The Song of Roland: The Arabic Version

Wael Shawky

© Janto Djassi

Ever since Wael Shawky presented his Cabaret Crusades at the dOCUMENTA (13) and the MoMA, the Egyptian artist has been regarded as a star in the international art world. With marionettes he told the story of the crusades from an Arab point of view – as a brutal, martial fight for economic and political interests. In his production of The Song of Roland, one of the most famous medieval epic poems in European cultural history, Shawky once again shows an extraordinary change of perspective. These bloodthirsty verses, which were originally written in Old French and tell of Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Islamic Saracens, are presented here in an Arabic version by twenty fidjeri singers. Their rhythmic vocal music originated around the same time as The Song of Roland and is rooted in the culture of the Arabian pearl divers. The result is a disturbing play with seemingly certain historical facts and cultural identity that opens up new interpretations of highly topical issues such as Islamophobia and extremism.

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