It has been said by many writers, philosophers and artists that music is a universal language. The Lebanese-American poet and writer Khalil Gibran elaborated on this idea, writing that “music is the language of the spirit”.
One of the most popular forms of music is, of course, the song, which is also this week’s Arabic Word of the Week – ughniya.
The word ughniya is a noun derived from the root word ghanna. Made up of the letters ghain, noon and alif, ghanna is a verb meaning to sing. The word ghanna can also be used, depending on its context, to refer to praising someone.
The meaning of ughniya is spoken words or various forms of poetry recited in some rhythm either in an acapella form or sometimes accompanied with music. Like many Arabic words, ughniya has more than one plural – ughniyat or aghani.
There are various forms or categories of songs that are referred to in Arabic. For example, there is ughniyat al aamal, which translates to songs of work, which are songs that have a continuous, almost monotonous rhythm that are often sung during work hours.
Ughniyat shaabiyya, which translates to songs of the people, are forms of colloquial and highly evocative poetry that express the trials, challenges and celebrations of people.
Plenty of words are derived from the root word of ughniya that are also related to songs and music but vary in meaning.
Al ghinaa is a noun, which describes the sound of wind as it moves through the plants. Al ghinaeeyya is a live musical theatre production that includes dialogue but where music is the overarching element.
Another word is al ghina, which refers to a state of contentment where one does not need anything else – the verb of which is istaghna, which also means to deny one something because they no longer have need for it. Ghaniya is another verb meaning the act of becoming wealthy or gaining fulfilment. Ghani on the other hand, means someone who is wealthy.
It is interesting to point out that most of these words relating to ughniya refer to feelings of contentment or fulfilment, similar to how song or music is supposed to make listeners feel.
The popular 1972 film Ughniyat Ala El Mammar, which translates to The Song of the Isle, starring renowned actors Mahmoud Moursy and Mahmoud Yassine, tells the story of an Egyptian infantry platoon besieged in the desert during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Based on the play by the playwright and author Ali Salem, the story revolves around four characters, each of whom comes from a different sector of society, with their own dreams and motives, but who are all subject to the song of war and the elements of the desert canal they find themselves in.