Reem Kelani is a Palestinian singer, musician, broadcaster, translator and educator. Described as the Unofficial ambassador for the culture and music of Palestine , Reem was born in Manchester UK, and spent her formative years in Kuwait, were she was exposed to numerous styles of music from the Gulf, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, India and East Africa. She started performing in public at the age of 4, and it was a wedding in her maternal hometown of Nazareth she attended at the age of 9 that is the seminal moment that focused Reem on her collective Palestinian traditions.
Originally trained as a biologist, earning her bachelor's degree in 'Zoology & Computer Sciences' from Kuwait University, Reem worked for 4 years in the fields of marine biology (Mariculture & Fisheries Department, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research), and research management (Office of the Vice Rector for Research, Kuwait University).
(Miss Kelani enthusiastically welcomed outdoor work in spite of the physical demands and trying climate. One of her strongest attributes is attention to detail and accuracy. James M. Bishop, Ph.D., Research Scientist, KISR, Kuwait, 1987)
A life-changing stint as a music workshop leader at the British Museum's acclaimed Palestinian Costume Exhibition (1990-1992), turned Reem's attention from researching fish and shrimp into researching traditional songs. And the rest, as they say, is history!
(Reem Kelani made an invaluable contribution to special events held during the exhibition with her beautiful voice and sensitive rendering of Palestinian songs. Dr. Shelagh Weir, Middle East Curator, British Museum, 1992)
Reem has done so much to introduce Arabic and Palestinian music, as well as music from the world of Islam, to non-Arabs and non-Muslims. As well as her international band, it's a great tribute to Reem's pioneering work that her debut album, "Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora", has now been included in the Model Music Curriculum for schools in EnglandThis comes as a culmination of Reem's hard work at a grassroots level with British schoolchildren, community choirs, multicultural projects and diverse audiences over the past 30 years. ABDUL QADIR GILANI (1078-1166)
Watch Reem introduce a song about her ancestor, the Sufi & Hanbali scholar Shaykh Abdul Qadir Gilani. This is a traditional Kuwaiti song, albeit of African origin, which Reem learnt during her formative years in Kuwait.
At Musicport Festival 2019
At Drum Camp 2018
MUSIC EDUCATION (highlights)
Reem has been engaged in similar work in education, introducing music from the Arab and Islamic worlds by means of visiting lectures, performative presentations and music workshops. Examples include:
- Bogaziçi University, Performing Arts Association, Istanbul, 2014
- Cornish College of the Arts, Music Department, Seattle, 2013
- Seattle International Children's Festival, 2008 (The stuff of festival legend. Directors, Seattle International Children's Festival)
- High Institute of Music, Damascus, Syria, 2007 (Kelani assuredly knows the value of preserving and documenting traditions, and not just relying on them being passed down orally. At the same time, she makes sure that the politics do not take over her musical message. Transl. Rashed Issa, As-Safir, Syria)
- Goldsmiths College, University of London, Department of Music (2004, onwards) (Students were completely immersed in their musical experiences. The tutor [Kelani] also approached students in a non-patronising, enjoyable manner, which was visible in their smiling and laughing. Krüger, S., Experiencing Ethnomusicology: Teaching and Learning in European Universities. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, pp. 119-121.)
ARTISTIC COLLABORATIONS WITH OTHER CULTURES (highlights)
Reem has also collaborated with musicians from many different backgrounds, introducing them to music from Palestine, the Levant, the Arab and Muslim worlds:
- Collaboration with leading female Irish folk musicians, Dublin, 2018
(She played a fantastic gig at the National Concert Hall. Ellen Cranitch, RTÉ lyric fm radio, Ireland)
A traditional Irish song, blended with Palestinian song
- Soloist in Sir Karl Jenkins' work for choir and orchestra Stabat Mater, singing in Aramaic and Arabic, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2015
- Soloist in Orlando Gough's Stemmer, celebrating Norway's Constitution and the struggle for freedom in India, South Africa & Palestine. With the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway, 2014
(Reem Kelani's haunting laments were searingly beautiful. Financial Times)
Reem in rehearsal for Stemmer
- Special guest with the exceptional Turkish collective Kardes Türküler (Songs of Fraternity), featuring music from the Arab world and various communities of Anatolia, including Arabic speaking ones, 2014 & 2009
- Performance of Arabic, Turkish and Roma songs with the late and great clarinet master Selim Sesler (1957-2014) alongside British jazz musicians, organised by British Council Istanbul, 2008
(Luckily, interaction between the West and the Middle East is not always brutal. Pope, H., Dining with Al-Qaeda. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 2010, p. 308.)
- Collaboration with Portuguese Fado singer Liana on From Palestine to Portugal, a special commission by Musicport Festival UK, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation & Visiting Arts, blending Arabic and Portuguese music with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and José Saramago, 2008
- Highly acclaimed tour in Syria (Damascus & Aleppo) with her Anglo-Syrian band, comprising Reem's British band and musicians from Syria (Basel Rajoub, Amir Karajoli & Simon Mreach), January 2007
(Kelani's innovative and dramatic performance came through a joint British-Syrian project which challenged the notion of a 'clash of civilisations'. Transl. Tishreen Daily, Syria)
"The Singer Said: Bird of Dawn (A tribute to Mohammad-Reza Shajarian)" [EP], Forthcoming: 2022
"Why do I Love Her?" [EP], 2019
(Reem Kelani is a powerhouse of a performer, with a voice conveying a rare depth of passion and emotion. Richard Marcus, Qantara.de, Deutsche Welle)
Why do I Love Her?
