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A Stranger in Your Land

after Dimash Qudaibergen’s song “Stranger” 

A lonely stranger in your land
__where you are strange to me,
underfoot, your rock and sand
__enfold your land, your sea.

I haul my ancient heritage
__from an inland lake
where I have walked a fragile bridge
__I pray you will not break.

I must begin my life again
__on mountains I don’t know.
Will I be safe if I remain?
__Only gods may know.

The life I live was never planned—
__through heat and rain and frost—
I, the stranger, haunt your land
__with lives and loves I’ve lost.

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Damian Robin is a writer and editor living in the United Kingdom.


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12 Responses

  1. Gary Borck

    I hear a bit of A.E Housman in your poem. It contains a lot of the straightforward, and moving style abundant in his work.

    I enjoyed reading it, Damian.

    Reply
  2. Allegra Silberstein

    Thanks for your beautiful and timely poem we need to hold in our hearts.

    Reply
    • Damian Robin

      Thank you Allegra. Migration is a constant human theme but more global now.

      Reply
  3. Damian Robin

    To balance the creativity of the original song — The singer, Dimash, is centre stage, and the composer of the song, Igor Krutoy, plays the piano onstage and gets a mention from Dimash; but the lyric-writer, Sharon Vaughn, is not there so she does not get a nod. Sharon has done many iconic country and western and other songs sung by, for instance, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Boyzone and more.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    Damian, you are quite right to mention Sharon Vaughn. Your poem is an admirable adaptation of the lyrics she wrote for Dimash. His words are exactly hers (though he omits one stanza), while yours clarify the fragile situation of the immigrant. Your touching and effective final line is clearly “after Sharon Vaughn.” And what a career she has had! Writing songs that hit the charts for numerous singers over a period of nearly 50 years. She seems to move on to the next singer after she has produced a signature piece for each one.
    Perhaps her talent is to gauge the personality of a performer and fit each one with a stunning, individualized dress or suit. “Stranger” certainly belongs to Dimash in this way. The music composer, who is merely setting Vaughn’s words, cannot deserve as much credit as she. And my impression is that Dimash himself decided where in the song text to go into his low chest voice. The melody in that portion could probably be sung higher by a singer lacking Dimash’s range, with no damage to the musical composition. Composing especially for Dimash would create a song unsingable by anyone else.

    Dimash is a remarkable performer who can sing, dance, and act, and it looks like he has ambitions as a songwriter. So far, though, he has not written a single song by himself, though he is listed as second author on three songs in three different languages, showing that he made significant contributions to them. Maybe we will hear good things from this gifted young man in the future, but for “Stranger,” the poetry credit belongs to Sharon Vaughn.

    Reply
    • Damian Robin

      Thank you, M, for the deep insights on how Sharon Vaughn works and tailors her songs. I too get the idea that she ‘gets’ a singer’s soul spot-on and moves on. With Dimash it is interesting that his recorded songs do not fit any contemporary genre. One voice coach on YouTube said he would have to cut his range to get into the charts. But he is so unique, it does not seem to me that he needs to adapt. He has made his own niche that no-one els can follow – yet, if at all.

      Other coaches talk of his strong presence in gesture and movement and how he performs through the instrumental interludes. Such a confident young man. And he seems very mature as a person and kind to his ‘dears’. I think this inner strength may be from family background, support and relationships, that he talks about, in Kazakstan. Probably they have a strong faith base.

      You write that his ‘words are exactly hers (though he omits one stanza)’. I did not find a missing stanza online. Where did you find this ?

      And do you know of the “Sweet Potato Queens” musical that Sharon Vaughn has done the lyrics for (or is that also ‘the book’?). The Sweet Potato Queens are not known in the UK. Perhaps you are familiar with them.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    Here’s the stanza not sung by Dimash in “Stranger”:

    Melodies I’ve never heard I now am singing
    The feel of swords I must have carried long ago
    Fire was branded on my skin though there’s no scarring
    Burning in my blood the distant spirits flow

    To find it, click on the link just below the title to your poem.
    At YouTube, click on “Show More” below the picture.

