Fog Elna Khel (salamu aleikum)

High Above the Palm Tree

Traditional Syrian / Iraqi Song

arr. Salim Bali (b. 1946) 


Salim Bali heard the song Fog Elna Khel for the first time in a Syrian Arab Television broadcast in 1966, when the great Iraqi singer Nazem al-Ghazali was hosted in a special TV program in Damascus. Initially, and as is the case with most Syrians, the homonymous nature of its title phrase led Bali to think that the words were “Fog el-Nakhel” (” High above the palm trees”), despite the fact that the remainder of the lyrics did not have much to do with palm trees. This belief persisted until 2006 when a musician friend informed him of the little known fact that it really is spelled Fog Elna Khel (“There above, I have an intimate friend”), which, in the Iraqi accent, is pronounced the same. In 1976, as was the case every year, the director of Zvartnots, Aleppo’s Armenian Apostolic Church choir, commissioned him to arrange a number of Arab pieces. At the time, Arab music arranged for choirs was uncommon. However, the Armenian diaspora choirs in Syria frequently perform arranged Arab songs in their repertoire which are performed out of gratitude for the Arab countries which protected their people during the 1915 massacres. These consist mainly of Armenian and Western classical music. The director of Zvarnots suggested a medley of songs in the hijaz mode (one of the basic Arab modes) which included Fog Elna Khel. Fog Elna Khel’s melody in the hijaz mode has the following opening tetrachord: semitone, augmented second (or minor third), semitone.  E F G# A  Although Fog Elna Khel  belongs to the Iraqi folklore, it is probably more commonly performed in Syria than in Iraq. It is a fixture in the repertoire of traditional Syrian singers, who perform a Syrian version of the lyrics. Barkev Taslakian, conductor of the Fayha Choir in Lebanon, introduced a tenor solo while staying true to the original 1976 arrangement.

André de Quadros, Jamie Hillman, and Grégoire Bali