Miscellany — From the February 2015 issue

Some Notes on Song

The rhythms of listening

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For Yasmine Hamdan, singer

When I was watching and listening to you perform last week, Yasmine, I had an impulse to draw you — an absurd impulse because it was too dark. I couldn’t see the sketchbook on my knees. At moments I scribbled without looking down or taking my eyes off you.

There’s a rhythm in these scribbles — as though my pen were accompanying your voice. But a pen isn’t a harmonica or a drum, and now in the silence my scribbles mean almost nothing.

You were wearing red high-heeled shoes, black leggings, a dark-brownish, half-transparent T-shirt with padded shoulders, and an orange shawl the color of apricots. You looked as though you weighed very little — dry, sparse, like a perpetual wanderer.

Drawing by the author

Drawing by the author

When you began to sing, you changed. Your entire body, no longer dry, was filled with sound, as a bottle can be filled to overflowing with liquid. You sang in Arabic, a language I don’t understand, and yet I received each song as a complete experience.

I received each song you sang, as did a hundred or more other people, very few of whom were Arabic-speaking. We were able to share with you what you were singing. How to explain this? I’m not sure I can, but I want to make some notes.

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’s last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Seeing Through Lies,” on Jean-Michel Basquiat, appeared in the April 2011 issue.

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