Live at the Tabernacle Reviewsback to top
17. Sarah Irving, 1 April 2018
Reem Kelani: one live album, one new album Kickstarter
It's been rather a while since I posted on here, due to various changes in direction. This post is slightly recycling insofar as I'm putting up a review of Reem Kelani's wonderful 2016 album, Live at the Tabernacle. The review was originally written for Electronic Intifada, but for reasons which are too lengthy and tedious to go into I'm not really writing for them anymore, so it's going here instead. I've chosen to do this now so that I can also post this link to the Kickstarter appeal for Kelani's new album.
Live at the Tabernacle (2 CD set)
Fuse Records CFCD050
Reem Kelani, the Palestinian scientist-turned-musician-and-musicologist, is rightfully known as delivering a uniquely powerful and compelling live experience. Her ability to combine musical virtuosity, vocal strength, historical depth and lively engagement with the audience takes Kelani’s appearances well out of the field of a normal concert and draws the unwary into a headlong rush of emotional, aesthetic and intellectual richness.
Asking a CD or download to convey this experience is a tall order, but Live at the Tabernacle goes a good way towards achieving it. Whilst the recording and mixing don't always fully capture the richness of Kelani's voice, they do convey much of the complexity and energy of her shows.
Recorded at the well-known London venue during the annual Nour Festival of Arabic arts, the album features Kelani performing with backing from regular collaborators Bruno Heinen on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Antonio Fusco on percussion.
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, the Palestinian 'oud player whose solo albums and works with Alif Ensemble and a range of other Arab musicians is rapidly making him a star on global music scenes, also makes an appearance on 'Sprinting Gazelle', the title track from Kelani's first album, and on the thumping beat of 'Il-Hamdillah'.
Sales of CDs may have crashed in recent years, subject to the ease of downloading music and the retro cool of vinyl. For those seeking only the music on Live from the Tabernacle, downloads are available on platforms such as Bandcamp.
But in this case, investing in the CD pack is well worth it. The two discs sit at either end of a lavish booklet which, alongside the usual live photographs and lists of thanks, contains a wealth of information which highlights the extent to which Kelani is as much a scholar as she is a musician.
And on the discs themselves are filmed and animated accounts of Kelani's own musical journeys and an excerpt from the film Shebabs of Yarmouk, for which Kelani wrote the title track.
Each song comes with a historical, ethnographic and personal account which places it in the broader context of Palestinian musical culture, as well as stories direct from Kelani herself about the circumstances of her encounter with the song (or songs: several of the works are original arrangements which unite more than one set of lyrics into a single piece).
Some of the songs are traditional works from Palestinian peasant origins, passed on to Kelani by groups of refugee women in Lebanon, by villagers in her home region of the Galilee or, in one particularly moving example, by her mother in the weeks before she died.
In each of these cases, Kelani describes the setting in which the song might ordinarily be sung: at a wedding, whilst dressing a bride, a child's first tooth, or at times of village celebration. We are told of the dances performed to the traditional tune, or of the deeper meanings and resonances a piece might have acquired for women driven from their land.
The lyrics, provided in Arabic and in English translation, are themselves a joy. Sometimes poetic, religious or solemn in tone, at other moments they are stubborn and amusing in their demands and defiance. 'Hawwilouna' (Let Us In), for example, a wedding song recorded by Kelani in Yaabad, near Jenin, ends in the threat that:
he who doesn't give us his daughter's hand
shall be made to clear up after our cattle,
whilst 'Il-Hamdillah' (Giving Praise), a song sung during collective house-building efforts, takes on a political resonance with the resilience of lines such as:
we planted peppers in the heat
our foes said they wouldn't turn red
Praise God! Our peppers grew and turned red.
Other tracks are drawn from Kelani's long-running project to collate, perform and publicize the works of the great Egyptian musician and composer Sayyid Darwish.
Darwish, working in the early decades of the twentieth century, collected popular songs and tunes, and wrote his own music to the words of political and popular poetry.
This was the era of Egypt's own struggle for independence, culminating in a revolution in 1919 which defied the abuses and exploitation of British rule imposed after the invasion of 1882.
In the ensuing decades, Egypt's economy had been distorted into a supplier of raw materials, especially cotton, for Britain's manufacturers. British officials and military officers had become hated for events such as the travesty of Denshawai, in which four villagers were hanged and dozens more sentenced to hard labour of flogging - for the crime of trying to stop British soldiers shooting the village's carefully-bred and -cared for pigeons for sport.
One of Darwish's most famous songs, featured on this CD, gives voice to striking porters, taking part in the revolution and celebrating as the colonial infrastructure grinds to a halt. Kelani's adoption and revivification of these songs highlights the connections between Palestine and the rest of the Arab world, and between anti-colonial struggles still ongoing across the region.
A third type of track on the albums are those written solely by Kelani herself, or in collaboration with others.
A stand-out example of these is Yarmouk, the theme tune to the heartrending film –Shebabs of Yarmouk–, which depicts the lives of young men and women from the vast Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
One of the protagonists of the film, Hassan Hassan, was arrested by the Syrian authorities not long after the film's release, for making short movies criticising the Assad regime. He died shortly afterwards in prison.
The melancholy tones of Kelani's music are admirably matched by the words, specially commissioned from Glasgow-based Syrian-Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh, himself a native of Yarmouk camp, and thus a double refugee.
The emotional impact of Kelani's performances, and of this recording of them, is always huge: swinging from joyous wedding songs to the defiant political statements of Sayyid Darwish, it couldn't be otherwise. But in this collection, it is Kelani and Hayatleh's poignant tribute to those who suffered and died - or survived - the Syrian war's crushing violence against Yarmouk camp which packs the greatest punch.
16. al-Akhbar, 14 Mar 2017
Reem Kelani documents Palestine's musical heritage. Album review: Reem Kelani – Live At The Tabernacle – by Muhammad Hamdar
Her albums may not be many in number, but this artist is also a researcher and a political activist. She doesn't just recreate Palestinian heritage wherever it exists, she also contributes to the documentation of history, to preserve the identity of a people which the occupation is seeking to erase
Born in 1963, Reem Kelani conveys the music of Palestine to the world. Once described as "the unofficial ambassador of Palestinian culture", Kelani invigorates the collective memory, which the occupation continually tries to extinguish. Moreover, she brings to traditional Palestinian song voices from different cultures and civilizations.
Typically, Reem Kelani's products are not large in number and her output doesn't necessarily meet the demands of the commercial market. Hers is not merely the revival of Palestinian and Arabic traditional song, Kelani also contributes to the documenting and writing down of musical history. Moreover, she presents her findings in full and without abridgement. Each project is carefully researched, and that takes time. Her publications in Arabic and English are evidence of her diligent effort and the considerable time she has invested.
Her first release "Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" (2006) was the fruit of research visits to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to record and preserve the songs and chants which were still in the conscientiousness of the women of the Diaspora. Behind every song or echo is a story of Palestine's history. Her study of the history of the music does not stop at the Motherland. Her next project is the culmination of a long journey with the legendary Sayyid Darwish and his role in the Egyptian revolt of 1919. Spanning more than 10 years, her endeavour will surely result in the discovery of new angles and approaches to Darwish's vast legacy; indeed, she also explored his music in different parts of the region.
In the past year, Reem brought out "Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle", encompassing songs from her first album and her forthcoming album on Sayyid Darwish, in addition to songs from Turkey and Greater Syria as well as a Tunisian political anthem. It is a live recording of a concert which Kelani gave in 2012 as part of the "Nour Festival" of Middle Eastern arts, for which Reem was accompanied by Tamer Abu Ghazaleh ('oud), and 3 musicians from the UK, the US and Italy (piano, double bass and drums) whom Reem has trained over years in Arabic music. This album is a musical work of rare value, even in terms of the quality of its production, in a sea of similar CD releases. As Reem contends, it is a documentary work in the shape of an accompanying booklet which details the historical and musical background of each song.
Reem's voice is what we call in Arabic the "difficult easy", carrying with it the voices and souls of Palestinian women. We can feel them in her songs, not just sadness and despair, but joy, strength and resolve. It is beautiful when she envisions grief in terms not of despair and dejection, but strength and rejection, as in "Yafa, "il-Hamdillah" and "Sprinting Gazelle". We can hear her tapping her feet and clapping her hands as we listen to her singing.
Image is firmly present in Kelani's music, and we readily sense the scene which Reem is picturing in her words and her voice.
Despite the presence of Western instruments, her arrangement of the music retains the traditional sounds of Palestinian and Arabic instruments, which are an intrinsic part of the presentation of the folkloric stories of Palestine and the region.
Such a pulsating offering did not come about except after a long and difficult process, especially given the realities of musical production today. Reem has written an essay about the "curse" of the Palestinian artist living in the West who is commercially and politically independent:
"Mainstream venues ignore you, and if I have achieved anything, it is in spite of them and not thanks to them. Meanwhile, most Palestinian official representations (what they call embassies) seek to quell independent initiatives. In some cases, and there is plenty of evidence for this, they even stand with the Israelis and together they seek to thwart the Palestinian. In other words, the most we can hope for is that they do not do you harm, and no more than that. Moreover, Western music circles, which are grouped together under the label of "World Music", are markedly Orientalist and neo-colonialist in nature, and key figures incline towards Israel. Arab and Palestinian solidarity movements and charitable organisations, even the best intentioned of them, are sometimes the most problematic of all (despite my love and respect for them): they're always knocking on your door to do concerts and events for free "for the cause" (and yet the word 'free' is quite inadequate here). If we but once in a thousand years offer our apologies and say that we are otherwise committed on the said date, to earn our simple living, we are accused of being "materialist", or worse, that we are "unpatriotic". The Zionists are the last of our worries, even though they may seek to block your every path and to exploit any of the above to weaken you more and more".
Reem Kelani is a presence in global music today and in festivals and venues across the world in spite of all she faces because of her musical choices. For all that, she is not to be found in local or international festivals in Lebanon, and audiences have not had the opportunity to get to know Reem through a live performance. This is despite the fact that a large appetite exists today within artistic programming in Lebanon for musical cultures of the world and of Palestine together.
Translated from Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton.
15. Musicdeli, 27 Sept 2016
Album Review: Reem Kelani – Live At The Tabernacle – by Sebastian Merrick
A live album with a vengeance
It seems like British-Palestinian singer Reem Kelani ought to be on her fourth or fifth album, such is the intensity of her artistic vision. But no, this is only her second, following a 10-year gap since Sprinting Gazelle. That doesn’t seem right for a singer and performer who is hugely accomplished and hard-working. Then again, Kelani’s power is in her live performance, so it is fitting maybe that this is a live album.
And when I say ‘live album’, it really means that, complete with the concert presenter’s introduction, audience singalong, and Kelani’s inimitable, fault-free, funny, touching and informative talks between songs. The concert was presented as part of London’s Nour Festival of Arabic Arts produced by the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Royal no less, and the photos in the (!) 56-page booklet are all from that one night at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill. A live album with a vengeance.
It’s a brave decision for an artist to so faithfully capture and release a concert experience as a second album. You can’t easily use tracks for radio play, and you might think that it would appeal mainly to existing fans who have been to one of Kelani’s shows. But this is to misunderstand the nature of her artistry. She is not so much a singer as a performer and communicator, utterly charismatic, both in the contemporary sense of magnetic, and in the original sense of gifted, dare I say, with the gift of the gab. Her art, her lifestyle, is to share emotion, experience and the stories of Palestinian people, whether from the past, present, from the middle east or from Manchester, where she was born, and it doesn’t much matter whether this is in song on stage or chatting over a drink after the show. You may not put this album on as background music during dinner, but this is the album to get the full Reem Kelani treatment; if you love middle eastern music with unique contemporary jazz interpretations; if you think a recording should capture the untweaked raw talent of an artist.
The concert kicks in with percussion and claps and Reem’s voice declaring ‘Let us in!’ It’s a wedding song that’s sung as the groom’s family approaches the bride’s house, reminding me of the tradition in Ethiopia where there is a contrived scuffle as the groom and friends have to barge their way in to the bride’s house. A suitable opening and metaphor maybe of many things, of the Palesinian voice, of a talented musician fighting to get a hearing in the media. It is, as most of the songs on the album, a traditional song from before 1948.
The second song is from Nazareth, her mother’s home town, set to Kelani’s own music. A solo piano introduces Kelani’s voice and then the band. It’s harmonically smooth with Middle Eastern inflections, settling into a piano groove that evokes Maurice el Medioni, whilst a simple melody reminiscent of Souad Massi with many words sung on intense declaratory single notes ends in a singalong as magical as a reverently worshipful pentecostal church service.
Kelani’s charisma continues in introductions, where she can mix humour with intimate emotion. Her immaculate and articulate English is kind of disorientating at first, though she would probably give me a thump for being so Orientalist about expecting an Arab accent. Mancunians generally don’t have Arab accents. But it is lovely to hear the part of the Arabic texts spoken before being sung.
We get the back story for the next track Sprinting Gazelle from her previous album. A dark story sung at weddings, in “messed up” Palestinian style. The oud solo goes into a charged instrumental groove. It’s well-recorded so you feel the angry buzz of the oud strings.
Songs of Parting begins with a recitative bass solo over a drone, the voice takes over and eventually the meoldy tentatively emerges. It’s a Turkish song. Arabic gives way to Turkish, with a Turkish Kurdish singer joining in and the melody taken up by the violin of Turkish musician Cahit Baylav, who at the end admits he joined in completely impromptu and had never actually met Reem before. It’s completely rough, ready and live – and all the better for it. This track gets the most claps. It’s not very common for Arab singers to reach into Turkish repertoire, even though they are so closely related, but Kelani has a real understanding of the culture and music, and references the late great Turkish clarinettist, Selim Sesler.
The Porters Anthem takes an interesting turn. The jazz piano intro hints at oriental Elington and has playful little figures that remind me of Milhaud’s Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit. I wonder how Reem’s music plays in the Arab world and I recall Fairuz’s to me excellent jazz-influenced phase. I may be wrong but seems one doesn’t hear so much of this kind of musical blending from the Arab world these days. And this all adds to the uniqueness that is Reem Kelani.
14. Qantara, 10 Aug 2016
Live At The Tabernacle, Fuse Records - reviewed by Susannah Tarbush
Since the early 1990s, the Palestinian-British singer, musicologist and broadcaster Reem Kelani has carved a unique niche for herself on the Arab and international music scenes. Her new album “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle“ provides renewed confirmation of her rare talent.
The album is a double CD recorded at a concert Kelani gave at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, West London in November 2012 as part of the Nour Festival, held annually by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Curator of the 2012 Nour Festival, Alan Kirwan, writes in the album's sleeve notes that at the heart of Kelani's work “is the recurring image of Palestine, her voice for the listener, an insightful adventure through the sounds of that country, both ancient and contemporary.“
Her performance at the Tabernacle “took the audience on a trip across the Middle East, from the genius of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish to musical gems from Tunisia, Turkey, Syria and Palestine. An example, if ever one was needed, of just how cultural bridges can be built between East and West.“
Kelani was born in the northern English city of Manchester and grew up in Kuwait. Her father was a jazz-loving medical doctor and in multicultural Kuwait she was exposed to diverse musical influences. Her talent as a vocalist was evident from an early age, but it was after moving to the UK to do a postgraduate degree in marine biology that she decided instead to pursue a career in music.
