voices with hers in song [meter: kāmil]:

   Youth has gone - if only it had not! -
      when a light gray touch surmounts the hair's parting.
   Pretty women want companions who are other than you.
      Your intimates once, now all they do is leave.
   What I say is informed by experience truly.
      You have not heard from one so experienced before:
   Treat the noble with unmixed good, and uphold your honor.
      and from the blameworthy and his like just step aside.

Jamila then called for a dyed robe and a wig of hair like Ibn Surayj's, which she fitted to her head. The rest of the group called for similar outfits, which they all put on. Jamila began to promenade while playing the lute, and the rest of the group walked behind her, as in unison they sang [verses 3, 5 and 7 of a qaṣīda by al-Kumayt al-Asadi, meter: ṭawīl]:

   Slender of waist, they walk with stately buttocks,
     bent over like sand-grouses of al-Biṭaḥ.
   She is one of those women - shy but friendly,
      no shameless flirt but neither unperfumed.
   It's like a musk-and-wine concoction,
      the bouquet of her mouth when you get her aroused.

Jamila then gave an indelicate cry, which was echoed musically by the group. When she sat down, the others did likewise, stripping off their costumes and resuming their everyday clothes. A group of callers was at Jamila's door, and when she let them in, the male singers all departed, leaving her in conversation with her hetairai.

From the Book of Songs of Abu 'l-Faraj al-Iṣbahani