Nadia Anjuman (1980-2005) was a brilliant young Afghan poet whose life was tragically cut short, as she was brutally murdered by her own husband at the age of 25. Many of her poems express her feelings of being censored and unable to say what is in her mind and heart– something she was perhaps only able to do in her poetry.
I encountered Nadia’s poetry through the American poet Diana Arterian who translated her work into English alongside her collaborator Marina Omar, and commissioned this piece to as part of the release of her volume of translations. As I became acquainted with Nadia through her poetry, her words resonated deeply with me. I realized that, had she been alive today, we would have been almost the same age. We might have been peers.
Musically, I am fascinated by space between these musical and linguistic cultures. My aim in this setting was to combine the immediate graspability of English with the rich and fragrant sonic world of Dari, to allow the English-speaking listener to come as close to understanding Nadia’s original words as possible.
Nadia’s murder was essentially her husband’s attempt to silence her, to prevent her rise to fame as a poet. I hope that my setting of her poetry helps, in some small way, to give her work voice beyond the language and audience for which they were intended. Her voice is individual, but her sentiments are universal.
Note: Currently Gul-e-Dodi is the only movement of the Anjuman Songs that are available.
I am filled with emptiness.
And it is often this burden of nothing
in the burning field of my body
that smolders within (…)
(full text available in score — translated by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar)
This piece was commissioned by Diana Arterian. It was premiered on May 29, 2013 at the Ruskin Museum, in Los Angeles, CA, by Nandani Sinha, soprano; Rachel Garcia, narrator; Aaron Hill, English horn and Aurelien Eulert, piano.
“Reena Esmail’s “Gul-e-dodi” from her Anjuman Songs paid stunning tribute to Nadia Anjuman’s illustrious career, cut short when the poet was murdered by her husband in 2005… The piece, a melding of English and Anjuman’s native Farsi, was deep and beautiful, almost fragrant, as mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen met Hsuan-Fong Chen’s English Horn and Shunori Ramanathan read a translation of Anjuman’s words. Rosen has an uncanny ability to throw her voice to every corner of the room, lending to the composition a tenor that was both impossibly delicate and voluminous.” – New Haven Independent