Building cultural bridges
Over the years Kelani has introduced many non-Arab musicians to Arabic music. Three of them performed with her at the Tabernacle: British-American jazz pianist Bruno Heinen, British double bass player Ryan Trebilcock and Italian drummer and percussionist Antonio Fusco. Virtuoso Palestinian oud player Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, on a visit from Egypt, was guest performer. There was wonderful synergy between Kelani's exquisite, versatile voice and the contributions from the four musicians.
“Live at the Tabernacle“ is Kelani's second album. The first, “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora“, was released to acclaim in 2006. Both albums are on the Fuse Records label of the British singer-songwriter and activist Leon Rosselson.
The two albums complement each other well. While “Sprinting Gazelle“ is a studio album, the new album captures the essence of a live performance by Kelani, with her charisma, energy and rapport with the audience.
Kelani is a resolutely independent musician; she is not signed to a label and has no PR company acting on her behalf. In order to raise funds for “Live at the Tabernacle“, she and her husband and manager Christopher Somes-Charlton launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. It reached its target well ahead of time, with 148 pledgers.
“Part and parcel of the performance“
“In an age in which music is structured according to the laws of the market place and political narratives are suppressed, nothing is more comforting and assuring than grassroots support which can be neither bought nor sold,“ Kelani says of the Kickstarter campaign.
“Live at the Tabernacle“ includes a 60-page booklet of sleeve notes, with information on each song alongside the lyrics in both Arabic and Kelani's translations into English. The album also has two short videos. In the first, Kelani describes the Tabernacle event as one of the most important concerts she has ever given. “There was something about the audience dynamic on that night: everyone seemed to be part and parcel of the performance, not just in call and response but in singing along, clapping, being silent, laughing, crying, jumping on stage.“
Kelani hopes through the album “to convey to those who were not there what happened - not just the energy and the music, but more importantly a narrative, a main narrative behind that concert specifically and what my music stands for generally.“
The second video on the album was edited by the French film director Axel Salvatori-Sinz from his multiple award-winning film “Les Chebabs de Yarmouk“ (“The Shebabs of Yarmouk“) accompanied by the live rendition of Kelani's haunting song “Yarmouk“ (“Huna al-Yarmouk!“).
“Recurring image of Palestine“
In 2012 Salvatori-Sinz commissioned Kelani to compose the music for this documentary on the lives and dreams of a group of young men and women in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Kelani asked the Glasgow-based Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh, originally from Yarmouk camp, to write a poem that she could set to music.
The album opens with four songs from Kelani's extensive Palestinian repertoire. First is the spirited “Let us in!“ (“Hawwilouna“) with Kelani stamping her feet and clapping before breaking into song. This is followed by “Galilean Lullaby“ (“Tahlileh Jaliliyyeh“) the lyrics of which Kelani found in a book on Palestinian literature by Nazarene poet Tawfiq Zayyad (1929-94).
Kelani learnt “Sprinting Gazelle“ (“Ah! Ya Reem al-Ghuzlaan“), the title song of her first album, from an old woman in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon. On the album Reem can be heard encouraging Abu Ghazaleh on oud and Trebilcock on double bass to “fight“ in a riveting contest between their Arab and Western instruments.
“Songs of Parting“ (“Furaaqiyaat“) develops into a melody reminiscent of the well-known Turkish lullaby “Dandani, Dandani“. Reem was joined on stage by two audience members: Turkish musicologist Cahit Baylav, playing his violin and Turkish Kurdish woman Cihan Ademhan on vocals.
Tribute to Sayyid Darwish
The concert showcases two songs from Reem's long-term project on Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923), both with lyrics by Badi' Khayri. “The Porters' Anthem“ (“Lahn el-Shayyaalin“) alludes to the 1919 Revolution against British occupation. Like many of Darwish's songs it focuses on the downtrodden and marginalised.
“The Preachers' Anthem“ (“Lahn el-Fuqahaa“) portrays two preachers on Armistice Day 1918 anticipating the independence Egypt has been promised. There is hilarity as they dream of travelling to Europe where “their women sway like blancmange“. Kelani's arrangement of the song is a tour de force, ending with snatches of the British Army song “It's a long Way to Tipperary“.
Kelani's composition “1932“, dedicated to Darwish, marks the year in which the first Congress of Arabic Music was held. While Heinen and Abu Ghazaleh play the meditative, nuanced melody Kelani reads “The Vinegar Cup“ (“Ka's al-Khall“) by Gaza poet Mu'in Bseiso.
The Tunisian song “The Ship Sounded its Horn“ (“Babour Zammar“) was written by El-Hedi Guella, with lyrics by El-Mouldi Zleilah, in the 1970s. The song is a tribute to the student revolution in France and tells of migrants leaving on a ship to work abroad: “Uprooting young men from fertile lands / To a life so harsh“.
The concert ends on a high with the Palestinian song “Giving Praise“ (Il-Hamdillah). Kelani lets rip with the loud and joyous “Aweeha!“ yodel that is integral to the song forms of Palestinian women.
On 12 October there is another chance to see Reem Kelani perform live at the Tabernacle, at a special concert produced by the Nour Festival as a prelude to this year's festival which runs from 21 October to 6 November. The concert is “in celebration of Reem's music and in recognition of her achievements in music globally as well as locally within RBKC.“
13. Rootsworld, 27 July 2016
Live At The Tabernacle, Fuse Records - reviewed by Ted R. Swedenburg
Those of us who know and love London-based Palestinian singer Reem Kelani’s brilliant first album, Sprinting Gazelle (2006), are delighted that after nine long years, she has finally released album number two.
Sprinting Gazelle was remarkable for being deeply rooted in Palestinian village music, full of songs learned from elderly women in the Galilee region and refugee camps in Lebanon. The album is a wonderful mix of tracks. Some sound very “folk,” as though straight out of the village, featuring Reem singing and playing percussion. We might call other tracks “global” in their sound (Reem dislikes the term “world” music). On them, Kelani is backed by a first-rate band that included prominent UK musicians like jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, Idris Rahman (reeds) and Samy Bishai (violin). Zoe Rahman and Samy Bishai subsequently went on to work with Natacha Atlas, and so since Gazelle, Kelani has found and collaborated with a new set of backing musicians. Based in England, she has usually found it necessary to perform with non-Arab musicians to present her repertoire.
Live at the Tabernacle demonstrates that she has trained her band very well. She is fortunate that for the occasion, Cairo-based Palestinian oud player, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh (a remarkable solo performer in his own right) happened to be in town, and so he sat in place of her usual saxophone player.
Kelani opens with “Let Us In!” (Hawwilouna) a medley of two traditional Palestinian village wedding songs, sung with great energy, to the robust backing of Italian drummer Antonio Fusco’s subtle percussion and Reem’s foot-stomping and clapping. Next up is “Palestinian Lullaby,” off of Sprinting Gazelle, a song from her mother’s homeland in Nazareth, here in a much longer version, with an exquisite opening by pianist Bruno Heinen. “Sprinting Gazelle,” which Kelani learned in a Palestinian refugee camp, opens with gorgeous oud improvisations from Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, and is punctuated with an instrumental duel between double bass player Ryan Trebilcock (from Cornwall) and Abu Ghazaleh. “Songs of Parting” (Furaaqiyaat) is another Palestinian folk medley, about separated love ones, beginning with a fine solo from Trebilcock. On this long track (nearly 14 minutes) Kelani gives us a brilliant vocal workout, with vocal improvisations, ululations, shouts, and so on.
Then comes a shift in repertoire and mood, with a couple of Egyptian songs by celebrated composer Sayyid Darwish, with lyrics by Badia Khayri. Kelani calls Darwish and Khayri the Brecht-Weill of their day, and the comparison is dead-on. These are show tunes, written and performed for popular musicals staged in Cairo during and after the 1919 nationalist revolt against the British colonial occupation. “The Porters’ Anthem” deals with the reaction of an important segment of the Egyptian working class to the political events of the day, with observations that lampoon the restrictions that the British imposed upon the occupied people. “The Preachers Anthem” is a hilarious number where religious scholars comment on the end of the First World War. The hardships of the war now over, they plan, among other things, to visit Europe and experience that continent’s beautiful women. The arrangements are a delight, very true to the spirit of songs that were originally composed for the stage, performed with the backing of a European musical ensemble conducted by Darwish’s maestro, a Signore Casio. By doing Sayyid Darwish in music-hall style and by reviving these songs of such tremendous wit and revolutionary spirit, Kelani breathes new life into a repertoire that is most often treated in the Arab world with the kind of reverence that deadens its spirit.
Next, a stately, mostly instrumental number that pays tribute to Sayyid Darwish, as Reem reads a poem (in English translation) by celebrated Gaza poet Mu’in Bseiso. It’s followed with a song made famous by the late Tunisian singer Hedi Guella, who was a major star in his home country and a progressive icon, and who might be compared to Lebanon’s Marcel Khalifeh or Egypt’s Sheikh Imam. “The Ship Sounded its Horn” treats the plight of North African Arab emigrants to Europe in the seventies, “on their way to far-off lands/Where the pain of exile burns like unquenched thirst.” It resonates with the experiences and sentiments of those traveling to Europe across the Mediterranean today. Only now the migrants often travel in worsened circumstances, not on ships but on rafts and dinghies, and without passports or visas. The number also pays tribute to Tunisia’s role in sparking the Arab Spring, which Hedi Guella lived to witness. Despite the disastrous turn that post 2010 revolts have taken in much of the Arab world, Tunisia still stands as a hopeful symbol. The arrangement is driving, sparkling, jazzy, and one hopes that Kelani’s version will help increase the stature of Guella, who is hardly known in the Arab world outside of Tunisia.
The song “Yarmouk” is named after a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, whose residents have suffered unspeakable horrors in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Kelani composed it for a French documentary about young Palestinians in the camp, called Les Chebabs de Yarmouk. (The CD includes a five-minute segment from the film, featuring “Yarmouk.”) It is appropriately melancholic, conveying the condition of the young Palestinians who are the subject of the film, who feel trapped, with no good options or future, yet who continue to strive and create. Finally, Kelani lifts us back up with her concluding number, “Giving Praise” (Il-Hamdillah, or praise be to God), an extended, celebratory tribute to God.
Kelani’s backing band really shines throughout on Tabernacle, they’re a tight, supremely well-rehearsed machine whose members are also able to improvise brilliantly. They’re a kind of updated, globalized (in the good sense) version of the small Arabic ensemble known as the takht, whose place was taken by the large orchestra in the neo-classical tradition that came to dominate twentieth century Arabic music, a development that tended to cut down on traditions of improvisation. Although the songs here are all in Arabic, Kelani is able, through her brief but to-the-point introductions and commentary, to help non-Arabic speaking audience members to understand what the songs are about and to feel themselves a part of the experience. At appropriate moments, she is able to get the diverse audience to come together and participate, as on “The Ship Sounded its Horn”, where she encourages them to join in making the sound of the steamship, or on “Giving Praise,” where she mobilizes them to sing along on the phrase, “il-Hamdillah,” praise be to God/Allah. Kelani’s performance is supremely energetic and kinetic, moving between slow somber moods and the celebratory, full of shouts, claps, improvised vocals (known as mawwals in Arabic), ululating, and foot stomping, all leavened with good humor. It is so engaging that one really wishes one could have been there in person.
The CD packaging is also a marvel, beautifully put together, with detailed liner notes that explain the songs and their context. And there is the added bonus of transcriptions of the Arabic lyrics and careful translations, something almost never found in recordings of Arabic music. If you’ve ever tried to translate song lyrics (and I have attempted to do so with two songs on this recording), you know how difficult and time-consuming such a task can be.
On Tabernacle, Reem Kelani offers listeners an introduction to the deep tradition of Palestinian music, and especially the lively rural women’s repertoire, not well documented or otherwise performed on stage. She does them both in what is very close to the original style, as well as offering up contemporary interpretations that enhance rather than detract from the original roots. In addition, showing her skill at moving across genres, she also explores important examples from the Tunisian and Egyptian repertoires. Kelani has been working for several years on a project of recording the work of Sayyid Darwish, an endeavor that was unfortunately interrupted by conditions attendant upon the Egyptian uprising and counterrevolution. The two songs on this album offer a foretaste of the Darwish project, and one hopes that that project will be forthcoming shortly.
12. fRoots, 12 July 2016
Live At The Tabernacle, Fuse CFCD050 - reviewed by Jamie Renton
Anyone who's experienced a live performance by UK-born Palestinian singer Reem Kelani will know how exhilarating an experience it is. She can make the biggest hall or festival feel intimate as she jokes and engages with the audience while performing her unique combination of Palestinian folk songs with jazz edges.
In theory at least, this double live album, a belated follow-up to the excellent studio recording Sprinting Gazelle from a decade ago, should make absolute sense. But hang on, I've got a problem with live albums. Give or take a few stellar in-concert sets from the likes of James Brown, Muddy Waters, Bob Marley and BB King, live albums are just not usually something I return to.
However, I've already given Live At The Tabernacle repeated plays and can't see myself easing off any time soon. It's a recording of her concert at the titular Notting Hill venue, as part of the 2012 Nour Festival of Middle Eastern and North African Arts, on which she's accompanied by US pianist Bruno Heinan, Palestinian Tamer Abu Ghazaleh on oud, Brit bassist Ryan Trebilcock and Italian percussionist Antonio Fusco.
The two CDs correspond to the two sets they played that night. Complete with introductions, ad-libs and asides from Reem (we even get festival organiser Alan Kirwan's welcome speech). There are reinterpretations of songs from the debut album (including the beautiful Galilean Lullaby and the all-stops out title track), along with traditional tunes and pieces reflecting the struggles in Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia. Even a quick burst of It's A Long Way To Tipperary at one point. Throughout, the ensemble play it note-perfect, by turns fiery and lyrical while Kelani pours her bittersweet soul into every note, conjuring up the spirits of the great divas of Arabic music, jazz and cabaret, all the time remaining absolutely herself.
It's worth shelling out for the beautifully presented CD version rather than settling for the download. You get a fat booklet with notes, lyrics and pictures. Looks like BB, Muddy, JB and the Tuff Gong have got some serious competition in the live album stakes.
11. The Middle East in London, 5 June 2016
Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle - reviewed by Paul Hughes-Smith
Recordings of Middle Eastern music released in the UK tend to be mainly instrumental as vocal music does not travel so well and needs careful explanation to make sense of the Arabic lyrics. Reem Kelani, the British-born Palestinian singer and broadcaster, has done much to address this particular problem and make the music of the Arab world, and in particular the rich vocal tradition of the Palestinians, more accessible to audiences both here in the West and to those in the Middle East who may have lost touch with their own traditions.
“Live at The Tabernacle“ is Reem's long awaited follow up to her much acclaimed first CD, “Sprinting Gazelle“, released in 2006. This recording of a live performance, given before a packed house at The Tabernacle in London's Notting Hill in 2012, is a very different animal to her first venture. Immaculate balance and clear musical articulation have now made way for the passion and excitement of a live performance. Expressing the longing and separation of the Palestinians is what Reem Kelani is best known for, and it is certainly captured here on this double album. Both discs feature short accompanying videos which include an interview with Kelani and a specially edited trailer of the feature film “Les Chebabs de Yarmouk“ directed by Axel Salvatori Sinz for which Kelani wrote the music. The title track “Huna al-Yarmouk“ (This is Yarmouk) is movingly performed just before her signature song 'Giving Praise aka “Il-Hamdillah“ brings the evening to a rousing, audience-participating close.