"Live at the Tabernacle" [Double CD/DVD], 2016
(Journal Frankfurt 5* & Financial Times 4*)
(Kelani is more than a musician: she's a teacher, a scholar and a broadcaster. She is also a force of nature, reminiscent in some ways of the Argentinian great Mercedes Sosa. Mahir Ali, The Australian)
Live at the Tabernacle
"Celebrating Subversion", with the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow [CD], 2013
(Reem Kelani delivers a stunning performance of a song from Tunisia expressing the pain of worker migration; also a riveting account of Leon Rosselson's celebrated 'Song of the Olive Tree.' Fatea Magazine, UK)
"Under the Influence: The Garth Hewitt Songbook Volume 1" (with various artists) [CD], 2010
(Reem Kelani contributes a powerful jazz interpretation of 'Oh Palestine', offering a searing performance backed by a double bass and piano. Cross Rhythms, UK)
"Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" [CD], 2006
(BBC Music Magazine 5* & New Internationalist 5*, 2006)
(A lovely stillness pervades this album, whose illuminating English-Arabic liner notes are a work of art in themselves. Michael Church, BBC Music Magazine, UK)
Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora
Music Planet: Road Trip 'Palestine' (2018) BBC Radio 3, 29 June.
Researcher, writer and commentator for a short feature on the music of Palestine, before and after 1948
(Informative, entertaining, compelling - everything we could have wished for! Felix Carey, Producer, BBC Radio 3) Music Planet: Road Trip 'Palestine'
Lullabies in the Arab World (2012 & 2013) BBC World Service, 24 December.
Contributor and performer
([it] was also wonderful to hear British-born Palestinian singer Reem Kelani reflect on Palestinian lullabies. The Electronic Intifada)
Songs for Tahrir (2012) BBC Radio 4, 25 January.
Presenter, writer and interviewer for a radio documentary on the music of the Egyptian Revolution
(The narrative that Kelani creates is both unobtrusive and essential. Almasry Alyoum daily, Egypt)
(From Kelani's perspective, songs have many connotations. Bassiouney, R., Language and Identity in Modern Egypt. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014, p. 24.)
Songs for Tahrir
The History of the Dance of the Seven Veils (2007) BBC Radio 4, October
Presenter, co-writer and interviewer for a radio documentary exploring the history of the infamous dance, from its ancient Eastern origins, to its orientalist transformations in the 1890s onwards
(Pick of the Week, BBC Radio 4)
(Oscar Wilde's play and Aubrey Beardsley's drawings can take some credit, but Kelani delves deeper. Radio Choices, The Daily Telegraph, 2007)
The History of the Dance of the Seven Veils
One Thousand and One Nights (2004) BBC Radio 4, October.
Dramatisation of the role of Scheherazade
(beautifully read by Reem Kelani., The Times Literary Supplement)
Distant Chords (2001, 2002 & 2003) BBC Radio 4.
Presenter, writer and interviewer for a series of six radio documentaries exploring the music of migrant communities in the UK (Afghan, Armenian, Kurdish, Micronesian, Portuguese & Yemeni)
(Pick of the Day, The Guardian & Controller's Choice, BBC Radio 4)
Can You Stop The Birds Singing
In Praise of God (2001) BBC World Service, September.
Presenter, writer and interviewer for a radio documentary featuring stories and songs praising religious legends of the three Abrahamic faiths in Palestine.
A Day in the Life of a Palestinian Woman (1995) BBC World Service, June-December.
Co-presenter, translator and performer for a series of English language teaching programmes aimed at women listeners in the Middle East.
LITERARY TRANSLATION (highlights)
Kelani, R. & C. Somes-Charlton, Arabic to English. Beyond the Dunes: An Anthology of Modern Saudi Literature, Ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi. London: I.B.Taures, 2006.
Al-Kilani, Y. & R. Al-Kilani, assistant translator into Arabic, al-Tibb al-Islami li Manfred Ullman [Manfred Ullman's Islamic Medicine], Ministry of Health, Kuwait: 1980.
THE GROVE DICTIONARY OF MUSIC AND MUSICIANS
Reem's work has merited an entry in the prestigious New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
Tarbush, S., 'Palestinian Music: Kilânî, Rîîm Yûsuf', New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS
The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), Lebanon
Music Grantee, 2020
PRS Foundation Women Make Music, UK
Recipient of grant awarded for "outstanding women music creators", 2018
Arab British Centre Award for Culture, UK
Shortlisted, 'individuals' category, 2017
The Asian Women of Achievement Awards (AWA), UK
Shortlisted, 'Arts and Culture' category, 2017
Arts Council of England, UK
Recipient of grant award for "the teaching of Arabic music and song in schools and communities across the United Kingdom", 2013
Arab British Centre Award for Culture, UK
Special commendation for "notable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab people", 2013 & 2008
Forum of Creative Arab Women, Sousse, Tunisia
Honorary commendation, 2012
Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Fund, UK
Glastonbury Festival, UK
Finalist in the Festival Unsigned Bands competition, 2005
Ministry of Education, Kuwait
Winner of Short Story Competition Prize on "The Jewish Immigration to Occupied Palestine", 1976