Name: Salim Halali, né Simon Halali (1920-2005)
Connection to previous post: Halali owned two cabarets in Paris in the 1940s and 50s (Ismaïalia Folies and Le Sérail [The Harem], I believe?) and Brel, Ferré, and Brassens all started out as cabaret singers. Bam.
I’ve been thinking about Morocco lately and the ethics of whose voices we choose to translate and the voiced that remain untranslated and thus unheard. Salim Halali wasn’t Moroccan, but he sang Moroccan songs and lived in Morocco for a number of years. I was introduced to him through the movie Free Men (Les Hommes Libres, 2011), directed by Ismael Ferroukhi, a Moroccan filmmaker. The movie takes places during Nazi-era Paris and generally tells the story of the real-life cooperation between the Jews and Muslims during this time. (Jewish and Muslim cooperation stories in France are my favorite kind of interfaith stories.) The protagonist is a young Muslim named Younes (played by my secret boyfriend Tahar Rahim) who is forced by the Nazis to spy on the mosque in Paris. The imam there is rumored to be providing forged documents to Jews and the Nazis are not very happy about it but can’t prove anything. During his spying, Younes meets a local singer named Salim, who is secretly-not-so-secretly a Jew hiding in plain sight. Of course they become total BFFs. Through his friendship with Salim, Younes figuratively is welcomed back into the Arab community from which he was estranged. One of the more beautiful moments of the movie is when Younes is at a café watching Salim perform Moroccan songs and has something of a spiritual moment. The song that Salim performs is called “Andalusia.”
I loved an Andalusian girl–
Young and beautiful, with brown hair
Such a beauty!
With her bewitching eyes and arched brows
Her face cast a spell on you,
Leaving you sighing, smiling
A soul sacrifices itself
Just for her beauty, charm and body,
And a heart sets itself ablaze,
Oh my lover does not want me
Her black eyes transfix you
And her long hair billowing
I don’t know anyone who looks like her
Praise be to God who made her
So here’s my trouble. Morocco needs a little love on the translation front. And I’d love to do my part bringing international attention to Moroccan artists, especially since interesting things are going on there on the cinema front. While French is still the language of education in Morocco, there is a large push to make the local colloquial Arabic dialect THE language of the people. So movies are made in dialect, TV shows, songs, etc. Even though Morocco is considered a Francophone country, my French does not help translate the kinds of cultural artifacts that they are producing. The best I can do, which is what I did with Halali’s song, is to translate the French translations of the Moroccan Arabic. My Arabic studies, like most shitty Arabic language programs, were in Standard Arabic, which is the language of books and TV news presenters. It’s not the language of the home or the streets. It’s not the language of the average person. I’m twice incapable of translating Moroccan culture. If all I can do is translate a translation, should I even bother to try? Is translating the subtitles on a movie trailer any better that not translating at all?
This topic of Moroccan cinema comes up because I’ve been taking part in a professional development seminar on how to incorporate Morocco and Turkey into the K-12 curriculum. Two of the speakers were Moroccan (an Arabic professor at CSU, and a media studies professor from CU), and they talked quite a bit about the new wave of cinema in that country, and how it’s finally beginning to address the real, lived lives of Moroccans, but no one in the world really knows about it because no one is translating it. Not a lot of people speak Moroccan Arabic. There are 30 million people in the country, and that’s pretty much the only place it’s spoken. The professors also mentioned that there are very few legal means for purchasing the films. Most people buy illegal copies. There are always the French translations, which are perhaps slightly more accessible, but you can’t show movies with French subtitles in your K-12 class, you know? So I guess I was trying to figure out what I personally could do on this front. I was thinking maybe I could translate trailers for the films. But then I’d have to rip them off YouTube, which hardly seems ethical. The question is, I guess, is it more unethical to NOT translate a voice that deserves to be heard, or to translate a voice in a way that violates copyright law?
For fun, here’s the trailer for the 2009 film Casanegra: YouTube. The text in the description reads:
In the Casablanca of today, chaotic but beautiful, cruel but seductive, two childhood friends, Adil and Karim, make their living as low-level cons and swindlers. Karim employs children to sell cigarettes on the street, but dreams of success and respect. Adil has found the miraculous solution to all his problems: buy a visa and a work contract to emigrate to Malmo, Sweden. Adil dreams of Sweden via a post card.
They have nothing, aside from their desire to live another life. Adil, ready to do anything to achieve his dreams of escape to a place he imagines as more luxurious, more forgiving, and more civilized. Karim, more lucid and responsible, just wants to take care of his family, and falls secretly in love with a beautiful middle-class girl.
A local mafioso tracks them down to enlist them in a major heist, which will allow them to fulfill their dreams. Everything that unites them will be brought into question.
Casanegra is then the stage of their dilemmas and defiances: love or friendship? adventure or reason? hope or stagnation?
A love story of two young protagonists and their city, a city which does not love them back, Casanegra is an ode to friendship, and to the hope of a city and a generation.