September 17, 2023

When a Folk Singer Became a Protagonist

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The Joy of Bringing Music to the Page

I have found that simply observing life determines the characters chosen by an author. He does not have to think deliberately or decide the characters or plot of his story, just as he has no control over what he faces in real life. When I chose a folk artist to be the protagonist of my novel Qantara, I did not consider the motives that led me to make that decision. I was simply interested in the possibility of an estrangement between intellectuals and singers – folk singers in particular – although they exist in the same circle.

Maybe my childhood memories found a way into Qantara. There are many things to draw on: my neighborhood, my love for music, and the musical taste of my loved ones, which I shared. Maybe the first concert I ever attended in a sports club in my uncles’ village played a role in the story’s development. There was that handsome brown folk singer who performed towards the end. His band was rather modest: a singer, a violinist and a percussionist. Nevertheless, his voice was as charming as nightingales’ singing. His lyrics were as rich in meaning as they were beautiful in structure, as well as having perfect rhymes. I absolutely loved that song. I memorised the singer’s name and later bought all his cassettes.

Undoubtedly, writing about a real-life character and basing the narrative on personal experience added to the work’s credibility. It is moulded with memories and details that enliven it and help incorporate appropriate scenes within the storyline. What’s more, writing about someone who has passed away but is still alive through their art and songs is an attempt to bring them back to life in the minds of readers. The author should be careful to give that person a proper tribute, even if it takes the form of eulogy or “praise long overdue”, as Mahmoud Darwish put it.

Writing about a real-life character and basing the narrative on personal experience added to the work’s credibility. It is moulded with memories and details that enliven it and help incorporate appropriate scenes within the storyline.

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