Notebook

A Bird in the Air

The first time I heard the music of Dhafer Youssef, it brought tears to my eyes. It is unlike anything else, though one senses a kinship with Jan Garbarek. Youssef, who admires Arvo Pärt, has made recordings with Western ensembles of sacred music, such as Jaan-Eik Tulve’s Vox Clamantis (the performance begins at ‘5). When he was a child, in Tunisia, the sound of the chanting of sacred texts awakened his musicianship. He has said, ‘I’ve a relationship with the Qu’ran that is more musical than religious. Religion, for me, is music. With music, there are no barriers.’ That is why it is hard to speak about it, words being circumscribing: ‘You’ve the sense of talking of a bird in the air. Of something which isn’t there.’

You can hear Youssef’s powerful Elegy for my Mother, part of his Bird’s Requiem, here. It impresses me that a YouTube commentator calls it ‘a purely cathartic song’.