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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Behind the Arabic translation: No woman, no drive

Behind the Arabic translation: No woman, no drive 

The Saudi women’s driving demonstration last month was an attempt to normalise the very conservative kingdom’s society view towards women driving a car.  The issue of forbidding Saudi women from driving cars has long been attacked both at the local and global levels.  However, in harm with the global climate of revolutionised minds, women in this society have recently doubled their attempts to drive against the local traditions and rules.  Regardless of how legitimate this step was, within the internal logic of this male driven society, it represented a challenge of the inherited. 

The prompt response was strongly determined and in an artistic style.  The new song built on the revolting tradition of Bob Marley: No woman, no cry was more than significant.  The original song was a reggae masterpiece for which Bob Marley was long remembered.
For him, its importance derives from the memories he had had in his experience of growing up in Trenchtown District, Kingston.  As a lyric of deep nostalgia, it gained a very wide popularity among reggae music lovers of the early 1970s and those of today.  Nowadays, the significance of the song lies in the trail of meanings it opens up to.

Some people took it as a message which meant getting over one’s girlfriend.  In a sense, it was understood as: I am not getting back to her, I am not going to suffer.  However, the real meaning was addressing a woman and requesting her not to cry as he was reassuring her that he would come back!  Between the two meanings there is a large discrepancy, though.

Hence, the way the song was understood affected how it would be translated to different languages.  If taken as a message of getting over an ex, the context drives the text far away from the intended meaning, which the last part of lyrics reveals.  When translated into Arabic, for example, it would lead to a different context.  The question here is: which meaning did the new song reveal?

The message of the Saudi version echoed the standard male society's position towards women driving cars.  Though trying to keep the same distance from both sides, the lyrics defend the official social position, reminding women that, like queens, it is better and more prestigious form them  not to drive.  Regardless of with whom they side, the Saudi version seems to be lost in translation. 

However, trying to assign the new song to one particular understanding of Bob Marley’s reggae song is not easy.  It sounds more of an exploitation of the success of the latter to respond to the defiance act made by Saudi women on October, 26th 2013.

A very meaningful refrain reveals what lies behind the title of the song: ‘everything’s gonna be alright’
The Saudi song is an attempt to make everything alright and assure the Saudi society that things will be OK even with this struggle over the issue of the social and religious legitimacy of women driving cars.  The issue has, however, gone beyond that already.  

"So dry your eyes I say, and while I'm gone 
everything is going to be alright 
everything is going to be alright now 
no woman no cry, no woman no cry"

Almiaad Lingua, a professional translator 


  1. What are the possible translations of the new Saudi song into Arabic?

  2. Hi Ali Mtiri!
    The possible translation should reflect the meaning expressed in the article, I believe!


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