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Wasif Jawhariyyeh: diary book

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 20.06.2006:

A Colourful Personality of a Bygone Era

The recent publication of the Jawhariyyeh memoirs on Ottoman Jerusalem is an occasion to highlight the life of an eccentric and profoundly original citizen of the Holy City. Wasif Jawhariyyeh (1898-1972) was one of Jerusalem’s most illustrious citizens: composer, oud player, poet, and chronicler. Jawhariyyeh’s memoirs span a period of sixty years (1904-1968) of Jerusalem?s turbulent modern history, covering four regimes and five wars. More significantly it marks the transition of Palestinian society into modernity and the breakout of its Arab population beyond the ghettoised confines of the walled city.

His father, Jiryis (Girgis), was the mukhtar (headsman) of the Eastern Orthodox community in the Old City and a member of Jerusalem?s municipal council, serving under the mayoralty of Salim Al-Husseini and Faidy Al-Alami. Trained as a lawyer, he was well versed in Muslim shari’a law and commanded several languages, including Greek, Turkish and Arabic. He worked briefly as a government tax assessor but later turned to private business, becoming a successful silk farmer in Ezariyyeh, and proprietor of a public caf ver the Jraisheh River. He was also a skilled icon maker and amateur musician – which accounts for his encouragement of Wasif to take on the oud early in his youth.

His mother, Hilaneh Barakat, descended from a leading Orthodox family from what later became known as the Christian Quarter. Having lived in the Barakat family compound before he moved to Haret Al-Saidiyyeh, Girgis the elder became friendly with Hilaneh’s father, and when the latter died at an early age, the young Jawhariyyeh took care of his two children – marrying Hilaneh, who was considerably younger than him, when she reached puberty.

For the social historian, the Jawhariyyeh diaries also provide a contemporary record of the growth of the city outside the city walls. Although Sheikh Jarrah, Yemin Moshe, and Wa’riyyeh were established before his time, Wasif narrates the growth of the Musrara and Mascobiyyeh neighbourhoods along Jaffa Road in his boyhood, followed by Talbieh, and Katamon in the 1930s. He witnessed the inauguration of the new road linking the old city to Musrara under the patronage of mayor Faidy Alami in 1906. This expansion – and a similar one that preceded it in Baq’a – saw the move by hundreds of families (many of them individually named) to modern tiled buildings. It was in these neighbourhoods that the implements of modernity were also introduced: electricity – first at the Notre Dame compound just opposite New Gate – the automobile on Jaffa Road, the cinematograph, and, above all, the phonograph, which introduced Jawhariyyeh to the world of Salameh Hijazi and Sayyid Darwish.

The memoirs devote an extended section on musical and artistic life in Jerusalem during the Ottoman period. He includes a long list of oud makers, oud players, dancers and singers. Many of those performed as family teams in local weddings and later, during the Mandate, in a cafecabaret outside the walled city. In combination with his special compendium on the typology of musical traditions that prevailed in Palestine at the turn of the century, Jawhariyyeh’s observations provide us with an original and unique source on the modernization of Arabic music in Bilad Ash-Sham and the influence of such great innovators such as Sheikh Yusif Al-Minyalawi and Sayyid Darwish on provincial capitals like Jerusalem. In his musical notebook, written before the end of the war, he devised a notation procedure to convert the Arabic-Ottoman quarter-note system for the oud into the Western system of musical notation.

As was customary among the population of the Old City,Wasif was sent to be apprenticed in a number of jobs inhisboyhood. These assignments supplemented his formal schooling, and often involved his evolving musical career. In the summer of 1907, at the age of nine, Wasif became a trainee in the barbershop of Mattia Al-Hallaq (Abu Abdallah). At the time he was attending the Lutheran primary school at Dabbaghah. A barber in Ottoman Jerusalem was much more than a hair-stylist. He was an herbalist and was trained to administer the application of leeches for blood letting and vacuum cups for congestion relief. In general, he performed the function of a local home doctor, and it is possible that the elder Jawhariyyeh wanted one of his sons to acquire such a vocation. But it was not what Wasif had in mind for his future.

“I would hold the customer by the neck while Abu Abdallah was washing his hair so that the water would not drip down his shirt. Water was poured from a brass pot and would flow directly from his head to another brass container that was clasped around the customer’s neck. [Initially] I was delighted with this first job. In the evening my brother Khalil would pass by in the company of Muhammad Al-Maddah – a qabadayy [tough guy] and grocer from Mahallat Bab Al-Amud. Muhammad was initiating Khalil into the art of manhood and both of them would take me to their audah where we would play the tambourine and sing.”

It is not clear what “initiating him into manhood” entails, but it seems from the context that he was being socialized into the “ways of the world” and to be able to defend himself. Wasif himself learned creative truancy from this period. He would escape his master’s shop to listen to the oud played by Hussein Nashashibi at another barber saloon, that of a certain Abu Manauel, whose shop was owned by the Nashashibi family. It was in this period that Wasif’s obsession with the oud began and he counted the days when he would play one himself.

