Al-Ahram Weekly Online
19 - 25 July 2001
Issue No.543
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Death of the godfather

Mohamed Zafzaf

THE CELEBRATED Moroccan writer Mohamed Zafzaf (b.1945) died in Casablanca last Friday, having sought cancer treatment in Paris for a long time. Known as "the god father of Moroccan authors," Zafzaf was mourned throughout the Arab world.

Zafzaf's contribution was described by a spokesperson for King Mohamed VI, who provided for the writer's treatment, as "indispensable to Moroccan literature;" his personal and professional conduct as "impartial and modest to the last minute of his life." Zafzaf, who was one of the earliest Moroccan writers to tackle the novel and the short story, always said that he belonged to "a generation without fathers."

Yet the wide-ranging knowledge of Arabic and Western literature that informed his work places him near the centre of 20th- century world literature. He was an innovator and an experimenter, combining literary Arabic with the spoken darja to devise what he called, in common with many Arab writers, "a third language."

Born in Kantira, Zafzaf started writing in 1962. Working as a journalist, he experimented with poetry and published his first short story, Thalathat Asabie' (Three Weeks) in the Atlas literary magazine in 1963. His first book, a short story collection entitled Al-Maraa wal Warda (The Woman and the Rose), appeared in 1970.

He continued to publish novels and short stories, translating or cotranslating Arabic books into French and vice versa. His work stood out for its range of subject matter as well as its literary prowess. In his short story collections, intimate evocations of Moroccan rural life are often juxtaposed with existential narratives of the search for personal and moral freedom in a taboo-laden society.

"I am not a professional writer," Zafzaf said in 1999. "I have no reading and writing rituals as such... I chose to read and write without selling myself to any cause or marketing my writing... I will die with a clear conscience and that is very comforting."

Zafzaf won a number of awards. His most famous books include Arsifa wa Judran (Pavements and Walls, 1974) and Al- Tha'lab alladhi Yazhar wa Yakhtafi (The Fox that Appears and Disappears, 1989).

Proof-readers' triumph

THE LAST episode in the saga of censorship that has beset the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces (GOCP) since the publication of Haydar Haydar's A Banquet for Seaweed, unlike previous crises, involved no intervention from outside the organisation.

It is GOCP self-censorship, rather, that lies at the centre of the present debate, which has surrounded an as yet unpublished research project, Al-Shi'r Al-Sufi Al-Sha'bi (Popular Sufi Poetry), by the scholar Ibrahim Abdel- Hafez. In response to the objections of the three proof-readers under whom the Publications Department now operates, Mohamed Ghoniem, GOCP's new chairman, officially sanctioned the cutting of several lines of folk poetry said to contain inappropriate allusions to Prophet Mohamed -- an eventuality that left both the novelist Khairi Shalabi, who heads the GOCP "folk research" series in which the book was to be published, and the author at a loss. Cutting the lines in question, they asserted, would maim Abdel-Hafez's book.

Restructured under the direction of Ghoniem "to avoid the kind of blunder that has caused so much trouble in the past," in the words of outraged critics of the Ministry of Culture, GOCP central administration, headed by Mohamed El-Sayed Eid, now subsumes the Publications Department, whose role was vastly reduced after Eid assigned the proof-readers in question to man the Publications Department.

The most disturbing development, however, is the decision -- also sanctioned by Ghoniem -- to send the proof-readers' drafts of the 13 books the organisation publishes every month straight to the printing press, bypassing the intermediate stage during which the arbitrary measures taken by the proof-readers could be rectified. When the veteran critic and Arabic professor Abdel- Moniem Teliema, who now edits the "literary voices" series, offered to take on the task of proof-reading that series books himself, moreover, Ghoniem refused.

Voice of the Aures

THE SUCCESS of the latest CD by the Franco-Algerian singer Houria Aichi, Khalwa, marks the coming of age of a genre of Algerian music other than rai -- an occasion to be marked, if only because Aichi's songs, unlike those of rai singers like Khaled or Mami, preserves the immediate, authentic sounds of the Aures mountains, where the singer was born. Franco-Algerian rai, by contrast, has moved further and further away from its origins in Wahran, western Algeria, incorporating more and more pop elements.

Achi, who made her name singing traditional Berber songs in the course of a Women Songs Festival in Paris in 1984, has moved beyond her Aures heritage, employing her incredible vocal prowess to produce unique interpretations of traditional songs from all over Algeria.

Khalwa, Aichi told the press, "contains old traditional that cover every part of Algeria as well as Aures tribal songs... My birth and early life in the Aures gave me access to a great treasure of unrecorded music." Aichi collected songs from all over Algeria, moving to Paris for her university education and eventually settling there to undertake further musical research.

Khalwa is her third CD.

Compiled by Youssef Rakha

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