These days, I’ve been working on the last few songs of the new album. Although mostly sung in English, I also wanted the album to have a multi-lingual dimension like the cosmopolitan 12th century Sicily that has inspired so much of the songwriting. I already had parts of songs in Palermitano (the Sicilian dialect of Palermo) and in Salentino, the dialect of the southern most tip of Puglia but I also dreamt of hearing Arabic sung alongside English. While searching for the right voice, my friend the cellist, Vincent Segal, suggested I work with the Algerian musician and singer Malik Ziad who’s based in Marseille and as always with Vincent, his suggestion was spot on.
I travelled to Marseille to meet Malik and play him the song and the part that I had in mind for him to sing on. He initially found some words by the great Algerian Chaabi singer Hadj El Anka that fitted well with the song but I suggested instead that we look for a C12th Sicilian poem. I’d read some beautiful translations of poems by Ibn Hamdis who was born in Syracuse, Sicily in 1056 and so I suggested to Malik that it would be wonderful if we could find some of his poetry to quote on the song. Amazingly Malik found not only an Arabic poem that was a perfect fit but also one that contained the line ‘I dreamed of Sicily’.
Below is a translation of the poem into French (I haven’t yet found one in English) and here’s Malik’s handwritten copy of the poem that he sang from when I recorded him a few days ago.
L’affliction attisant le souvenir,
J’ai songé à la Sicile.
Déserte est désormais la demeure où l’on pouvait vivre jeune
Elle qui était peuplée de gracieuses personnes.
Si on m’a fait sortir du paradis,
Je puis au moins en relater les faits.
N’eût été le goût salé des larmes
J’aurais pris mes pleurs pour ses rivières.
A vingt ans j’ai ri d’une passion
Et j’ai pleuré d’avoir perdu son faix à soixante.
Qu’aucun péché ne vous paraisse grand
Le Ciel est encore là pour l’absoudre.