His musical career occupies a substantial part of the diaries. We are fortunate to have his musical notebook, which he began to record just prior to WWI and later salvaged from its hiding place in the family’s Botta Street house in West Jerusalem after the 1967 war. The book reflects the progression of Wasif’s interests in Arabic music from classical Andaluciat and Aleppo Muwashahhat to choral music (which he used to perform at weddings and family celebrations), to love songs, melodies based on classical poetry, and finally to taqatiq and erotic songs. Not being trained formally in reading notations, Wasif invented his own system. He also wrote a chapter on the adaptation of the Western notational system for the oud.

The Jawhariyyeh house was the perfect setting for his budding musical talents. All the family members, with the exception of Tawfiq who was tone deaf, either played instruments or sang or enjoyed good music. His father was one of the few Jerusalemites who owned a Master’s Voice phonograph, and they had a number of early recordings by leading Egyptian singers, such as Sheikh Minyalawi and Salameh Hijazi. The father would encourage his children to lip-synch in accompaniment to these records. He was particularly severe with Wasif when he made mistakes. Girgis was also keen on hosting prominent singers and musicians when they visited Jerusalem. One of those, the Egyptian oudist Qaftanji, spent a week with the Jawhariyyehs, and from him Wasif learned a number of melodies which he used to sing during summer nights on the roof, and more often in the outhouse.

Wasif traces the beginning of his musical career to the “year of the seven snowstorms,” a typical mode of chronicling in semi-literate cultures, which he later figures was 1907. He was nine years old, and it was the festival of St. Dimitri when the Jawhariyyeh household was celebrating the birthday of the namesake of their neighbour and friend Mitri Abdallah. His brother Khalil was an apprentice carpenter and he constructed for him his first tambourine. “Qustandi Al-Sus was one of the most famous singers in the Mahallat – he sang for Sheikh Salameh Al-Hijazi on his renowned oud most of the evening, then they allowed me to perform; I danced the dabke, then I sang a piece of “Romeo and Juliet” to the melodies composed by Sheik Salameh and the accompaniment of Qustandi’s oud. When the latter heard me he was so pleased that he handed me his precious oud – which drove me into a frenzy – and I began to play it and sing to the tune of “Zeina-Zeina.” The next day my father took a barber’s blade and forged me a beautiful handle for my tambourine-thus began my musical career at the age of nine.”

His father was moved sufficiently by his son’s desire that he allowed him to accompany a number of well-known performers in Mahallat As-Sadiyyeh to learn their art. Those included Hanna Fasheh, who crafted his own instruments, and Sabri Abed Rabbo, who sold him his first oud. Girgis was so impressed with Wasif’s persistence that he hired him one of Jerusalem?s best-known oud tutors, Abdul Hamid Quttaineh. Wasif was given lessons twice a week by Quttaineh. His father, in return, gave him a special treat: maza and araq prepared and served by Girgis himself.

Contrary to the impression that he gives about his truancy and rebelliousness, Wasif had a substantial degree of formal schooling. This is reflected in his polished language and rich poetic imagination. His elegant handwriting was phenomenal, and he kept the standard until his old age. References abound in his diaries to diverse sources from classical poetry, as well from contemporary literary figures including Khalil Sakakini, Ahmad Shawqi and Khalil Jubran. His favourite quotation came from Jubran whom he quoted on the occasion of his expulsion from his primary school: “They say to me ‘be a slave to him who teaches you the alphabet’-thus I decided to remain free and ignorant.”

Both he and Tawfiq received their first schooling at the Dabbaghah School, which was governed by the Lutheran Church. There he received basic Arabic grammar, dictation, reading, and arithmetic. He also studied German and a lot of bible recitation. His school uniform was the qumbaz and the Damascene red leather shoes known as balaghat, which his father bought for seven piasters from the Perfumers Market (Souq Al-Attareen). In 1909 both Wasif and Tawfiq were taken out of the Dabbaghah, after being savagely beaten by the mathematics teacher for mocking him. For several years Wasif accompanied his father in his work as overseer of the Husseini estates, while occasionally performing as a singer (and later as oud player) in the neighbourhood..

When Khalil Sakakini established his progressive Dusturiyyeh National School in Musrara his father intervened with the mayor to have him admitted as an external student. Sakakini had acquired a reputation for using radical methods of pedagogy in his school and for strictly banning physical punishment and written exams. In addition to advanced grammar, literature and mathematics, the curriculum included English, French and Turkish. Sakakini was a pioneer in introducing two disciplines which were unique to his school at the time: physical education and Qur’anic studies for Christians.

