Miserlou

Here is a collection of video links centered around the song “Miserlou”, first played for me by a friend in Minneapolis the morning after a Firefly video marathon. The post was inspired by the Whose is this song? post at Poemas del Rio Wang (via Languagehat.com) about the various cultural permutations of the  Turkish song “My Scribe”.

The classic version is of course the instrumental from Dick Dale and the Del Tones from the 1963 film “A Swingin Affair”, that is the basis of all the hippie trippie surfer spinoffs.

Miserlou means Egyptian girl, from مصر pronounced “misir” Egypt. The song is popular in diverse styles of music: Greek rebetiko, Middle-Eastern belly dancing, Jewish wedding music (Klezmer), and American surf rock.  Here is a tranlsation of the Greek lyrics:

My Misirlou (Egyptian girl), your sweet glance
Has lit a flame in my heart
Ah, ya habibi, Ah, ya haleli, ah
(Arabic: Oh, my love, Oh, my night)
Your lips are dripping honey, ah

Ah, Misirlou, magical, exotic beauty
Madness will overcome me, I can’t take any more
Ah, I’ll steal you away from the Arab land

My black-eyed, my wild Misirlou
My life changes with one kiss
Ah, ya habibi, one little kiss, ah
From your sweet little mouth, ah

Other notes about the Greek language version say the Greek word Misirlou refers specifically to a Muslim Egyptian woman (as opposed to a Christian Egyptiotissa); thus this song refers to a cross-faith, cross-race, relationship, a risqué subject at its time.

Here is a mellow guitar version from Greek television with well-known Egyptian belly dancer Alexandra.

These two youtubes have a series of clips from older versions of the song.  Here is a historical overview of several recordings together of the Greek classic version (violins, flute, etc)

First recorded in 1928 by Mikes Patrinos in Athens the first American version was attributed to the Greek immigrant from Egypt, Nick Roubanis. Part of a genre of songs called “Oriental” or “Anatolitiko” they were musically a synthesis of an orientalist “fantasy” of Near East music with often Latin & Hollywood influences. Miserlou is one of the first of this genre which became very popular in Greece in the 1950s with songs such as Zaira, Mandoubala, Serah, Zehra,etc.

An even earlier claim from this video (another series of clips) that says the song was composed by the Egyptian İbrahim Efendi who was originally a Jew named Abraham Levi living in İzmir, on the west coast of Turkey.

For those with an operatic bent, here it is sung by Anita Darian on the album East of the Sun in operatic style and attributed to Armenians.

The influence of Misirlou is evident in this wonderful “Spanish Arabic fusion music“-oud vs guitar in a sort of flamenco-ish style.

UPDATE: One of the interesting things that can happen when you write something and put it online, is that you get to see who links to you, and who else they link to. By following some of these links, I have found out that Dick Dale’s birth name was the very Arab Richard Mansour, also here is a link to a 1930 recording of “Mousourlou” by Michalis Patrinos, as well as more links to more recordings.

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