Reem Kelani grew up listening to an assortment of musical styles and has always tried to push the boundaries in performing traditional music: she brings the influence of jazz and other popular music into play without destroying the original feel of a song. For this concert she assembled an exceptional group of musicians: her long-term collaborator, pianist Bruno Heinen; Palestinian oud player, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh; Ryan Trebilcock on bass and Italian percussionist, Antonio Fusco. All of these musicians are used to playing in many different styles and are well suited to the overall project of collaboration. Indeed Kelani says in her interview that this was a 'project' and not a 'product' and the copious and detailed notes that accompany the album underscore the careful thought that was given to each song and its production.
Not only traditional Palestinian songs are featured on these CDs, but also music that represents the wider Arab struggle for democracy and freedom. 'The Porters' Anthem' (“lahn el-shayyaalin“) is a song written by the great Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923) whose music is the subject of a long-term project by Kelani; it tells of the travails of Egyptian porters and cleverly alludes to the events of the 1919 Revolt against the British.
'The Preacher's Anthem' (“lahn al-fuqahaa'“), again written by Darwish, is a satire on the misplaced hopes of Egyptians that Egypt would be free of the British in the wake of WW1. Kelani's clever jazzy arrangement mirrors Darwish's own use of opposing musical modes (“maqamat“) to represent the political struggle.
The historical narrative is also continued in the 1970s song, written by Tunisian activist El-Hédi Guella, 'The Ship Sounded its Horn' (“baabur zammar“) that was revived during the uprising in 2010.
For those already familiar with Reem Kelani's work there are live performances of 'Sprinting Gazelle' and 'Galilean Lullaby', but without a doubt this album will appeal to a wider audience interested in Middle East history and the role that culture - particularly music and poetry - has played in its development. Of course there will be some who have a phobia of 'live' recordings and prefer the purity of a studio, but these CDs are much more than just a record of a performance, and the well researched and informative booklet that accompanies them - complete with translations of all the lyrics and the original Arabic - would be reason enough to purchase this album.
Paul Hughes-Smith is a Middle Eastern music aficionado and written reviews and articles on Palestinian and Yemeni music for Songlines magazine, the Society for Arabian Studies, British Yemeni Society Journal and for Palestine News.
10. The Australian, 3 June 2016
Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle - 4 stars by Mahir Ali
Reem Kelani says this concert, recorded in 2012 at the Tabernacle in London's Notting Hill as part of the Nour Festival of Arts, was one of her best. It's easy to accept that verdict, notwithstanding the inability to compare it with anything else: this is her first live album, which comes more than a decade after her first and thus far only studio album, the wonderful Sprinting Gazelle, back in 2006. The singer is in her element, the accompaniment is exquisite and the audience clearly appreciative. Born to Palestinian parents in Manchester, 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. The instrumentation here is mostly Western, with Bruno Heinen on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Antonio Fusco on percussion, plus Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, a visiting Palestinian from Egypt, on oud. Each of them gets the opportunity to showcase their talents. Kelani's robust vocals are the key element and the overall feel is entirely organic, likely to appeal to jazz enthusiasts as much as it does to fans of a Middle Eastern vibe. From Palestinian wedding songs, poems, lullabies and, inevitably, laments to historical artefacts from Egypt (there's an amazing segue to It's a Long Way to Tipperary in The Preachers' Anthem) and even Turkey, it's all incredibly uplifting. The audience's thrill is palpable. This excellent, albeit belatedly issued, recording is the next best thing, and one can only hope further projects of this quality will see the light of day in due course.
9. A World in London, SOAS Radio & Resonance FM, 27 May 2016
Distinctive and evocative singer-songwriter Reem Kelani on this A World In London by DJ Ritu!
Much to our joy, Reem Kelani has just released her first new album after ten years. Live At The Tabernacle is the superb successor to her 2006 debut, Sprinting Gazelle, recorded at the prime Notting Hill venue in 2012, and translating Reem’s powerhouse stage presence to CD . Each song is sung with her entire body, from the tips of her toes through to her lips. The depth of tones in her voice echo the depth of feelings submerged in lyrics drawn from the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan & Palestine. Profoundly versatile as a singer, Reem sprints (gazelle-like) across a range of emotions employing her raw edged powers in protest songs and sweet soothing vocals for the lullabies. Only the finest musicians are qualified to partake in the highly-skilled game of Arabic call & response, and Jazz improvisation, so Live At the Tabernacle also features artists like oud maestro Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and pianist Bruno Heinen. Reem is a natural & driven communicator, both in song & conversation. She comes loaded with worldly wisdom, a wealth of anecdotes from her global travels as a human rights champion, performer & broadcaster, and she brims with indefatigable energy and an invincible memory! As Reem’s repertoire pangs at our conscience we receive an essential reminder that 70 years on after the Second World War, 85% of Palestinians are still stateless, dispersed, or ghettoed in occupied territories. Plus, a timely account of what it truly means to be exiled from one’s homeland, and the lessons of history from which mankind never seems to learn.
8. World Music Central, 27 May 2016
Delightful Reem Kelani Live at the Tabernacle in London by TJ Nelson
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that recordings of live performances are dynamic interactions with polite audiences only making their presence known by clapping at the very end of tracks, but Palestinian singer-songwriter, musician, broadcaster, educator and activist Reem Kelani’s live performance of Live at the Tabernacle proves not only live but lively.
With stories, audience sing-a-longs, impromptu performances and her own generous nature, Ms. Kelani holds sway over the audience on this two-CD set of her live 2012 concert out now on the Fuse Records label. Ms. Kelani proves just as captivating with her storytelling as she does with her powerful vocals and the ecstatic energy of Live at the Tabernacle leaks out on every track of the recorded version.
Backed by extraordinary musicians Bruno Heinen on piano, Tamer Abu Ghazeleh on oud, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Antonio Fusco on drums, percussion and bindir, Ms. Kelani’s vocals shine through on opening wedding song “Let Us In!” and the poignant, piano laced “Galilean Lullaby” that turns into a little sing-a-long with the audience.
“Sprinting Gazelle” comes with a little battle of the band with interplay of oud and bass, but it is “Songs of Parting” that blossoms into the unexpected as this medley of two songs takes off and includes an impromptu violin performance by audience member, Turkish musician and musicologist Cahit Baylav and added vocals by another audience member Cihan Ademhan.
Ms. Kelani and fellow musicians pay tribute to composer Sayyid Darwish with tracks like “The Porters’ Anthem” and “The Preachers’ Anthem.” These tracks are full, lush and explosively delicious blend of Middle Eastern and jazz. For those with a physical copy get full force of the lyrics as the booklet carries the English translation of these songs. To further her tribute to Mr. Darwish, Ms. Kelani include her own instrumental composition “1932” with her reading the poem “The Vinegar Cup” by Mu’in Bseiso over the music.
Live at the Tabernacle also includes gems like “The Ship Sounded Its Horn” by El-Hedi Guella and lyrics by El-Mouldi Zleiha and a performance of “Yarmouk” from documentary film “Les Chebabs de Yarmouk” by film director Axel Salvatori-Sinz. Live at the Tabernacle closes with the lively “Giving Praise.”
Proving she is just as affected by the audience, Ms. Kelani gives an explanation of the performance of “Giving Praise” in the liner notes, “This song is now a regular feature of my shows. I use it not just to give praise as in its original context, but also as an opportunity to feature the musicians in the band. That night at the Tabernacle, they were ‘in the zone,’ alongside the very spirited audience.”
Live at the Tabernacle is potently powerful and deliciously delightful.
7. The Muslim Institute, 25 May 2016
Folk on, Palestine by Shanon Shah
Before I heard of Reem Kelani, my knowledge of Palestinian culture – let alone its rich tradition of music – was next to non-existent. I am not alone in this ignorance, and this is what fuels Kelani’s activism against the deliberate erasure of Palestinian culture as part of the politics of Occupation.
At her concerts, I learnt that music is an integral part of Palestinian identity. Many a Palestinian lullaby, for example, contain these haunting lines: “Do tell our loved ones who’ve moved away/That for anyone, hardship never lasts forever/Never lasts forever”, which listeners can savour in Kelani’s mesmerising arrangement of “Tahlileh Jaliliyyeh” (“Galilean Lullaby”). I was also ecstatic when I first heard her “Il-Hamdillah” (“Giving Praise”), a rhythmic, trance-inducing zikr or chanted remembrance of Allah.
These and other scintillating tracks can be found on Kelani’s debut album, Sprinting Gazelle, released in 2005. And Kelani has done us a favour by following this with her sophomore effort, Live at the Tabernacle (2016). This double CD is a feast for the senses, containing several tracks from her debut and also some fresh numbers, such as the witty and caustic Egyptian anti-colonial song “Lahn el-Fuqahaa’/Shaykh Quffaa’a” (“The Preachers’ Anthem”).
The live album is no substitute for actually being at a Kelani concert but it is a chance to appreciate her musicianship alongside her impressive band, comprising musicians from the UK, US, Palestine and Italy. Their skill and chemistry are palpable and their interpretation of each track ranges from muscular to melancholy, perfectly matching Kelani’s intense and gorgeous voice.
Listening to Kelani on Spotify is certainly an option but it diminishes the lushness of owning her intricately crafted CDs. Apart from the informative notes introducing each song, the visual design is also integral for the appreciation of Kelani’s artistic vision – from the Nasta’liq calligraphy of Sprinting Gazelle to the Kufic calligraphy of Live at the Tabernacle.
And Kelani is not only political - she’s hilarious to boot. She introduces “Ah! Ya Reem al-Ghuzlaan” (“Sprinting Gazelle”) by telling the audience that the song was taught to her by a Palestinian Big Mama who, upon learning her name (“reem” is Arabic for “addax/white antelope” but can generically refer to a gazelle), recited these sombre verses:
“O gazelle of all gazelles/You, who plan to go away/As you set out on your journey/Offer your praise to the Prophet.
My eyes flooded with tears/I cried over our parting/Crying over our partying/I’ve taken a vow of silence/I’ve forbidden myself to dance the dabkeh/I’ve dyed my clothes dark and gone into mourning.”
At which point Kelani asked the Palestinian Big Mama, “When do you sing this song, mama?” Big Mama replied, “We’re Palestinian, why of course – at weddings!”
Live at the Tabernacle is a gift because it is proof that Kelani is not only a consummate activist and musician, she’s also impeccable whether in a studio or in front of a live audience.
Kelani singing “Mawtini” (“My Homeland”), the de facto Palestinian national anthem
Shanon Shah is a writer and researcher on religion, gender and sexuality and has a doctorate in the sociology of religion.
6. Irish Left Review, 4 May 2016
Hardship never lasts forever
In 2006 I concluded my review of Reem Kelani's debut album Sprinting Gazelle with the phrase "I believe it's a masterpiece." That belief has subsequently matured into a certainty, and the disc has become one of my favourite albums in any genre. A full decade later Kelani's follow-up album Live at the Tabernacle, on Leon Rosselson's Fuse label, could easily have proved an anti-climax. Instead, it complements its predecessor admirably while also being a masterpiece on its own terms.
Kelani refers in the album booklet to "live concerts" as "the essence of what my musical journey is all about". This journey has hitherto also entailed composing, teaching, musicology, and performing in works by classical western composers with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, so it is hardly surprising - if frustrating for her growing legion of fans - that she regards recording as something of a sideshow.
The performance recorded here took place at the 2012 Nour Festival of Arts in London (the Tabernacle, Notting Hill), and the double-album eventually materialised thanks to a Kickstarter campaign of which Kelani says: "In an age in which music is structured according to the laws of the market place, and political narratives are suppressed, nothing is more comforting and assuring than grassroots support which can be neither bought nor sold."
Concerning Sprinting Gazelle, I wrote that Kelani "shuns political rhetoric, preferring to allow the music to speak for itself". This is as true of the Palestinian material on the new album as it is of Kelani's comments both on stage and in the excellent booklet accompanying the recording (I really recommend buying the hard copy, as the whole thing is so beautifully produced). Of course Kelani is hardly apolitical. She is a member of the Anti Capitalist Roadshow, a "collective of singers and songwriters opposed to the ideologically driven austerity programme imposed by this [UK] millionaire government". Some of the material on the second Tabernacle disc relates overtly to the 1919 Egyptian revolution and the 2011 Tunisian revolution. However, she seems content to allow Palestine's interminable trauma the status of an implicit if unmistakeable backdrop.
So has a political narrative been suppressed here after all? An informative and sympathetic Guardian interview from 2008 clarified that Kelani "initially struggled to get a record contract here [the UK] because of her [Palestinian] subject matter." She admits that on the cover of Sprinting Gazelle "I was very careful....I did not say 'from Palestine'. I said 'from the motherland'. I'm walking on eggshells all the time." Nonetheless, she asserted that "there is a message that Palestinians don't exist, so my narrative is my existence, both personally and collectively....As a human being, as a woman, as a Palestinian."
By now Reem Kelani's existence and hence her narrative is so firmly established that she could probably afford to kick aside the eggshells, although admittedly the defamatory energies of the Israel lobby are inexhaustible. In the CD booklet Alan Kirwan, curator of the Nour Festival in 2012, writes that.... "at the heart of her work is the recurring image of Palestine"...., and the album's epigraph - cited in English and Arabic - is a defiant quatrain from the jubilant traditional Palestinian song Il-Hamdillah:
"Praise God, that evil is no more
We planted peppers in the heat
Our foes said they wouldn't turn red
Praise God, our peppers grew and turned red."
This song, which euphorically closes both this album and Sprinting Gazelle, contains lyrics.... "collected from field recordings of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon and Jordan".... The opening track on Disc I, Let us in! (Hawwilouna!), was "recorded from a group of Palestinian refugee women, originally from the village of Sha'ab near Acre" (in present-day Israel).
The song Sprinting Gazelle itself, a new version of the début CD's title song (the Arabic for "gazelle" is "reem"), is described as "represent(ing) a journey of profound pain interlaced with ecstatic hope. Palestinians refer to this as sumoud ('steadfastness'). I felt this eerie beauty at the end of the frenzied rendition by the [refugee] women, when the matriarch of the group quietly retorted: 'We had no shoes on our feet when we left Palestine!'"
The song Yarmouk was written for Axel Salvatori-Sinz's documentary about the eponymous Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. In an extract from this film included on CD II (the first CD also features a "promo video" that includes an interview with Kelani - to watch these, you must play these enhanced CDs on a computer!) one speaker asserts that "the camp is a piece of Palestine."
In short, although Kelani doesn't directly mention the Balfour Declaration, occupation or colonisation, Live from the Tabernacle is imbued with Palestinian politics from start to finish.
Kelani uses the same basic jazz combo of piano, percussion, and double-bass that stood her in such good stead in her first album, but with different personnel: US-born, UK-based pianist Bruno Heinen, British bassist Ryan Trebilcock ("Cornish, not English!" as Kelani insists), and Italian percussionist Antonio Fusco. This excellent trio in which individual virtuosity and collective partnership are indissoluble is joined by the Palestinian 'Oud-player Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, who is also a renowned singer-songwriter.
