On My New Favorite Song….


So yes, Gazelle  is still alive, just getting a bunch of stuff together collectively known as her life! Ha ha….

I just had an interesting language moment (one of many I have had since I arrived here on the 1st) and wanted to share/memorialize.

A friend of mine, who really apparently knows my music tastes so well it’s a bit scary, sent me a YouTube clip of a really pretty song. It’s from an awesome group called Babylone.  Not to brag, but I like to pride myself on being hip to Arab artists like these, who have a more unique sound and are not afraid to blend old and new styles, so imagine my surprise when I realized I had never seen or heard of them before.

I’m guessing these were the early years?…

At any rate, I listened to the song (and then proceeded to scour the www for every other song they have, yup it’s an obsession of sorts…oh well).  On the first run through I  understood some, but not all.  This wasn’t unusual to me because that is how things usually go with me and songs sung in Moroccan Arabic.  I think that in general, I can here something in Egyptian Arabic and understand 90-95% of it.  Moroccan it’s something like 80-90% on a good day… ha ha… but that’s just life, Moroccan is supposed to the be harder dialect, and 80-90% is more than what a lot of Arabs understand from it.  So I am not mad at me.

At any rate, I found the lyrics online and thought about them until I reached what my best guesses were for the meaning of the song (and yes, guesses, I think that’s what they are for me in any language, sometimes you can be fairly certain of something but still not have all the pieces).

My favorite verse, and so much to unpack here… so many clues that this was not Darija (Moroccan Arabic)…. and even after reading the lyrics it didn’t click… ha ha….

The next step, was to find an English translation and see how mine measured up.  There were a few words I did not know (not surprising) and some parts of the sentence structure seemed strange.

But Alhamdullilah, I found an English translation on Youtube and I was pretty much on point! … except for one verb (the meaning used for it in the song was not among the ones listed in the Moroccan-English dictionary… so not my fault…ha ha) …. Then I read the third verse of that translation, and decided that the English didn’t make any sense.  So, of course, I had to find another.

This second video is the better translation, I believe.

What’s interesting is that it made me realize something.  I was getting on myself for not knowing certain words  and trying to figure out, how in the world should I have known that ?

Well, the simple answer is this:  I shouldn’t have!  Babylone is an Algerian group, not a Moroccan one. I am chalking up the words I didn’t know to this.  I am also chalking up the fact that  I had never heard of them to this.

And so ends my tale of triumph and defeat in language learning after the degrees have been issued and classrooms have shut their doors. Ha ha… It’s just another example of how porous borders are.  Sometimes when studying dialects we do think about theses languages as fitting in little boxes.  But of course, everything is more complicated than that.  I automatically assumed they were Moroccan because 1. (they looked the part— but really they just looked North African and 2. The accent and word choices are what  I automatically associate with Morocco.

Now I know that the weird words and grammar used in this video aren’t weird at all… and I learned a few contrasts between Algerian dialect and Moroccan (it also explains why they use some very-un Moroccan words in their other songs…. Words that I would associate more with Arabic dialects further East.  What I thought was literary license is probably just a difference in dialect).  In some cases, I would sing along to the song using the appropriate Moroccan word, not even realizing that that was not what the singer was saying.

Over all my big finds were that Algerian uses

وين  Instead of فين   to mean “where” this is interesting because وين  is a Word that I associate with Levantine and maybe Gulf dialect… it was all over this song, but my ears glossed over it.

The verb صار (Sar) which once again, for me at least is something that I associate with the Levantine variety of Arabic

The verb حوس   (Hawas) in Algerian means ‘to look for’ but in Moroccan it means to rob blind… ha ha… so imagine how different my understanding of the song was because of this verb alone! (mainly because of this verb.

Algerian does not seem to use the ش   (SH) as a form of negation the way it is in Masri, Moroccan and Lebanese.  When I didn’t see it at the end of verbs in the song, I thought it was them being creative, ha ha…. In this way, along with how things are pronounced in some of their other songs, Algerian dialect really does remind me of Levantine.

But my budding interest in linguistics is now done.

At any rate, Babylone is an awesome group, there is something West African in their music, like they channeled Youssef Ndour or something.  They may not be Moroccan, but I will keep on listening and not beat myself up for what I don’t understand…. Plus, they are easy on the eyes… Ha ha…

hmmm, or maybe it’s just the man scarf that did me in… ha ha…

I do need to figure out however, if the words I didn’t know can actually be used in the same way in the Moroccan dialect or not….

Here is the song with English sub-titles:


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