Meshwar Siti: Touring Palestine through folksong and tradition

Dalal Abu Amneh [Faten Abu Amneh]
6 min read
17 March, 2022
Celebrated Palestinian singer Dalal Abu Amneh is the presenter of the show Meshwar Siti, which pays tribute to Palestine's rich folk music tradition as she takes the audience on a historical, and song-filled, tour of Palestine's cities. 

Palestinian singer Dalal Abu Amneh presents Meshwar Siti (which loosely translates to "a day out with grandma"), a TV series on Al Araby TV's Araby 2 entertainment channel that delves into Palestinian heritage through its traditional folk songs.

What is unique about Meshwar Siti is that it doesn't use the conventional format for this type of show – where the presenter typically sits in a closed studio, meeting and interviewing guests there. Instead, she invites viewers to join her as she visits an array of Palestinian cities, where she meets with old women living there, who have remembered and preserved the local folk songs.

Some of these traditional songs have lyrics that throw light on the social customs and activities of bygone days, while for others the content is nationalistic, with a focus on the Palestinian homeland.

"She invites viewers to join her as she visits an array of Palestinian cities, where she meets with old women living there, who have remembered and preserved the local folk songs"

Discovering the local history through song

Dalal takes the bus, always accompanied by a troupe of women from her hometown Nazareth, who sing throughout the journey to their destination. In each town, viewers will learn fascinating details of the local history, especially that of the folk singing traditions, through a researcher and a local guide, and the women chat about the stories behind the often little-known songs.

Dalal says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication: "Another project I was doing, Ya Siti, began seven years ago, and met with huge success. We started by visiting countries around the world, like Canada, America, and some European countries. There, we sang on stage with Palestinian women from the diaspora, as well as our team from Nazareth. From here the idea developed to turn into the TV show Meshwar Siti."

Palestine: A prominent cultural centre

She adds: "In Meshwar Siti, we tell the stories of the Palestinian cities through their folk songs, especially picking those which reveal details about the customs and traditions of women. We look at Palestine through the eyes of these women."

When asked if the programme is making a political statement, Dalal explains: "We are working to elevate the status of Palestine and its people in the eyes of the Arab peoples; Palestinians are a people with a rich heritage, history, inheritance, and civilisation.

"Before the Nakba, Palestine was home to a prominent artistic and cultural movement – it was a major centre of culture which many writers and artists visited." 

The programme is also aimed at Palestinians in the diaspora, explains Dalal, for helping them maintain a link to their ancestral land - this heritage is shared by every Palestinian.

The shared heritage of the Shami region

She continues: "Many elements of Palestine's musical heritage are shared with the other Shami (Levantine) countries, and the fertile crescent region more broadly. We have received letters about this, pointing out the similarity of some of these songs with others from the area. This whole region has a shared civilisation and heritage. As for me, I would define myself as Palestinian, Shami, and Arab."

"Sometimes people look down on traditions, customs and culture which has been passed down – they view these things as inferior and don't value them. However, folk music has a deep power over the human mind"

The singer gives an example: "The song Ya Mima Houshi was originally composed by Dawood Hosni (1870-1937), and Monirah El-Mahdiyyah sang it (both were Egyptian). In Nazareth, they also have this song, but with minor adaptations and changes in the words – which give it a local feel."

The innate power of folk songs 

Dalal points to the fact that the simple elements which shape traditional folk songs are highly effective and the genre has an innate and influential power: "Sometimes people look down on traditions, customs and culture which has been passed down, they view these things as inferior and don't value them. However, folk music has a deep power over the human mind – it actually has an impact on the brain".

She says that although the origin of many of the songs is unknown, a lot of them go back at least 120 years, "passed down the generations through gatherings and get-togethers."

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She adds: "Folk songs usually feature a repeating melody, which is a tradition drawn from old religious singing practices. For example, the melody of Hal-Asmar Al-lown ("this brown colour"), is originally from an ancient byzantine song."

Palestinian women: Guardians of this heritage

On the challenges Dalal faced in making the show, like her search for women who had preserved this cultural heritage and knew its secrets and stories, she says: "I had to find women of the older generation. This music was passed down orally and represents a crucial part of our oral history. After I had found these women, we listened to their songs. We don’t make any changes to the songs' basic structure or essence, and keep the same rhythms and flow in singing – we just arrange them a bit differently to give a fresh feel."

As for her female companions from Nazareth, who appear in every episode, she says: "They play a fundamental role in the show; they give credibility and spontaneity to the production. And their presence is crucial, also, in placing Palestinian women in the forefront and demonstrating the unrivalled role they play as guardians of this culture and heritage. The programme has a documentary dimension to which they contribute a great deal, and not only that but a proud Palestinian and Arab dimension."

"Their presence is crucial, also, in placing Palestinian women in the forefront, and demonstrating the unrivalled role they play as guardians of this culture and heritage"

In Meshwar Siti, Dalal doesn't perform the songs on a stage, or in local women's homes. Instead, the songs are filmed in the streets and alleys of each location, to illustrate the crucial part played by these communal spaces in the development of the songs and their performances to the ordinary people.

"I have sung in the streets before, but it was never so central to the performance as it is in Meshwar Siti. By performing these songs in the streets and alleys, we are showing gratitude, and recognising how indebted we are to them, because they also contributed in building our rich heritage."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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