The two discs are somewhat asymmetrical in the layout of their content. All material on Disc I is Palestinian, except for the last number which, like the first two on Disc II, is part of Kelani's ongoing homage to the Egyptian composer Sayyid [Sayed] Darwish (1892-1923). However, the sheer exuberance and flamboyance of The Porters' Anthem, with its playful and highly political text by Badi' Khayri (1893-1966), made it an ideal finale to part 1 of the public concert, hence its placing here.
Its companion piece, The Preachers' Album, is graced with one of Kelani's most imaginative arrangements: "a 'western' musical style reminiscent of infantry Jazz bands during WWII, juxtaposed with frenzied Egyptian percussion", a perfect complement to Badi' Khayr's modernist poem with its multilingual references.
The third Sayyid Darwish piece, 1932, is predominantly instrumental; only Reem Kelani could compose a homage whose "title refers to the year in which the first 'Cairo Congress of Arabic Music' was convened at the Institute of Oriental Music"..... The booklet notes tell us in fascinating detail about the issues debated at this Congress, and about the suspicion with which Darwish's music was viewed by the Egyptian establishment of the day - a suspicion that appears to have lingered, despite his having composed the Egyptian national anthem.
On her home page, Kelani refers to her "decade-long project on the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish", reminds us that it was "his songs which dominated the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo and elsewhere", and expresses her hope "to produce a triple CD, with detailed musicological and historical notes". This is an intriguing and exciting prospect indeed.
Two more tracks need to be mentioned. The Ship Sounded its Horn (Babour Zammar) was composed in the 1970s by the Tunisian musician and activist El-Hédi Guella (1951-2012) to a text by El-Mouldi Zleilah (1917-2009) "as a tribute to the student revolution in France, and it returned to the Tunisian people's consciousness when their own revolution erupted in December 2010." Kelani had already recorded a version of this for the Anti Capitalist Roadshow Celebrating Subversion album, where she dedicated it to the memory of Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation instigated the Tunisian revolution.
Finally, the exquisitely haunting Galilean Lullaby was composed by Kelani herself to a traditional poem the last lines of which (echoed in The Preachers' Anthem) could provide a second epigraph to this marvellous, indispensable album:
"Do tell our loved ones who've moved away,
That for anyone, hardship never lasts forever
Never lasts forever. Never lasts forever."
Raymond Deane is a composer, author, and activist.
5. Morning Star, 26 April 2016
Powerfully Cosmopolitan Sounds Of The Middle East
SHE's a Mancunian/Palestinian, born in Manchester in 1964 to a mother from Nazareth and a doctor father from a village in Jenin.
During a girlhood in Kuwait she began singing when she was four and studied piano from an early age.
Reem Kelani had no early affinity to Arabic music. ”I didn't like it until I was in my teens,” she admits.
”Then I saw a group of women singing at a wedding outside of my maternal hometown of Nazareth in 1974. I thought: 'Gosh, this is good'.”
She has been performing Palestinian songs since 1988 and has toured the Arab world many times over.
Live at the Tabernacle is her new album, recorded during the 2012 Nour Festival of Arts, at a concert at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill when she sang not only the songs of Palestine, but others from Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Tunisia.
Her fellow musicians too were powerfully cosmopolitan, with the British-US pianist Bruno Heinen, the Palestinian oud virtuoso Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, the Cornish bassist Ryan Trebilcock and Antonio Fusco from Italy on drums and bindir.
Led by Kelani's soulful and groovingly beautiful voice, all five of them constantly show that more than a little jazz runs through their blood and spirit.
As soon as the stomping percussion of the traditional Palestinian song Hawwilouna! (Let Us In!) begins and Kelani's voice resonates demanding admission to a wedding, you can sense defiance is afoot.
A Galilean Lullaby follows, full of sadness for relatives who have gone into exile.
It's a lament, with an earthy melancholy and some tender piano from Heinen, but ending with lines born out of optimism and struggle: ”For anyone hardship never lasts forever / Never lasts forever.”
Sprinting Gazelle is another Palestinian wedding song with some brilliant oud playing by Abu Ghazaleh, as if he were strumming and picking his strings at some Palestinian crossroads, so full of his own singular blues is he with the rampant hope in Kelani's voice beside him.
The two Songs of Parting begins with a compelling solo from Trebilcock's bass.
He plays with huge depth, but in his tone is also a sense of Charlie Haden's intense breadth, as if each note were stretching from Gaza to the Jordan.
”Oh, my eye, stop crying!”: sings Kelani, ”My tears pour forth without relent / At those who stole my birthright.”
In the second song she is joined spontaneously by two Turkish musicians - the violinist Cahit Baylav and the Kurdish singer Cihan Ademhan, and a beautiful unity is born.
The song by the Egyptian Sayyid Darwish, The Porters' Anthem, tells of the 1919 revolt by Egyptians against British rule and the leading role of the impoverished porters.
Heinen's stomping notes surge the musicians onward in a truculent ensemble.
Another song from the same era, The Preachers' Anthem, celebrates the end of war in 1918 and satirises the false promises made by the Western powers to the Egyptian people.
Heinen's piano rolls out the theme, Kelani's voice is fiery and Fusco's drums underline the scintillating lyrics - set out in the beautiful hardback sleeve booklet.
1932 is Kelani's tune dedicated to both Sayyid Darwish and Gaza, which puts the Mu'in Bseiso poem The Vinegar Cup to music.
The piano and oud duo of Heinen and Ghazaleh exudes poignancy and Kelani's singing of the poem's final lines is a lovesong in itself: ”How would you be born in my heart? / How would I be born in your heart? / Oh, my people!”
From Gaza to Tunisia, and Babour Zammar (The Ship Sounded its Horn) is a song of migration, never so apt as now when the Aegean Sea fills with shattered humanity.
Kelani sings for all times and for all peoples, and the waves of her voice match the seas of escape and the landfalls of freedom.
Yarmouk is a cry for the homeland, the lyrics a poem by the Glasgow-based Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh, the title the name of a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.
The lives of two displaced and war-agonied peoples coalesce in this song as the five musicians absorb and express the now-times of their lives; improvising, loving and creating anew.Chris Searle
4. Khair ad-Din AbdulRahman, Palestinian writer & critic, 12 April 2016
When I hear Kelani's novel renditions of traditional Palestinian music and songs from other Arab regions, I compare her engaging performance which merges the spiritual and the physical with the lyrics and music, like a worker bee giving endlessly, with the performance of preceding generations who used to sing like wax statues. But I also draw a comparison between her scholarly performance that penetrates the soul of her audience and encourages it to partake with spirit, mind, body, emotion, voice and memory, to the clone-like performances to which many are naïvely addicted.
3. Timnatal Music, 12 April 2016
Reem Kelani’s new album ”Live at the Tabernacle" is an amazing achievement! I have followed Reem’s career since I came across her version of the Palestinian song “Dal’ouna”. Thirteen years later, this is still the finest version I have ever heard. This new album finds Reem Kelani in top form! The group of musicians on stage with Reem created a magical space for Reem’s powerful voice and energy. Listening to the music and the background stories of each song transports the listeners to a distant place with its joys and sorrows of simpler life. Reem and her group do take musical liberties to present their stories.
The connection to Middle Eastern Folk & Classical music is quite evident, but as always with a warm blanket of Western Jazz tradition. Many musicians that I listened to often fail to reach their mark, but these guys really pull as a tight unit.
In these days of digital “files/downloads”, it is so refreshing to find musicians who care enough, in spite of cost, to present their music with a fitting and aesthetically pleasing package and informative liner notes.
After reviewing a significant number of recordings by Palestinian singers and performers, Reem Kelani, in my opinion, is the finest representative of Palestinian song and culture.Click here to read the original article
2. Middle East Eye, 6 April 2016
Intimately familiar with the music of her native culture, Reem Kelani grew up to become an unofficial cultural ambassador for the art of Palestine.
All good things come to those who wait as the saying goes. The wait for Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster Reem Kelani’s second album is over. She has just released her second CD entitled Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle, which is a live recording of her concert at the Tabernacle, London, on 22 November 2012. Reem was born in the UK, but raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents. Intimately familiar with the music of her native culture, she grew up to become an unofficial cultural ambassador for the art and poetry of Palestine.
Reem sees her albums as “a project, not a product”, hence the gap between her first album in 1996 and her new offering. The concert formed part of Kensington & Chelsea’s Nour Festival, organised that year by Alan Kirwan. The album is beautifully presented, consisting of two CDs, with almost 80 minutes of playing time and a substantial and enriching album booklet. Each CD also includes a PDF version of the booklet which can be opened on your computer.
The first CD includes a short promotional film by the Venezuelan filmmaker Ignacio Crespo Valdez, in which Reem talks about her music and about the making of this album.
Reem gives her audience an insight into traditional Palestinian wedding celebrations which lasted for days and in which songs and the traditional Dabka dance played a major role. Hawwilouna or “Let us in“ starts us off describing the arrival of the groom’s family at the bride’s home to take her away. The lyrics are a mix of the groom’s family boasting and teasing:
Let us in!
Our loved ones, don’t you go upsetting us
Our tradition is to dress in finery
Our tradition is to marry well
Our generosity is unsurpassed!
We’ve received an edict from the Sultan, Aamaan Aamaan
He who gives us his daughter’s hand in marriage
Shall be made leader of all the Arab tribes, Aamaan Aamaan...
And he who doesn’t give us his daughter’s hand,
Shall be made to clean up after our cattle, Aamaan Aamaan...
Let us in! Let us in!
Another wedding song, Sprinting Gazelle, comes from Reem’s first album of the same name Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora. Reem describes the lyrics as “seemingly sad, yet paradoxically the song is performed at Palestinian weddings, with a poignant narrative that shows resilience as well as heartbreak”. The song concludes with these poignant lyrics:
O Lord of all mankind!
You give life and You take it away
You bring life to those who’ve been driven away
My heart has been torn apart
Because of this parting
O gazelle of all gazelles
You, who plan to go away!
The theme of parting and exile continues with Furaqiyyat or Songs of Parting.
O my eye, stop crying
O my eye, or you’ll burst
My tears pour forth without relent
At those who stole my birthright
Those of you visiting the Prophet’s shrine
Take me aboard your caravan
I’m neither as heavy as iron
Nor will I burden you with children
They dressed for the journey
Saying they’d be away for two days
But their parting lasted forever
They dressed for the journey
Saying they’d be away for two days
The last song of the first CD moves us nicely onto a major project Reem has been undertaking, researching the Egyptian composer Syyed Darwish. It was during one of Reem’s field trips to Egypt, researching some of these very songs, that Reem found herself in the middle of the Egyptian revolution. She later reported on the music of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square in her radio documentary Songs for Tahrir on BBC Radio 4.
The Porters’ Anthem is an example of his songs about society’s downtrodden and marginalised at the turn of the 20th century. The song alludes to political events such as the 1919 Revolt against British rule. As well as holding strikes and demonstrations, damaging railways and derailing trains, the 1919 revolutionaries cut telephone lines and telegraph cables in order to isolate Cairo from London.
The second CD continues with Sayyed Darwish’s Preacher’s Anthem but also a composition by Reem dedicated to Sayyid Darwish. It also includes a specially edited excerpt from the French film-maker, Axel Salvatori-Sinz’s award-winning documentary film Les Chebabs de Yarmouk, for which Reem composed the title music Yarmouk. The lyrics of the song were penned by Iyad Hayatleh, the Glasgow-based Palestinian poet and son of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. While this was written at the outset of the Syrian troubles, Palestinians in the refugee camp continue to suffer to this day.
This is Yarmouk!
Your light will wipe the darkness of the siege
On your white doorsteps
The children’s smiles will vanquish
The pains of my demise
And the martyrs’ blood
Will breathe life into me
And through the blessings of old mothers
I’ll imbibe the anthems of my triumph
This is Yarmouk!
My song... my desire... my yearning
Are all for my home...
This is Yarmouk! This is Yarmouk!
The irony here is that from longing for a return to Palestine, refugees from Yarmouk long for a return to it on the way back to their homes in Palestine.
Reem’s set at the Tabernacle also included a Tunisian track from her collaboration album with the AntiCapitalist Roadshow (featuring Leon Rosselson, Roy Bailey, Peggy Seeger & Robb Johnson, amongst others). This demonstrates the diversity and richness of Reem’s musical collaborations.
This richness and diversity in her music is also reflected in the composition of her band at the Tabernacle concert. This included a Jazz rhythm section comprising Bruno Heinen on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Antonio Fusco on drums and percussion. The concert also featured a guest appearance by the acclaimed Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh on ‘oud.
Over the years, Reem has introduced many non-Arab musicians to the theory and practice of Arabic music, including the exceptional rhythm section which accompanied her in this concert. Moreover, she has facilitated opportunities for her band members to work with musicians from Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Iran.
Reem has been described by the British media as an "unofficial ambassador" for Palestine. However, as this album demonstrates, she is far more than that. Reem told me when I spoke to her about the album that her audiences tend to mirror the population in the country she is performing in. Thus, she brings the richness of Arab culture and music to audiences across the world.
What of the future? Reem tells me she is continuing to work on a new album of Palestinian songs, a duo project with jazz pianist Heinen, and on her vast project on the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. She also continues to devote much effort to workshops, master classes and presentations in schools and colleges and with community groups and choirs.
Reem plans to launch her new album later this year. Judging by the reaction of audiences at her previous concerts this is one not to be missed. Impromptu audience participation is a must! Kamel HawwashClick here to read the original article
1. Elsewhere, New Zealand, 4 April 2016
It has been a decade since Manchester-born Palestinian singer Reem Kelani announced herself with her her exceptional debut album Sprinting Gazelle, which earlier this year Elsewhere entered into its Essential Elsewhere pages.
Since then she has been exceptionally busy -- performing in jazz and orchestral contexts, recording for radio and touring -- but a new album seemed long overdue.
This double live disc recorded at the titular Tabernacle in London in September 2012 more than fills the gap, the first disc comes with a five minute video of her speaking about the concert and how she sees herself as a musician. The second has a short film which is best seen rather than explained. It -- with Kelani's Yarmouk from the concert as the soundtrack -- is impossible not to be moved by.
On the night Kelani had her three piece jazz band (piano, bass, drums) and Palestinian oud player Tamer Abu Ghazaleh for a programme which embraced her arrangements of traditional songs and more contemporary work, and she explains the backgrounds with empathy and sometimes humour.
She sounds such an engaging performer that it's no surprise the audience not ony warms to her immediately but also joins in at times, at her invitation.As with most live concerts there's always a sense you really had to be there but the sheer energy she and the band bring is infectious -- upright bassist Ryan Trebilcock bridging the gap between jazz and Palestinian music on the terrific, extended version of Sprinting Gazelle. And again on his solo which introduces two traditional songs of parting.
Pianist Bruno Heinen provides something similar on his intro-exploration to The Porter's Anthem written by the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923) whose work Kelani is making it a project to re-introduce. With librettist Badi Khayri (1893-1966) providing the wry political lyrics, the pair read like the Brecht-Weill of their region and period.