    The stanza may actually be in the YouTube video, with Dimash vocalizing rather than singing. That is, he makes sounds to display vocal virtuosity, but does not pronounce meaningful words. Notice the part of the performance where fire is burning in the background of the set. That fits the imagery of the missing stanza. And the Dimash performance of “Ave Maria” is nothing but vocalization, in an arrangement that vaguely suggests Schubert, but in which nothing Dimash produces seems to correspond to the Latin words–even as a succession of unshaped sounds.

    Vocalization is where Dimash is unique, but how far is it art? He probably likes vocalizing, but singing takes more discipline. Especially because the dears would like to hear him in English, Russian, Chinese, and varied global languages, he may feel overwhelmed by the minimal language study singers must do to pronounce repertoire correctly. And he may not want to pronounce some words because they do not fit his self-image (as in the brutal stanza of “Stranger”) or because they offend him or would offend others. Barbra Streisand sang the Schubert Ave Maria without the words “Mater Dei” (Mother of God).

    Dimash’s vocal range can be a problem for him because no song takes advantage of it. If he wants to sell recordings and get on the charts, he needs to produce items listeners will buy. He is able to sing “Stranger” using three separate but limited ranges for words. The vocalization is unique, and can connect or go beyond those ranges, but in my opinion, it’s sloppy. Is Dimash shying away from songs? Does he need sympathetic musicians and lyricists to work with him? Does he need to step out and write words he wants to sing? If he writes only in Kazakh, translators can help. Lots of potential.

    Reply
  6. Damian Robin

    Thank you so much, M. A smorgasbord for thought.
    The vocalization of the extra stanza (that was right beneath my nose) and Ave Maria are an ear-and-eye opener. And the detail about B Streisand’s rendition is very observant (though I don’t know all the latin nor how far she adheres to Jewish practice).
    I can imagine, having reached this level of voice control and adulation, he would baulk at learning to render more foreign words. The dears would come in droves to hear him preform Kurt Schwitters Ur Sonata or other concrete/sound/jiberesh ‘poems’ I think. So he has big responsibility.
    It will be very interesting to see how his career continues. I wish the best for him and that his talents develop well.
    Can you expand on “He is able to sing “Stranger” using three separate but limited ranges for words.”

    Reply
  7. Damian Robin

    Actually, I can’t imagine him doing the Ur Sonata as it is complex, detailed, and long, and not in nromal notation.

    Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    If you listen to “Stranger” carefully, I think you will notice three ranges. Like most singers, Dimash prefers the head voice or singing voice, higher than the speaking voice. This is where singers sound impressive. There’s a chest voice part, too, where he goes much lower than his speaking voice. But there’s also an area (one of the easy choruses) where he sings approximately in the speaking range. This is the “danger zone” for singers, because it is easy to go flat (hit notes lower than you plan), or to sound unbeautiful because you are in your normal speaking range and don’t take care to use the resonance possible with your head as instrument. Dimash is a good singer in all three ranges he uses in “Stranger,” but he wisely doesn’t use special effects in the middle, so it’s not immediately obvious that he is doing something different.

    What does this have to do with his singing potential? Dimash is supposed to have a range of six octaves. Like any volunteer choir singer, my range is about two octaves. We can all vocalize higher and lower than we can actually sing words, but not much. Song melodies for ordinary singers are about one octave, maybe with a grace note higher or lower. And the notes are generally continuous (only occasional jumps from one note to another separated from it by several other notes). This means most songs confine Dimash to a small portion of his potential. It also means his high, middle, and low ranges are not necessarily continuous, as they are for the rest of us. But then, songs are NEVER written to jump between widely separated ranges of notes. That’s why I say music written for Dimash might be unsingable for anyone else.

    If he wants to show that he can really sing where he vocalizes, he’ll need an innovative composer to create the melodies. Maybe himself! But in the music we know, jumps and slides to reach far-out notes are far from beautiful. I hope that with all the ability Dimash has, he can find or write some beautiful and meaningful songs. Damian, have you ever thought of sending him a poem? Or maybe a variety to choose from? Songs that repeat several lines don’t need many words. And you could choose ones easy to pronounce.

    Reply

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