Salim Bali heard the song Fōg Elnā Khel for the first time in a Syrian Arab Television broadcast in 1966, when the great Iraqi singer Naẓem 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 “Fōg el-Nākhel” (” 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 Fōg Elnā 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 hijāz mode (one of the basic Arab modes) which included Fōg Elnā Khel.
A spoken pronunciation track is available via email upon request and the piece is recorded on cd-09. The sound recording is by the Fayha Choir conducted by Maestro Barkev Taslakian. We are grateful for the choir’s permission to use the clip.