Their Preacher's Anthem is like a mad, political slice of Gilbert and Sullivan given a jazzy twist with a reference to It's a Long Way to Tipperary.
And there is the vigorous contemporary The Ship Sounded Its Horn (a tribute to the student and worker's revolution in France in '68) which has all the energy and urgency of a heated political conversation in a secret room.
At the other of the spectrum is 1932, dedicated to Darwish, which is a moving poem about Christ on the cross, reset as a spare piano ballad with oud.
Beautifully packaged with an extensive booklet of lyrics, stories behind the songs, photographs and a glossary, Live at the Tabernacle confirms Reem Kelani to be an important and compelling voice.
It is however to be hoped that, despite her busy schedule, she might get back into a studio soon where her attention might be more focused than distracted by the expectations of a live audience.
By the way, the sad but strident Galilean Lullaby must keep kids awake all over the land. Graham ReidClick here to read the original article
Sprinting Gazelle Reviewsback to top
54. Ahram Online, Egypt, 23 February 2012
53. MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project), Washington DC, USA, 25 January 2012
52. Global Arts Central, March 2010
The opening song, As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow, is a song that dates back almost 150 years, to the time of the Ottoman Empire – and sung by women to their husbands before they went into battle. Kelani performs it as a tribute to Nazareth’s struggling ecumenical tradition. It serves as an incredibly powerful opening to an album. Her voice is the only sound, save for a hauntingly ominous droning in the background. The lyrics, performed in Arabic, strike particular resonance: “Will anyone help us, they cried? Will anyone relieve our pain? Will anyone share our burden? So heavy it slides off our backs.”
Originally this pain was felt by the women who had to say goodbye to their loved ones. Now it is a pain felt by the Palestinian people, something As Nazarene… captures perfectly.
The Cameleer Tormented My Heart reminds Kelani of the refugee camps of Lebanon. In sound it reminds me of an Irish folk song, with its repetitive rhythmic pattern. The Cameleer whips itself into a frenzy and has less of the sorrow that accompanied the opener. A song written for parting loved ones, Kelani invokes the same passion one would imagine it having when performed for the first time.
Kelani’s homage to Tawfiq Zayyad, the writer and resistance poet, in Galilean Lullaby is reminiscent of an early twentieth century ballad. Lines such as, “Do tell our loved ones who’ve moved away, that for anyone, hardship never lasts forever”, are set against melancholic lounge music – that adds a sense of romanticism to the song.
There is a definite change of pace in A Baker’s Dozen, entitled due to its 13 beat sections. The album’s producer referred to the unusual pattern as similar to a Lancashire baker’s dozen. The lyrics are similarly powerful, and the mood similarly tense to the rest of the album, despite the faster, funkier beat. The song builds to an anthemic crescendo, with drums, double bass and violin leading to an abrupt and climactic ending.
Kelani wrote the music to Mawwaal in 1992 for a BBC documentary on the massacre of Lebanese refugees a decade earlier. The words come from the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is mentioned earlier. The English subtitles call it ‘Variations on Loss’ and this captures the style of the song perfectly: a heartbroken ballad in the western tradition. Indeed this song is the most western sounding on the album.
Although recorded in England, Sprinting Gazelle perfectly captures the compassion and sadness that Reem Kelani feels for her people in the Middle East. It is a beautiful and touching record. Many of the lyrics may be borrowed from Arabic folklore, but their meaning, and the passion with which they are performed, make them hugely relevant and noticeably affecting. William Mathieson
51. Instrumental Musician, February 2010
The opening track demonstrates the complexity of the vocal style from this region, and Kelani recreates these with ease. Vocal trills and leaps as well as sustained notes that stand alone against a drone accompaniment are the highlight of the opening.
The orchestration is increased for The Cameleer Tormented My Heart. Though the instrumentation and arrangement are refined, the track retains an attractive raw quality that has a compelling groove. Many tracks feature the authentic instruments such as the yarghul (similar to a clarinet but with two pipes), nay (end-blown flute), and daf (open drum with metallic ringlets). It is interesting to hear them in ensembles that sometimes include piano, saxophone, and string quartet.
Several tracks demonstrate the mix of Western musics. Galilean Lullaby finds the folk elements along with instrumentation and moods found in jazz and acoustic rock ensembles. Above this, the vocal presents the lyric with microtonal slides and goes between melismatic decorations, melody, and recitation. During Il Hamdillah, Kelani sings sections in portamento leaps that would be the envy of a Moog synthesizer.
The album is an enjoyable presentation that boasts the complex arrangements this music is capable of in a way that remains focused and entertaining throughout.
50. Ramadan Nights, Nablus, Palestine, 10 September 2009
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2009
Kelani's voice shines through from all directions when you listen to this album. Despite living in the Diaspora, this daughter of Palestine, her father hailing from Ya'abad and her mother from Nazareth, Kelani remains authentic in her arrangements of Palestinian traditional music as well as in her settings of Palestinian resistance poetry. In so doing, she preserves her roots whilst simultaneously introducing the Palestinian musical narrative to Western listeners. Siham Abu-Ghazaleh
49. The No-Nonsense Guide to World Music, New Internationalist, April 2009Music does not exist in a vacuum. It is created out of communities, knowledge and resource, it is – except in the most rare cases – designed to be listened to. But even this is not so simple. What are you singing? And in doing so, what are you representing?
In 2006, Reem Kelani, the London-based Palestinian singer and composer, recorded (and financed) a wonderfully accomplished debut album called Sprinting Gazelle (Fuse). It wasn’t her first recording: Kelani, who trained as a marine biologist before taking up music as a profession, had long been a guest presence on other people’s jazz albums. She was no ingénue and much thought went into the album’s presentation and content. The cover of Sprinting Gazelle features a gazelle (“reem” in Arabic); there is rue, the herb with which Nazareth olives – the hometown of Kelani’s mother, are always pressed; the background shows a creamy white fabric covered in cross stitch, a pattern local to Galilee.
Sprinting Gazelle’s ten songs include traditional Palestinian songs (many gathered in refugee camps) that predate 1948 and contemporary songs and lyrics from writers (including such prominent ones as Mahmoud Darwish and Salma Khadra Jayyusi) who were born before 1948 in the land that is now Israel. The album’s catalogue number is, significantly, the number 48. And yet, Kelani acknowledges, she was criticised by some within Palestine for not draping the album in the colours of the Palestinian flag or indulging in the kind of belligerent imagery – what she terms “emotional pornography” – that adorns the sleeves of so much ‘political’ music from Israel and Palestine. It’s a fraught situation: to be an artist is to be seized upon by those who want to claim (or conversely, deny) you for their own aims.
Sprinting Gazelle is an album in which the personal merges with the political, not because Kelani aligns herself with any faction (she is careful not to), but because of the third “P” word: Palestine. The album’s subtitle Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora is a political statement in so much as anything to do with the history and contemporary existence and constitution of Palestine is political. “Music defines a community, but conversely, the community makes the music,” Kelani points out. “Israelis deny there is something called Palestinian music. When you deny my existence it is a lot worse than victimising me. When you victimise me, you acknowledge that I’m there, although I might be a subspecies – like Hitler did with the Jews. He considered them as a subspecies, subhuman. But if you deny my music, you deny my existence. The good side of this is that you realise that you’re not a victim – because you don’t exist. And not feeling a victim is something quite empowering. When I say I am not a victim, I’m fearless.
“The whole point is to say that there is something called the Palestinian musical cultural narrative. When I say that I recorded Sprinting Gazelle for selfish reasons, I do not mean for fame and profit,” Kelani continues. “I needed to do it to say that I existed.”
To resist those who want to pull Sprinting Gazelle one way or another is a brave thing to do. And it is an album with resonances that stretch back into history. (Its opening song, for example, “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” was sung by women as their menfolk were conscripted into the Ottoman army.) And yet even so, the album navigates a minefield. For all its celebrations of memory and resilience, it’s also a lament for what once was – a cultural Palestinianism, in which Christian, Jewish and Muslim threads came together – and will be no more. Louise Gray ©
48. LangSource Reviews of Language and Culture Resources, USA, 2008
Editorial Board Review
Kelani's album combines Palestinian music and jazz that results in a tantalizingly harmonious celebration of centuries of shared Palestinian inter-religious culture and history. From the music and lyrics, the listener hears a rejection of self-pity and reactionary violence.
47. Earshot Jazz magazine, Seattle, USA, May 2008
Since its inception, jazz has appealed to international audiences, and musicians from around the world have used jazz to express their unique artistic visions. Palestinian vocalist Reem Kelani's music, which merges jazz with traditional Arabic and Palestinian song, is no exception. This month Kelani makes her United States premiere with a series of performances at the Seattle International Children's Festival.
Born in Manchester, England and raised in Kuwait, Kelani listened to jazz standards and Arabic movie soundtracks as a child. In her early twenties, she became fascinated with the traditional songs of Palestinian women, which she learned while recording musicians in the refugee camps and villages of the West Bank and Lebanon. This was not an easy task. First, Kelani, who is based in London, had to find Palestinian women familiar with the old repertoire. Then she had to persuade them to sing. Many of her subjects had not sung traditional music in decades because it reminded them of their past lives and painful experiences as refugees. By listening to their songs, however, Kelani reconnected with her Palestinian identity and found inspiration for her own music.
Her debut album, "Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" (2006), is a collection of traditional songs, but with a modern twist. Not surprisingly, she is accompanied by Arab musicians. Less expected is the quartet of jazz musicians that joins them. By infusing her arrangements with jazz, Kelani is able to take the traditional Palestinian folk songs, re-envision them, and make them her own. In the process, she stretches the boundaries of both jazz and Arabic music to create something new and different.
At first glance, pairing Arabic music with jazz might seem odd. Both rely heavily upon improvisation and audience participation, and both vocal techniques incorporate singing without words. When asked why, as an Arab woman, she performs jazz, Kelani simply responds: "Because I'm an Arab, I play jazz".
In addition to her activities as a musician and ethnographer, Kelani is also a seasoned radio broadcaster and has worked extensively with school children, women's groups, and community choirs. Taken together, these experiences make her a natural addition to the Seattle International Children's Festival, one of the only major cultural events for young audiences that celebrates world cultures through the performing arts. Elaine Hayes
46. The Metro, 17 October 2007
Reem Kelani is something of an expert in crossing boundaries, in music and in life. Born in Manchester to a mother from Nazareth and a father from Jenin, Kelani was raised in Kuwait – where she listened to Fred Astaire and Lebanese singer Fairouz – and, later, gathered folk songs from women in Lebanese and Palestinian refugee camps. Her debut album, Sprinting Gazelle, contains some of these songs, along with Kelani’s own settings of poems by prominent Palestinian poets, lovingly translated in the album’s booklet.
Sprinting Gazelle is an impressive piece of work, a labour of love fuelled by tenderness and fury. The two extremes are ever present in Kelani’s astonishing voice, which goes from rapture to pain, or suggests both at once. To listen to track one of Sprinting Gazelle (As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow), a soaring incantation above a bass drone, is to be aware that one is in the presence of greatness. Kelani possesses a gravitas beyond the reach of the best. The sensuality is hair-raising. As she is fond of saying, she’s all for the Passion, it’s the Crucifixion she doesn’t like. Mike Butler
45. Gulf Air Magazine, October 2007
Kelani trained as a marine biologist, and there is an air of the scientist about the way in which she archives songs from around the world. “I am a researcher, whether it’s zoology or ethnomusicology. It’s a process of study and discovery.”
The fruits of these studies can be found on her acclaimed debut album Sprinting Gazelle, a collection of Palestinian and Arabic lullabies, wedding songs, love ballads and Sufi mantras, along with dramatic melodies written to lyrics by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Although meticulously researched, there is nothing scholarly or scientific about her music. The songs are passionately delivered: Kelani’s remarkable voice can be boisterous or meditative, despairing or joyous; while the instrumental backing is subtly coloured with jazz, classical chamber music and flamenco. John Lewis
44. FOLC (review no.2), Spain, September 2007
Translated from Catalan to Spanish by Brigitte Vasallo. Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
With her debut solo album, London-based Reem Kelani has placed her name amongst the great singers of the Mediterranean. The album “Sprinting Gazelle” (Fuse Records CFCD048, 2006) is a very interesting approach to traditional Palestinian music with a contemporary touch, something that has been rarely attempted in Arabic music. This is intense and emotional work that revolves around a central theme: culture, not just land, is proof of a people’s existence.
This album is the fruit of many years’ work, researching traditional songs in Palestinian refugee camps. Brigitte Vasallo
43. FOLC (review no.1), Spain, March 2007
Translated from Catalan to Spanish by Brigitte Vasallo. Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
British of Palestinian origin, researcher of the musical traditions of her motherland, the singer Reem Kelani has taken lyrical borrowings from her preferred poets to create Sprinting Gazelle, a work in which, in a personal and emotional way, she combines her impressive voice with the rhythms of modern jazz and traditional Arabic music and sings words of celebration and mourning. It inspires feelings of happiness and pain. We should also point out Kelani’s work on the accompanying booklet, which contains detailed and informative notes which go far beyond the usual output of record labels or of simple chronologies. As brilliant as a mediterranean sky on a clear day. Jordi Urpí
42. Global Rhythm, USA, 16 March 2007
The debut album from this Palestinian singer/percussionist, as much a researcher of Palestinian music as a performer, is breathtaking.
Featuring an ensemble of players from around the globe, and lyrics from singers and poets throughout the vast Palestinian diaspora, Kelani has created an album of “world” music in the most honest sense. One listen to the album’s opener, “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow”— a droning acappella song women sang as their men marched off to join the Ottoman army—reveals a voice of authority and vulnerability. The band’s jazz chops do nothing to take away from Kelani’s voice, or her respect from the lyricists. However, Sprinting Gazelle is at its best on tracks like “The Cameleer Tormented My Heart,” which the singer heard in Lebanese refugee camps for Palestinian women. Clapping and hand percussion lay the foundation for bobbing clarinet and violin, over which Kelani’s voice keens beautifully. Bruce Miller
41. The Listener, New Zealand, 10 – 16 March 2007
SPRINTING GAZELLE, Reem Kelani. CFCD048 (Southbound). These 10 tracks totalling 74 minutes are Palestinian. Percussion and nasal wind instruments are Arabic, Palestinian, Persian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Bedouin. They accompany Reem Kelani’s natural folk voice. The title track is sung at weddings. The ardent “The Cameleer tormented my Heart” speaks for itself. Some painful ones such as “Yafa” lament the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland to make way for Israel in 1948. The uplifting 12-minute finale, “Il-Hamdillah” with its double chorus of repetitive chants, is a field recording. The booklet has texts in English and Arabic, detailed notes, colour photos and glossary describing all instruments and performance styles. A classy, scholarly issue. Outstanding performances. Ian Dando
40. New Internationalist, – February 2007
“But for our best of 2006, no self-respecting household should be without Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle. A collection of Palestinian songs, Kelani's singing and arrangements emphasize peace and positivity for a troubled location where both qualities are often markedly lacking.”Louise Gray
39. Qantara.de, Germany, January 2007
Translated from the German by Ron Walker
Reem Kelani – "Sprinting Gazelle": "I Defend My Right to Defend My Right"
Following her widely acclaimed featured performance on Gilad Atzmon's "Exile", the British-Palestinian singer Reem Kelani has released her own debut album, establishing herself as important artist in the Palestinian musical tradition.
