A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yep-Roc Heresay (or Yabra Harissa)

Okay, for the record, don't blame me for posting on something less serious than Netanyahu. Here's the isnad or chain of transmitters for this one: Qifa Nabki started this here; (he in turn ultimately blames Josh Landis, though I haven't seen anything on Syria Comment); then The Arabist piled on; so I'm really just piling on what they began. I'm not sure if several specialized Middle East bloggers counts as going viral, but anyway: The YouTube video is via The Arabist, but the best explanation is Qifa's:

He's jazz musician Slim Gaillard, and the song is usually known as something like "Yep-Roc Heresay." And now the explanation:

That’s right, he’s singing about food: yabra (i.e. stuffed graped leaves), harisseh (a semolina dessert), kibbeh bi-siniyyeh (a dish of meat and bulgur), lahm mishweh (grilled meat), etc.

A great tune. So what’s the back-story? I’ve been able to dig up various bits and pieces, but perhaps one of the readers can help out. The Wikipedia page on Gaillard suggests that he was reading from an Arabic menu, while this page claims that it was an Armenian menu, and that the song was actually “banned on at least two Los Angeles radio stations for its suspicious lyric references to drugs and crime…” (!)

The song has since become something of a standard, as evidenced by this rendition by what looks like some kind of wedding band. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so hysterical. Who knew that Levantine cooking lent itself so well to vocalese?)

So enjoy. It's more diverting than arguing about settlement building. Good music, and it makes you hungry for Lebanese food.


Ansar al-Zindiqi said...

Jack Kerouac did much the same thing in "On The Road" with his stupid take on macaroons and whatnot.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Ansar al-Zindiqi:

You know, for a guy of my generation, one of my shames is I've never read Kerouac. And I gather he also mentions Gaillard, as the Wikipedia page linked to in Qifa's quote notes.

And forgive me if I doubt that Ansar al-Zindiqi is your real name.