Sakakini himself was a music lover, and had a special fondness for the oud and the violin. Some of the Dusturiyyeh students had seen Wasif perform at local weddings and taunted him for being ‘a paid street singer.’ Sakakini defended him and brought the students to enjoy Wasif’s music. Eventually, however, and despite his love for the Dusturiyyeh and its liberal environment, Wasif was compelled to leave it at the insistence of his patron, Hussein Al-Husseini, and enrol in Al-Mutran School (St. George’s) in Sheikh Jarrah. He remained there for two years (1912-1914) until the school was closed with the beginning of the war. Wasif had finished the fourth secondary class (his tenth year of studies), and with it the end of his formal schooling, without receiving the school secondary certificate. At St. George’s Wasif excelled in acting in school plays where he was able to develop his musical talents. Among his classmates were Saliba Al-Jozi, the well-known playwright and brother of Bandali, the Marxist historian who emigrated to the Soviet Union, and Shukri Al-Harami, the noted educator and founder of Al-Umma College.

With the termination of his formal schooling Wasif was able to continue his musical education in the company of Jerusalem’s foremost oud players and composers. Those included Muhammad Al-Sibasi, Hamadeh Al-Afifi, who taught him the art of Muwashahhat in the Turkish tradition, and Abdul Hamid Quttaineh, who was his first tutor. But he did not reach his maturity until he met the great master oud player Omar Al-Batsh. In the spring of 1915, after his father’s death, Wasif was attending a party in the company of Hussein Effendi and several Turkish officers at the house of Haj Khalil Nashashibi. A section of the military band known as the Izmir Group was performing Andalusian Muwashahhat. Wasif was mesmerized by the playing of a young oud player wearing military uniform who was introduced to him as Omar Al-Batsh. For the duration of the war period Omar became his constant companion. Wasif prevailed on Hussein Effendi, who was now his official patron, to hire Omar’s services to give him four oud lessons a week at the headquarters of the army orchestra in Mascobiyyeh.

From Omar Wasif learned how to read musical notations and expanded his repertoire considerably in classical Arabic music. On his part Omar began to take Wasif with him to sing and accompany him on the oud at his performances, but above all he taught him to be critical and discriminating in evaluating what he hears. In particular, he taught him how to perform the classical Muwashahhat. Throughout his diaries Wasif refers to him as ‘my teacher’ and ‘my master.’

Throughout his Ottoman years, and way beyond in his adult career, Wasif saw himself as a musician and oud player above all else. When he sought employment in various government and municipal authorities it was only to survive and release himself to his passionate obsession: the oud and the company of men and women who shared his vision. His first paid ‘job’ was that of a clerk in the Jerusalem municipality in charge of recording and classifying contributions in kind for the Ottoman war efforts. The job was created for him by Hussein Effendi Al-Husseini after the death of his father, in an effort to alleviate the material conditions of his prot駩s.

Hussein Effendi was succeeded in the mayoralty by Ragheb Bey Nashashibi (after a brief stint by Ismail Husseini). Ragheb was an amateur oud player and socialite. He hired Wasif to give him and his mistress, Um Mansour, oud and singing lessons. To reward him he interceded so that Wasif would be on the payroll of the Tax Bureau with a monthly salary of 20 Egyptian pounds. Thus began a series of jobs based on his patronage. His relationship with the Husseini family, and later with the Nashashibis – who with British rule were now on the ascendancy – helped him to continue his career as a musician while maintaining a steady income from public coffers.

The Ottoman era was coming to a close. Wasif was entering his adulthood, but not quite the age of reason. He had been overwhelmed in what he called ‘the period of total anarchy in my life,’ basically living like a vagabond, sleeping all day and partying all night. ‘I only went home to change my clothes, sleeping in a different house everyday. My body totally exhausted from drinking and merrymaking. One moment I am in Mahallat Bab Hatta – in the morning I am picnicking with members of Jerusalem’s ‘ayan families, the next day I am holding an orgy with thugs and gangsters in the alleys of the Old City. My only source of livelihood was my salary from the Regie Department arranged by Ragheb Bey.’ When his mother complained about him coming home late at night, if at all, he retorted with the famous line: Man talaba al-‘ula sahara al-layali [He who seeks glory, must toil the nights].

Ottoman Jerusalem: The Memoirs of Wasif Jawhariyyeh (volume one, 1904-1917) was recently published in Arabic by the Institute of Jerusalem Studies and edited by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar. The diaries are available in a richly illustrated and lavishly produced two-volume book (the second volume, on the Mandate years, will be published in early 2004). The diaries invite the reader to share a world of religious syncretism and cultural bybridity that is difficult to trace in today’s prevailing atmosphere of ethnic exclusivity and religious fundamentalism. The book, which is available at local bookstores, contains a CD of popular music performed in Ottoman Jerusalem and converted from old magnetic tapes recorded in the 1950s. It also contains scores of photographs of daily life in Jerusalem before WWI.

(Courtesy of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies)

Source: This Week in Palestine

October 2003

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