The music reviewer has a battery of established categories at hand with which to assess the artistic value of a piece of music. Expression, technical ability, innovation, authenticity, musical or artistic integrity, the atmosphere or mood the piece creates, and so on. But the limitations of such categories become obvious when they are applied to assessing Reem Kelani's first album, and its hidden depths are likely, ice-berg-like, to prove elusive to the application of such criteria.
"Sprinting Gazelle" is not just about music as artistic expression, it's also concerned with the (re-) vitalisation of musical traditions – in other words, with the preservation of culture. And, of course, the struggle for the preservation of culture is also a struggle for the preservation of identity. So the words of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, "I defend my right to defend my right" have been well chosen to provide a fitting epigraph for the album.
Musical riches of the Holy Land
There is, however, a danger inherent in upholding or preserving a particular (musical) tradition. For in accentuating the differences between your own and other traditions you run a strong risk of creating a superficial, one-dimensional version of your own tradition. It's a trap that Reem Kelani manages to steer well clear of, however, and in "Sprinting Gazelle" she succeeds admirably in bringing together the richly diverse facets of the musical traditions of historical Palestine into a near 75 minute recording.
The tone is set with the opening of the first track on the album, "As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow", which begins with the sound of a monotonal male-voice choir reminiscent of the liturgical chanting used in the Greek Orthodox Church. The idea for this arrangement came from Kelani’s recollections of a childhood summer visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel in Nazareth.
"I was mesmerised by the Eastern Christian chanting that I heard, which had such striking similarities with Muslim religious chanting," the singer writes in the wonderfully informative booklet which accompanies the album and provides fascinating insights into the songs and their origins.
Along with Reem Kelani's arrangements of traditional songs, around half of the songs on the album are self-penned compositions. And although each of the songs has its own distinctive and distinguishing character, the album is nevertheless an integrated marriage of contrasts, a multi-faceted, unified work of art.
So, for example, the gentle, lilting melody of "Galilean Lullaby" with its floating piano and brushed drum accompaniment and its hint of jazz ballad (in Oriental guise) is followed by the pulsing percussion of "Baker’s Dozen". Beginning with a strong percussive beat (in audacious thirteen-four time), the hypnotic bass line in a minor key is followed by a wistful violin melody, which vies with the insistent rhythmic motif of the bass clarinet. The addition of clapping hands then evokes an image of cultic ritual. Appropriately, this rendition of the song is entitled Habl el-Ghiwa, or "Pull of Seduction".
Reem Kelani's remarkable performing talents have featured in countless reviews and articles, and anyone lucky enough to have seen her live can testify to the power and intensity of a voice that holds an audience spellbound, electrified, to the very last row of the auditorium.
Kelani's debut album proves not only that she has the ability, as producer and arranger, to successfully bring her ideas to fruition, but also that she is well able to maintain her artistic independence. No label manager has been permitted to compromise her ideas, nor any slick PR man to talk her round to a more commercial marketing strategy.
Music that breathes
The grand finale to "Sprinting Gazelle" is provided by Il-Hamdillah (Giving Praise), a traditional Palestinian song whose title is repeated mantra-style by a ten-person choir. This, too, has immense suggestive power and (as the booklet informs us) is often sung in this form at Sufi Zikr devotional rituals where monks evoke events from the past.
Like the entire album, it is a captivating piece with a clarity and transparency that is only matched by the emotional depth and warmth that emanates from the music. British Guitarist Andy Summers once said that he believed that music had to breathe. And that is exactly what it does do on "Sprinting Gazelle".
More than that, Reem Kelani succeeds in preserving the musical culture of Palestine without creating any feeling that the songs are museum pieces. On the contrary, she manages to breathe new life and vitality into texts and melodies that are sometimes centuries old. On "Sprinting Gazelle", as Roger van Schaick has so aptly commented, "She doesn’t sing the music, but lives it with her whole body and soul." Lewis Gropp
38. B-Ritmos, Spain, December, 2006
Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
Reem Kelani, British of Palestinian origin, is a researcher of the musical traditions of her homeland and a quite remarkable singer. Her debut solo album “Sprinting Gazelle” is, without doubt, the record which has had the most effect on me out of all of those which have emerged from the Arab world in recent years. A combination of Jazz and traditional rhythms from the Middle East, of snappy songs and party music, of celebration and pain, songs with a strange mix of passion and reserve, of happiness and simultaneous pain. In the accompanying booklet, Reem Kelani has provided a translation of the words into English (as well as the original Arabic lyrics). In addition, there is a detailed explanation of the origins of each song, of the arrangements which she has devised, and of the poetry which inspired her or which gave her the lyrics. As with the music, her explanations are not just a series of key dates: she weaves stories in miniature about each song, about each poem, with the intention of transporting us to her world and of sharing it with us. Sprinting Gazelle is like a carpet acting as its gateway: handmade, with little stitches, utterly personal, intimate and profoundly emotional. It is one of those records which strikes you from above like a ray of light and which begs the question as to how you can live without it. Brigitte Vasallo
37. Folk Devils, Global roots and electronic music, December, 2006
The performance by Reem Kelani at Whitby’s own Musicport in 2006 is one that will be talked about and remembered for a good long while. It had everything: drama, emotion, education, humour, power, musicianship, surprises, and above all a level of musical and personal integrity that shone throughout the whole set. How often do you see not only members of the audience but also the mc, the lovely Jo Freya, brought to tears by the sheer intensity of a performance? On top of all that Reem and her partner Chris are just lovely people.
So, after that little eulogy, what’s the album all about? It is, as the cover says, a collection of Palestinian songs from Palestine and the diaspora. The album comes with extensive notes, explanation and translation. Reem, who has a voice of considerable range and power, performs these songs and poems of loss and yearning, of love and lust, joy and sadness, with, amongst others, Zoe Rahman on Piano and Oli Hayhurst on double bass. The overall effect is entrancing and enriching. The initial strangeness to European ears soon falls away, the arrangements and the vocals see to that, and then the emotional depth of this album carries you away. More than that here we have a counter to the media image of Palestinians too distressingly familiar to repeat here. Apart from enjoying the music if this album has the effect of changing that image or spurring curiosity, then good. Try a bit of the marvellously titled ‘The Cameleer Tormented My Heart.
36. Ode, USA, October 2006
England-based Palestinian singer Reem Kelani put together this collection of songs from her native country and the Diaspora. Sprinting Gazelle is pretty heavy stuff, but the emotional intensity of the performances make it a very worthwhile effort. A song formerly used by women to say goodbye to their husbands as they were forced to fight in the Ottoman army outlines a drama much older than the current crisis. Luckily there are also lighter moments, such as a lullaby from Galilee. Ton Maas
35. Emel, October 2006 (The Muslim lifestyle magazine)
For dispossessed peoples, cultural expression takes on an importance equivalent to the political struggle. The survival of everyday phenomena like food, embroidery, music and dance, assume an added urgency in the face of dispersal, statelessness and now globalisation.
Manchester-born, Kuwaiti-bred, and now London-based Kelani is a child of the diaspora but this is not obvious from her music, at least not at face value. Her (surprisingly) debut album is a compilation of ten Arabic language songs with a distinctly traditional feel, sung in either classical Arabic or the Palestinian dialect. The album is the result of years of Kelani’s research into the traditional musical forms of Palestine, but it is not simply an exercise in musical archaeology (digging up old songs and preserving them). Kelani creatively develops the material and includes original work. While five are traditional folk songs, the other five are Palestinian poetry set to music by the artist.
The first track is a farewell song women used to sing to their men leaving to serve in the Ottoman army, the second is from the Bedouin tradition, the third a lullaby, and the genre-crossing continues. The title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is a wedding song learned from women in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, and ‘Il-Hamdillah’ is an energetic celebration based around a Sufi dhikr mantra.
While her passionate strong voice delivers a whole range of emotions, the album is overwhelmingly infused with longing, melancholy and nostalgia. Additionally, the jazz element she fuses into several of the songs brings it close to a Palestinian version of the Blues. They are subtle yet powerful, in particular the proud triumph of ‘Qasidah of Return’ – miles away from the explosion of supportive pop songs produced in the Arab world after the start of the second intifada in 2000.
The booklet that comes with the CD is a cultural archive in itself. It provides the lyrics in Arabic and English, a glossary of Arabic terms and a brief description of the origins and development of each song. She dedicates the album to her mother from Nazareth who taught her to sing, a poignant reminder of the importance of women in the survival and continuation of culture. Reem Kelani’s collection gives us a Palestinian narrative beyond the cold news reports and takes us into a world of love, loss, celebration and worship. Alyaa Ebbiary
34. Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Wednesday, 6 September 2006 Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
Kelani’s Palestinian Voice
As I was bidding Palestinian singer Reem Kelani farewell on the phone after her recent visit to Amman, I told her about what I read in my youth of the advice the great novelist Maxim Gorky gave a young Russian singer. Gorky apparently affirmed to the singer: ‘When you sing, let every listener know you are Russian just by them listening to your voice. Russia’s greatness, her geography, her history and her pride all flow through your voice.’
Kelani asked: ‘Did you end up wailing and beating yourself up after listening to my CD?’
‘I did cry’ I answered, ‘I felt I missed my homeland, my family and my people who are scattered all over the world, yet they remain steadfast despite their daily strife.’
Reem Kelani is a talented Palestinian artist, and a different one at that. She possesses a voice that is expansive, powerful, enchanting, and with a range that allows her to express her feelings with ease.
Kelani knows for whom she sings, about what she sings, why she sings, and to whom she addresses her message. And her humanist outlook allows anyone to relate to her music. She does so by relying on the lyrics, the music and her own arrangements. She does not beg for the listeners’ sympathy by crying her music; neither does she try to tempt pseudo-intellectuals by over-westernising her singing style under the guise of modernism, something which normally leads to the abandonment of our music’s eastern soul.
In the sleeve notes of her debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ (Fuse Records, CFCD0048) Kelani opens with a dedication to her late mother and to ‘all the Big Mamas’ who taught her to ‘sing and to belong’. You can instantly detect the sense of continuity and belonging that this London-based artist clearly feels.
I met up with Kelani and her husband at El Farouki Coffee House in Shmeisani, Amman. We talked at length about music, oral singing traditions, songs performed by Palestinian men and women, the dispersion of the Palestinians across various continents and the difficulty of making them aware of the works of their creative countrymen and women.
Together, we recalled the names of great Palestinian musicians. They included talented individuals who left behind invaluable work that remains under-valued to this day such as Salvador ‘Arneita, Yousef Khasho, al-Khammash, Riyadh al-Bandak and Wasif Jawhariyyeh. Of the living musicians, we remembered Husain Nazek, founder of al-‘Aashiqin troupe whose songs are still sung by Palestinians everywhere, especially their seminal collection of songs about the siege of Beirut in 1982. And we recalled Cairo-based conductor Salim Sahhab as well as singing troupes that are spread across Palestine, within the Green Line and in the Diaspora.
The opening track on the CD is Kelani’s re-arrangement of ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, the song that previously inspired the late, great Tawfiq Zayyad. With a voice oozing with longing and lament, Kelani’s rendition of this traditional song embodies the tragedy of the meadow of Ibn-‘Aamer, which was sold by a disloyal feudal landowner to the Zionists, resulting in the dispossession of the meadow’s indigenous Palestinian farmers.
Kelani draws from her collective oral tradition as one would water from a well, and she has solid knowledge of traditional Palestinian instruments, men’s dabkeh line dances, women’s wedding songs and other traditional rituals reminiscent of harvest seasons and moonlit summer nights, rituals that are now extinct and largely unknown to the younger generations. And like me, Kelani is fascinated with the ancient and typically Palestinian yarghul, a double clarinet made of dried cane and known for its husky and haunting sound. It soon becomes apparent that Kelani was reared on traditional singing which she’d probably inherited from her mother and which renders her voice pregnant with Palestine the land, the tradition, the tragedy and the history.
Kelani performs the second track ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ in an innovative way. This traditional song strikes a personal chord with me. I have often sung its verses which I learnt as a child from my grandmother who would teach me traditional songs.
Behind the seemingly simple lyrics of this song lies a love story, that of the cameleer embarking on a long journey to far-off lands and his beloved who wishes to go with him. The cameleer’s journey is ‘too long’ and his load is ‘too heavy’, and he neither wishes for his woman to suffer on the journey nor does he wish for her to hold him back. It is as if the Palestinian woman’s lot is to wait, to tend to the family, to build, to relate stories and to sing passionately as she awaits her long-lost lover.
Kelani also adds some of her own lyrics to this song, indicating continuity of the Palestinian experience, the collective tragedy and the series of catastrophes. She then swiftly moves to a somewhat happier track ‘Galilean Lullaby’ which lightens the mood following the austere and sad opening two tracks. In this song, Kelani celebrates the cameleer’s burden and addresses him with vocal ornamentations which switch from the sadness of separation to the promise of reunion, as this Ulysses-like enforced journey is bound to end, once the cameleer returns to his homeland.
This album also contains lyrics which do not rely exclusively on the traditional reservoir, as Kelani demonstrates by setting to music contemporary Palestinian poetry as well. In this respect, her choice comprises ‘Qasidah of Return’ by the great Salma Khadra Jayyusi and ‘Yearning’ by Rashid Husain, founder of modern poetry within the Green Line of ‘1948 Palestine’.
Another of Kelani’s choices is ‘Yafa!’ a poem in classical Arabic by Jaffa-born poet and mythologist Mahmoud Salim al-Hout. Kelani sings this poem as a recitation, utilising her broad vocal range in combination with the power of the piano. And she does so in a fashion that is positively heart-wrenching as she wails her way through al-Hout’s simple yet sublime poetry, protesting against the injustice of expelling Palestinians from their homeland. Kelani closes this song with a melismatic phrasing of the divine ‘Allah’, as if to show that there is always someone greater and more powerful than those responsible for denying Palestinians their own Jaffa.
One of the happiest and most beautiful tunes is ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ which is based on the traditional Palestinian song ‘Habl el-Ghiwa’. Palestinians can be joyous, after all; they can dance and they can even become ecstatic, and this is what Reem Kelani does.
She neither takes traditional tunes as they stand, nor does she westernise them. Instead, she grants them a new life, and this is respect for tradition and authenticity in its purest form. And Kelani succeeds because she has informed herself well. When she improvises on the ‘ataaba stanza in A Baker’s Dozen, Kelani moves the listener with verses on the flight of the Palestinians from their native land.
The title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is based on another traditional Palestinian song in which the yarghul is used. In this instance, it is played by an Armenian musician who spent two months acquainting himself with the instrument. No doubt that what made things easier for him is that the same circular breathing technique which is used to play the yarghul, is also used to play his native and equally haunting Armenian duduk.
And finally I ask: how will this CD reach Palestine? Indeed, how will any book, painting or work of art by a creative Palestinian, man or woman, reach their own people? As an independent artist without the backing of a major record company, Kelani had to raise the substantial funding needed to produce this CD largely on her own. So where are all those arts institutions, and where is their support? Where are all those millions being squandered left, right and centre?
