Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Artist Prince & the Universal Emotion of Tarab

   It will take me a long time to get over the death of Prince. This is an artist I discovered on his first televised appearance in the '80s, shockingly performing in zebra striped crop top, briefs & leg warmers. To my rebellious artistic spirit, this registered as a momentous occasion - a visionary artist to torture my more moderate friends with. Fast forward 25 or so years & I finally saw Prince live, 3 times at a large venue, once leaning on the stage in a small venue, & once at an intimate club in his home town, Minneapolis. I walked away from each concert feeling like I had a deep physical & almost spiritual experience with his powerful energy. What surprised me, upon hearing of the tragic news of his passing, was the unprecedented outpouring of grief & love from the world at large. I was not alone in my infatuation & deep respect for the genius of this rare artist. I was not alone in my feelings of deep loss & connection.

  I had often read of the Arab world's passionate reaction to the death of Oum Kalsoum & with my Oriental Dancer's eye, thought of this as a uniquely Arabic experience due to the power of this woman having created the feeling of Tarab for all who heard & understood this exceptional artist. Tarab is a term thrown around in the Belly Dance world as an ecstasy created by dancer & musicians together, pulling the audience into their transcendent world. Boasting dancers have stated on social media things like (paraphrasing) "I achieved Tarab when I danced to live music" (which sounds like they had an orgasm onstage) to things like "Only Arabic people can really feel Tarab" or "this phenomenon doesn't occur in Western music" or "You have to dance in the Middle East to understand Tarab".

  Of course there is much to read on the academic study of Tarab.  Noted authority Ali Jihad Racy explains Tarab as a "multifaceted experience that can have intense emotional and mentally transforming effects ranging from excitement, inspiration, creativity and empowerment to a sense of timelessness intoxication and pain".

  Just this explanation, in my humble opinion explains well a phenomenon that occurs in human hearts, minds, bodies & spirits worldwide, a part of the human experience. Most cultures don't have a name for it. American phrases such as "being totally in the moment"or "worked into a frenzy" clumsily illustrate the same human condition.  I believe it is a close cousin to the athletic experience of "being in the zone" that can sweep an arena or stadium into shared exhilaration.

  What is this energy, this force, this ecstasy, this combined human climax? How is it that one artist can bring the world together in an entanglement of shared emotion? Is there a scientific explanation?
Perhaps Quantum Physics/Entanglement? Apparently Einstein called this Entanglement a “spooky action at a distance” as it occurs between parties who once came into contact, and maintain their contact even miles away. This has been experimentally demonstrated with individual atoms or light beams. Can it explain something that occurs in a shared human experience?

  I am an uneducated layman, looking for answers, looking to define why I am touched to my very soul by the humanity of an artist such as Prince. More than just being fans, I'm sure every person touched, in some way feels there is more to this deep connection.

  Tarab is not exclusive. Maybe the term is to the Arabic music & dance world, but the feeling is not. It is a precious gift, one that elevates us to that dimension humans don't normally inhabit. Is it heaven on earth? Yes, I'd say it is. And I say thank you to the artists who have touched us enough to take us out of our heads & bodies as we soar together in that shared state of bliss. It's what makes life worth living.