Is this how we are supposed to disseminate our culture that ought to be uniting and arming our different generations? Is this how we fight for our collective cultural identity in a world which, big and wide as it is, remains closed to the Palestinians?
Rashad Abou-Shawar, Palestinian novelist, writer and critic
33. Ad-Dustour, Jordan, Friday, 1 September 2006 Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
When I first heard Reem Kelani’s voice on the phone, I thought that someone was calling me from Haifa or Nazareth in the Galilee, since I consider myself an expert in Palestinian dialects. When I met her afterwards, she said I was not that far off the mark, since her mother hailed from the Zu’bi family in Nazareth.
I knew I was before an interesting project, but Kelani’s work made me laugh and cry at the same time. Daughter of the well-known physician Yousef Kelani, she spent close to twenty years researching the oral and musical traditions of her people, culminating in her self-financed and self-produced debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’.
Kelani has been touring the world with her songs and travelling to Palestine, to refugee camps and to diasporic communities, collating this repertoire from older women. Through this work, she has been able to delve into the bittersweet collective memory of her people.
The album boasts traditional songs such as ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ and ‘Habl el Ghiwa’ renamed ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ here. Traditional lyrics are also applied to Kelani’s music as in the parting song ‘Galilean Lullaby’. Her music can also be heard on settings of resistance poems like ‘Mawwaal’ by Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Yafa’ by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and ‘Qasida of Return’ by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
This magnificent work comes in a well-presented CD package accompanied by a detailed booklet comprising song introductions, lyrics in Arabic and English and a glossary.
I was beset by mixed emotions when I heard Kelani’s distinguished and moving voice; I felt sad for what has passed and happy for what is hopefully yet to come. I was reminded of my days as a child sitting on my mother’s lap as she sang me ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, the haunting opening track on this album. I admit to crying whilst listening to this song, but Kelani comforts me by saying that it is no shame for a man to cry, especially in frank and sensitive situations. She too admits to crying when she sings this song as she recalls those whom she coins the Big Mamas: “Each and every one of them has a story to tell and a dream of returning to her ancestral homeland” explains Kelani. “This Palestinian sense of resilience is what keeps me going and what continues to drive me in the pursuit of our traditional songs.”
Kelani turns her attention to the traditional Palestinian costume that is normally donned by older women. “The embroidered chest panels on those dresses are a source of tradition as well as motherhood”, she says, pointing to her handbag woven in the striped majdalawi fabric (from the city of Majdal, renamed Ashkelon by Israel). “People come up to me and ask if I bought this bag from a posh boutique in London”, she adds with a smile, tenderly holding her bag, “but they look surprised when I tell them that it was woven on a traditional loom by artisan women from Gaza”. It is not surprising to learn that those women are refugees still dreaming of their return, even at this late stage of their lives.
Reem Kelani’s project is a huge undertaking, of a scope that even a dedicated research centre might find daunting. It might have taken her years to produce, but it is a sure way of reaching wider audiences and informing them of a just cause which still awaits resolution. Fawzi Bassoumi, Jordanian-Palestinian journalist & writer
32. Elsewhere.co.nz, New Zealand, August 2006
Subtitled "Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora", this sometimes astonishing album is breathtaking in its scope -- from a lullaby to a moving song of mourning, to tracks with jazzy saxophone or melancholy piano, and lengthy explorations of melody and emotions. And singer Kelani possesses a keening, hypnotic voice as she weaves around the microtones.
There is pain here obviously (have a handkerchief on hand for Yafa sung over spare piano) but there is a celebratory spirit (the uplifting title track which she learned from some women in a refugee camp in South Lebanon -- and where might they be today?), and the whole thing -- which feels far too brief at 75 moving minutes -- ends with an uplifting, optimistic and chant-like glimpse of a peaceful future ("Thank God, my heart's patience is rewarded.…..Praise God that sorrow is no more").
This is an extraordinary album, full of poetic lyrics (in translation in the handsome booklet), heart-grabbing emotion and thrilling music.
Nominations for World Music album of the year start here. Graham Reid
31. The Singer, Aug – Sept 2006
Reem Kelani’s album Sprinting Gazelle is a collection of ‘Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’. Kelani has made it her mission to collect as many Palestinian songs as possible both for her ‘personal and collective survival’. Here she gives us 10, and each is more passionate and poignant than the last. All songs are preceded in the sleeve notes by their history and relevant information about the writers.
Most of the lyrics are almost too unbearably moving to read, such as ‘Galilean Lullaby’ where ‘Our loved ones have left home / Gone away without saying goodbye / When I went by their place one morning to salute the mulberry tree / No-one was there to invite me in! /All I found was a crying bird / Regret stopped me short and pinned my feet to the thorny ground…O cameleer of the caravan, if you come across them / Let them know that I still cry for them / Tell them my loving eyes haven’t yet closed in sleep…’ In ‘Qasidah of Return’ by contemporary Palestinian poet and literary historian Salma Khadra Jayyusi, she addresses ‘the “renegades” within the Palestinian and Arab self, namely those whom she sees as responsible for the destruction of so much in the Arab world’: ‘Oh! Our faraway land is beyond your vision / In her lies our buried secret, our young maidens’ dreams / In her lie the graves of my mother and father, the graves of our love and our smiles…We fashioned our songs for her out of prayer / We love her burning sands and merciless wind / And her woes…and her woes…We love our orphaned existence within her; we accept her even in death / And we’ll head towards her / The more we are exiled, the more we’ll head towards her / Whenever the pride of life is humiliated before our eyes’.
Kelani’s vocals can only be described as searing in their intensity and passion and lead us to a greater understanding of the philosophy of this part of the world. Antonia Couling
30. The Journal of Music in Ireland, July 2006
Palestinian notes for a new Ireland: Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle
Rather than argue over the merits and demerits of various Irish singers and groups, or wonder if a choice has to be made between Ryanair and slow air, let’s take a detour into someone else’ songs of longing. Will the Sprinting Gazelle have anything to say to the Celtic Tiger? Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora by Reem Kelani is less a collection of favourite songs than a personal engagement with, and reimagination of, a people’s experience and musical culture. It is significant for a number of reasons.
This is not the place to enter into discussion of the rights and wrongs of modern Palestinian history. Manchester-born singer Reem Kelani probably has strong views on the subject, but her purpose on this CD is not to accuse, to name enemies or to articulate political demands. In our media, we are used to seeing Palestinians as either victims of Israeli political / military oppression or as enraged or irrational terrorists bringing death and destruction to Israeli civilians. In either case, there is necessarily a thinning of human experience. Reem Kelani’s journey into Palestinian music and poetry restores a frequently caricatured people to humanity.
The first song, ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, is traditional, but here it is sung in a style that pays tribute to the chanting that Kelani heard in a Greek Orthodox church in Nazareth during a childhood visit. The second track, ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’, pays tribute to Bedouin tradition. The third is a lullaby. Beginning with another departure (‘Our loved ones have left home, / gone away without saying goodbye/…’), it concludes on a note of tender longing as it dissolves into a repeated chorus (‘Do tell our loved ones who have moved away,/That for anyone hardship never lasts forever../Never lasts forever../Never lasts forever…’). Variations on loss, the sub-title Kelani has put to Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Mawwaal’, could describe the next few songs. The second last song, to a poem by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, strikes a note of subdued anger and resolution. The last track, interweaving two songs, is about praise, building, growth against the odds.
For those who live in exile, song itself can be a kind of home. Reem Kelani is clearly attuned to the whole range of poetic and musical expression within Palestinian culture, be it in Nazareth, in the Lebanese refugee camps or elsewhere. She has the range and the power of voice to fully communicate that material. What is also significant is that her relationship with the material is honest. Kelani does not offer us a simalcrum of the music of her parents or grandparents. She engages deeply with her heritage, but does not hide the fact that, as a product of exile, her musical culture is a mixed one. (Incidentally, she thus demonstrates in another context that Irish debate around traditional / modern or purist / innovator polarities is misguided.) The accompaniment to the lullaby referred to earlier is provided by piano, clarinet, double bass, riqq (a kind of tambourine) and drums. ‘Yafa!’, a poem written in traditional qasidah form by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout, sets the voice of Reem Kelani against the distinctive piano improvisations of Zoe Rahman.
Whether you listen to it for the yearning intensity of the singing, for the dignity and history it offers Palestine in exile, or for the dialogue with our own history and culture which it can stimulate, Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle will prove rewarding. Barra Ó Séaghdha
29. Rootsworld, USA, 14 July 2006
Elegant and poetic, Reem Kelani's debut CD speaks to the woe and joy of Palestinian life. She has a voice of such power and passion that if it were one degree more intense, it would burst.
The CD is a graceful mix of the traditional and the avant-garde. It is experimental without being grating to the ear. Her diverse settings of traditional Palestinian songs and the work of twentieth century Palestinian poets show her to be an innovator with a sensitive ear. The instrumentation is much more than mere accompaniment - it becomes part of the story. Western instruments such as violin, clarinet and piano interact with yarghul, nay, and a battery of Middle Eastern percussion. In "The Cameleer Tormented My Heart," camel bells and acoustic bass give way to scratchy fiddle, drony bass clarinet, and swishing percussion to create a desert landscape under Kelani's expansive vocals.
"A Baker's Dozen"
One of the most organic pieces is the thirteen-beat "A Baker's Dozen." The violin and bass clarinet play repeated parallel lines over hand claps. Zoe Rahman's sweeping piano work provides a rich backdrop to several tracks. On the seven-minute-plus "Yafa!," in which piano is the only accompaniment, Kelani uses the Arabic practice of qasidah, a highly ornamented improvisational technique. Rahman follows Kelani's mournful vocals with tender warmth and raging passion, at times suggesting a Keith Jarrett influence with her rolling arpeggios and left hand ostinati.
The only barely perceptible misstep is "Galilean Lullaby." Its predictable harmonic and melodic material accompanied by a tinkly new-age piano make it a little too precious in the presence of the magnificent work surrounding it. Inexplicably, they reprise this weak link in the bonus track. Again, it's a minor lapse in an otherwise sublime work. Peggy Latkovich
28. World Music Central, USA, 2 July 2006
Reem Kelani’s Vocals, a Force of Nature
The opening notes from “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” are a shock to the system as if Kelani was intent on blowing the listener off the face of the earth with a voice from the heavens. It seems almost impossible that this is the Palestinian singer’s debut album, as Kelani’s depth of soul vocals stir the very air and prickle the hairs on your arm. Setting traditional Palestinian folk songs and verse from poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout to her own compositions, Kelani has poured the Palestinian soul of loss, longing and lullaby into some hauntingly spare compositions, topped off with her strong vocals.
The song “The Cameleer Tormented My Heart” opens with the lonely sounds of Oli Hayhust’s double bass and cowbells, so when Kelani adds her vocals the listener is utterly entranced. Kelani’s soothing vocals on “Galilean Lullaby” are set off by Zoe Rahman’s piano work, Idris Rahman on clarinet, Hayhurst on double bass, Reem Kelani on riqq and Patrick Illingworth on drums. The CD just gets better and better with tracks like “Yearning” and “Yafa!” with their Middle Eastern roots and some lazy touches of jazz throughout.
For a debut CD, Reem Kelani’s music rains down pleasure, but it’s her voice that must surely be a force of nature. T J Nelson
27. Dominion Post, New Zealand, June 2006 *****
We are so used to the ideas of division and conflict, in regards to the Middle East. In contrast, artists like Reem Kelani present us with living traditions that defy the mainstream view of a hopeless situation. After hearing this record I was astounded to find it was a debut recording. Kelani, born in the UK to Palestinian parents, spent many years researching first-hand the music of Palestine, and it shows. Exquisitely packaged, rich in documentation, texts in Arabic and English. But what’s crucial is the music. These are tough, emotionally charged performances accompanied by traditional and western instrumentation, touching on jazz and classical idioms. Kelani’s voice turns despair, longing and resistance into exceptional art. Think Marta Sebestyen, and then factor in the more heightened expressionism of Muslim singing. These songs don’t let you drift, they aren’t exactly pretty, and you are compelled to find out more. You’ll discover that the mihbash is a Bedouin coffee grinder that doubles as a percussion instrument. And that Kelani’s arrangement of a 150-year-old song from the Ottoman Empire incorporates the chanting style of the Orthodox Christian Church. It’s a treasure trove of cultural history and in spite of its unflinching outlook, there’s an attitude of hope: “hardship never lasts forever”. John Kennedy
26. Institute for Middle East Understanding, June 2006
Reem Kelani: Telling the Palestinian narrative through song
The debut CD of Palestinian singer Reem Kelani - “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora” - is a major contribution from this remarkable singer, musical researcher and broadcaster towards reviving and spreading Palestinian culture.
In the weeks since “Sprinting Gazelle” was released in the UK it has been acclaimed by critics and journalists, and has received excellent reviews in nearly every serious British newspaper. Critics have praised the quality, range and emotional depth of Kelani’s voice.
Kelani says she is “overwhelmed” by the avalanche of positive media coverage. The CD has also been featured on radio stations in countries including Britain, Germany, Australia and the US.
The widespread praise for the CD is all the more remarkable given that Kelani made it independently. But through remaining independent she has been free of pressures to make musical and cultural compromises.
Preparing and recording the CD took Kelani and her husband Chris Somes-Charlton two years. Now they are busy marketing the CD in record stores through the distribution company Proper Music, and through Kelani’s website at www.reemkelani.com.
The ten tracks take the listener on a 74-minute odyssey through the Palestinian experience, from the nineteenth century to today. The CD is accompanied by an informative 32-page booklet with English translations of the Arabic lyrics. Kelani and her husband carried out the translations of the songs into English with Salma Khadra Jayyusi as literary consultant and British poet Alan Brownjohn as poetry consultant.
The cover of Reem Kelani's debut CD. Some tracks are Kelani’s arrangements of traditional songs. Others are her compositions for poems by such major Palestinian poets as Mahmoud Darwish, Rashid Husain, Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.
The dramatic first track “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” features Kelani singing to the accompaniment of a vocal drone. According to Nazarene folklore, women sang this song when they said goodbye to men leaving to serve in the Ottoman Army. The track is followed by another furaaqiyaat (song of parting), “The Cameleer Tormented my Heart.”
Some tracks are sombre in mood, including the Darwish poem “Mawwal: Variations on Loss” and “Yearning” by Husain. Others are more cheerful, such as the spirited traditional song “Habl el-Ghiwa”.
Asked about the CD’s narrative thread, Kelani says that after she chose the songs “I realised that they are all either by poets that are pre-48 Palestine or areas that are pre-48 Palestine.” She describes the narrative as “totally non-compromising”, as shown by a song like “Qasidah of Return”, with words by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. The final track is a medley of the songs, “Il-Hamdillah and “Intu Banatu, Ihna Banana”. These two songs celebrate the Palestinian’s collective identity, “something that the last 58 years couldn’t impoverish.”
Kelani says that from women in refugee camps she “got the message that I now use in my life as a Diaspora Palestinian – personally, collectively and artistically – that we are not victims. You get on with life, you acknowledge your pain and you’re strong and you celebrate and you sing and dance. This is resistance in its purest form.”
Reem’s group of musicians consists of the award-winning jazz pianist Zoe Rahman; Idris Rahman on tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Oli Hayhurst on double bass; Patrick Illingworth on drums, and the Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai, and Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani.
Kelani sees no contradiction in being a jazz singer who is a performer of Palestinian music. “Both disciplines are based on improvisation, both come from suffering and emancipation.”
The CD’s cover portrays a gazelle on a background of canvas which represents Palestinian embroidered costume and at the same time the earth and sense of belonging. The delicate plant with yellow flowers that adorns the cover is feijan - a herb found in the Nazareth area.
The accompanying booklet’s value in providing the lyrics and background to the songs was illustrated recently when a BBC Radio 3 programme featured several tracks from “Sprinting Gazelle”. The presenter explained that the words of the evocative “Yafa!” were written by the Palestinian poet, mythologist and translator Mahmoud Salim al-Hout (1917-88) after he lost all his manuscripts while fleeing Jaffa.
Kelani was born in Manchester, northern England, to doctor Yusuf Kelani, from the village of Ya’bad near Jenin, and Yusra Sharif Ali Zu’bi from Nazareth. Reem dedicates the CD to her mother, who died in Amman in 2004, “and to all the ‘Big Mamas’ who taught me to sing and to belong.”
Kelani grew up in Kuwait where she was surrounded by many different kinds of music. The songs her father sang kindled her devotion to jazz, and at the age of 13 she fell in love with Palestinian music when she saw women singing at a family wedding in a village near Nazareth.
Kelani is a marine biologist by university education, and came to London in 1989 on a British Council scholarship to do an MSc in aquatic resource management. But before long she decided to pursue her musical ambitions.
Kelani has attracted a large following of fans who appreciate her unique blend of Palestinian music and jazz, her superb voice and her charismatic and warm stage presence. She has performed at concerts in the UK, US, Canada, Middle East and Europe. Her broadcasting work has included presenting two series of BBC Radio Four’s ‘Distant Chords’ in which she interviewed musicians in exile in Britain.
Kelani has found it difficult to identify suitable musicians in London, and none of the musicians on her CD is Palestinian. Another challenge was finding a recording label. The political folk singer and songwriter Leon Rosselson offered his Fuse Records label as a cover label.
The release of Kelani’s CD comes at a particularly difficult time for the Palestinian people. Kelani says: “unless people listen to, and acknowledge, the Palestinian narrative in its own right, no peace treaty, accord or settlement will work. The Palestinian narrative has always been robbed of its independence and authenticity.”Susannah Tarbush
25. IslamOnline.net, Egypt, 7 June 2006
(Translated from Arabic)
Traditional songs set to Jazz
Reem Kelani is a Palestinian singer who was described by the British press as “Palestine’s unofficial cultural ambassadress in the UK”. Her music has been credited as “asserting the existence of Palestinian identity in this world”. All these reviews confirm this Palestinian-European artist’s success over the past decade in introducing the traditional musical heritage of the Palestinians to the ears and souls of her European audience.
Reem Kelani released her debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ in 2006. It is the fruit of her research into traditional Palestinian song and her attempt to develop it. The album contains 10 tracks, five of which are Kelani’s own arrangements of traditional Palestinian songs, mainly from the Galilee. The other five are her musical settings of the works of Palestinian poets such as: Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and Mahmoud Darwish.
Innovative and infused with arrangements of traditional Palestinian songs
The first thing to attract the listener to this album is its rare and unique blend of songs and lyrics which are intrinsically Palestinian with Western Jazz. This, I believe, is the real contribution which Kelani has made with this album. She does not rely on a large number of musical instruments, but her band is comprised of musicians from different cultural and musical backgrounds, such as Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on clarinet, Samy Bishai on violin, Patrick Illingworth on drums and Fariborz Kiani on percussion. In addition, two Arabic instruments are featured: yarghul and nay, played by Tigran Aleksanyan and Dirk Campbell respectively.
Despite a single and continuous narrative, this album is musically highly varied.
Contrast & contradiction
The songs on the album express different and sometimes contradictory emotions of happiness, sadness, anger and hope. These emotions are often profound, as in the song ‘Il-Hamdillah.’ There are also continuous reminders of exile; you can feel the longing, homesickness and yearning for a return to the homeland in a song like ‘Yafa’. You can sense the feelings of the Palestinian refugees in the camps of Lebanon in the title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’, which Reem learnt from a Palestinian woman in ‘Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp.
This album has already received considerable attention from the British press. The Observer described Kelani’s voice as one “of amazing power and intensity”, while the Financial Times said the album was ‘impossible to ignore’. Michael Church in the Independent on Sunday rightly described the album as “full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope.” Amro Husain
24. The Oxford Times, 1 June 2006
Reem Kelani, who has been performing both in Europe and the Middle East for many years, had worked out the exact content of the album Sprinting Gazelle (Fuse Records, CFCD048) long before the opportunity came to actually make the recording, and it is a credit to her determination that these songs are now available. From the very first track, in which Kelani sings almost unaccompanied, the exceptional quality of her voice and the vigour of her performance comes through as powerfully as it did on stage. All we miss are her wonderfully dramatic gestures.
In the ten tracks there is a mix of traditional Palestinian songs that Kelani has learnt and poetry that she has put to music, using traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, plus, on many tracks, the impeccable bass playing of Oli Hayhurst. The result is a journey through a musical landscape filled with eastern rhythms, melodies and vocal inflections, all of which is given a whole extra dimension by the sheer power and beauty of Kelani's voice. The album also includes full and informative notes on the origins of the songs and their English translations. The music is imbued with the dry heat of the Middle East and the power of love, longing and loss. If you want to be shaken out of your daily existence play this with an open mind on a damp British day or any day. Paul Medley
23. MazzMusikaS, Belgium, June 2006
For many years Reem Kelani has continued her search for the traditions as she knew them from her family (her mother hails from Nazareth), a quest that took shape following her visit in 1996 to the Palestinian camps in Lebanon (one immediately thinks of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut). Her own past touches on many cultures: she studied western music, she has seen the world with her own eyes and absorbed a lot of influences, but her heart is in Palestine. Now finally Leon Rosselson, the English rebel and fighter for human rights par excellence (www.leonrosselson.co.uk), gave her the opportunity on his Fuse Records to digest the fruits of her Odyssey, in the best possible circumstances.
Knowing this, it will not surprise anyone that Sprinting Gazelle (“reem’’ means “white antelope, gazelle’’ in Arabic), although actually a debut album, is a fully grown statement, the “Exegi monumentum’’ of a mature and experienced artist at the top of her trade. Sprinting Gazelle offers, in ten big chunks of music, a brilliantly executed insight into the rich song treasure of the Palestinian people (and of cultures like that of the Bedouin, who have existed and still do exist in Palestine).
Kelani sings magnificently, which puts her near the dazzling level of the Lebanese top singer Fayruz whom she admires so much. But she’s also surrounded by a superior cast of musicians, which makes the music, true to form and as authentic as possible, in line with international standards, without losing itself in mindless cross-over. The meticulous interventions of sax and piano (Idris and Zoe Rahman) do not go against the tradition. That is, in large measure, unembellished (women’s) a capella singing. The respectful arrangements actually give the songs more depth and content. The notes that accompany the song lyrics (which are provided in English and Arabic), with explanatory vocabulary, give the opportunity to form a good idea of what it‘s all about. Reem Kelani reveals a lot of herself in these notes, which enhances the feeling of familiarity. And she thus becomes the face of a people. Political slogans are not her thing: she talks about the people she represents.
You can guess that this isn’t an “easy’’ record, and it’s certainly not a “joyous’’ one, as these songs mostly deal with the immense sadness and anger caused by uprooting, separation and alienation, but it is precisely because of that that they’ve acquired a timeless quality. That also goes for the popular lyrics (the result of the moulding and purifying by many hands) and the quality of the poetry by prominent Palestinian writers, in line with the great Arab tradition (everything that lies between the somewhat lighter material of the Lebanese Druz Farid El Atrache to the incomparable Egyptian Diva, the queen of Arab classical song Um Kalthoum).
The central songs Mawwaal: Variations on Loss (poetry by Mahmoud Darwish) and Yearning (Khawaatir wa-Asdaa’) (poetry by Rashid Husain) are of such an ethereal magnificence that it is not possible to listen to them without being left behind totally crushed: when at the end of Maawwaal the men’s choir comes in, the hairs on your neck stand up. The interaction of voice and violin (Samy Bishai) on Yearning thrills you from beginning to end: seldom has longing been expressed so movingly. That’s the kind of experiences Sprinting Gazelle offers. There are somewhat lighter pieces but the Leitmotiv is unmistakeably the sentence taken from the poem Mawwaal by Darwish: “I defend my right to defend my right’’, if necessary with my back against the wall. And of course it’s right to do so. Do yourself a favour and invite some lonely people home to listen to this gem of a record. Or go see Reem Kelani. She will be performing at the Botanique on Saturday June 10th (info www.association-belgo-palestinienne.be). We’ll be there. Antoine Légat
22. New Internationalist, June 2006 *****
Born in Manchester, raised in Kuwait and, musically, a citizen of the world, Reem Kelani is a singer who brings a new sensibility and drama to the sounds of her ancestral Palestine. Sprinting Gazelle is the long-awaited album from a musician who, often a guest on other people’s jazz-based projects is overdue decent media exposure.
The ten songs on Sprinting Gazelle are a mixture of traditional Palestinian songs – many gathered from refugee camps – and Kelani’s own arrangements for lyrics and protest songs by such prominent writers as Mahmoud Darwish and Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Once past some of the titles – ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ does have a certain pungency about it – you’re in the heart of something remarkable.
Buoyed up by a small band led by piano and clarinet duo Zoe and Idris Rahman, Kelani’s power over both her traditional, often a capella, songs and personal settings is emotive. It’s difficult to see how the personal and political in this material can be separated.
On songs like ‘Yafa!’ she has voice and drama to rival the mighty Diamanda Galas. The softly jazzy ‘Galilean Lullaby’ is a beautifully set song, and a lament as much as it is a comfort to the singer. The cavalier percussion and string glissandi that make ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ so exciting also lead us into a song in which the singer awaits her beloved, as well as mourns the loss of her home.
Overall, Sprinting Gazelle is more interested in celebration; much of it is powered by handclaps and little drumbeats. It is a powerful music that dances its own path. Louise Gray
21. BBC Music Magazine, June 2006 *****
SPRINTING GAZELLE is full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope. Through Palestinian songs, collected in Nazareth and in the Diaspora, singer Reem Kelani seeks to preserve her heritage with the aid of local musicians plus a jazz combo. Her timbre is exceptionally firm, making her occasional forays into melisma all the more effective: she can sound irresistibly seductive, but her default mode is a sacramental seriousness. A lovely stillness pervades this album, whose illuminating English-Arabic liner notes are a work of art in themselves. Michael Church
20. Straight No Chaser, Spring/Summer 2006
Music that asserts its right to exist and demands to be heard
London-based Palestinian singer Kelani returned to her Motherland and learnt songs from the old women in the refugee camps. Performing them back in the UK with a mix of Middle Eastern and local musicians (including pianist Zoe Rahman) she has developed something extraordinary, her dark, intense voice cutting to the very heart of these songs of hope, despair and loss as the musicians play simply but ingeniously around her. No recording could hope to capture the humour and force of personality which Kelani brings to a live performance. But her debut CD is a triumph in its own right, defiantly in the tradition, yet imbued with a spirit of daring and improvisation. This is no musical wallpaper, it requires the listener’s full attention, but brings sweet and enduring rewards. Jamie Renton
19. The Handstand, Ireland, April 2006
Reem Kelani was born in Manchester in the UK to Palestinian parents, and brought up in Kuwait. Although she is a vastly experienced singer, musicologist, broadcaster and pedagogue, and featured on two spectacular tracks of Gilad Atzmon's Exile album, this is her debut CD.
Five of the ten listed tracks on Sprinting Gazelle are traditional Palestinian songs which Kelani learned from older women in the Galilee and in the refugee camps in Lebanon and which she has arranged for this album imaginatively and colourfully, with a certain jazz inflection (her band is constructed around a Jazz rhythm section of piano, double-bass and drums). The other five tracks are original compositions with words by the likes of Salma Jayyusi, Mahmoud Salim Al-Hout, and the "Arab poet laureate" Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish also provides the epigraph to the album: "I defend my right to defend my right."
Anybody who has attended one of Reem Kelani's electrifying live performances will know that she shuns political rhetoric, preferring to allow the music to speak for itself - of exile, yearning, injustice, and sumud (steadfastness). Nonetheless, the very fact that she is Palestinian seems to have proved embarrassing for some politically craven radio hosts in the UK, who have presented her as "a Kuwaiti singer." A particularly imbecilic review on the BBC website, by one Jon Lusk, fails to mention her provenance, while claiming that "the mood is mostly pretty bleak and melancholic, given the origin of the material", a connection he demurely fails to explain.
"Don't listen to it all at once!" advises Lusk. For my part, I listened to it three times in succession with an increasing sense of exhilaration. Of course much of the material is melancholic, but much is not, and some is downright euphoric - particularly the final listed track Il-Hamdillah (Giving Praise). This closed Kelani's Dublin concert in 2005, and brought the entire audience to the floor in one of the clumsiest but most enthusiastic displays of dabkeh dancing ever seen...
Kelani's multinational cast of backing musicians includes Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on clarinets and sax, Samy Bishai on violin (almost unbearably haunting in No. 6, Yearning), Patrick Illingworth on drums, Fariborz Kiani on percussion, Oli Hayhurst on bass, with Tigran Aleksanyan and Dirk Campbell on, respectively, yarghul (a Palestinian double clarinet) and nay (an end-blown flute; two are involved, one Iranian and one Arabic).
Kelani provides scholarly liner notes and a comprehensive glossary for this handsomely-produced album, and all texts are included in Arabic with English translations. Sprinting Gazelle is a labour of love; I believe it's a masterpiece. Raymond Deane
18. Amazon.com, Australia, April 2006
The Blues By any other Name
Think Blues of the finest nuance and transpose its disposition first to Palestine and the contingent necessity for many of its natives to relocate. This music is party to the powerful response to a tragedy. That said, ‘Sprinting Gazelle’, by Reem Kelani, is one of the most exhilarating musical experiences I've encountered. So brilliantly performed, it's impossible to believe that this is a debut effort. The rating system is inadequate to do it justice. Her singing is up there with Alim Qasimov, Dimi Mint Abba, and Aster Aweke. Emotionally, her collection is more diverse than any issued by the aforementioned luminaries. For this, she is superbly abetted by musicians and production of uncanny majesty. Even were she never to produce more recorded work, her position on the top deck of cherished CDs is assured. It's not all diasporic dislocation and woe. The liturgical droning of, ‘Women Crossed the Meadow' immediately transported me. ‘Sprinting Gazelle', whom Reem,'the white antelope' identifies with, is an upbeat, wedding celebration, saucy and throbbing. ‘Yearning’s' words are penned by Rashid Husain and ushered in by the pentatonic sadness of Zoe Rahman's piano. Kelani provides the musical settings for her chosen, exiled poets. Here, when the sky cries rain, an expression familiar to neighbouring Aboriginal mourners in Central Australia, the violin talks in tandem with Kelani's voice. Rahman's Steinway is again prominent on,'Yafa', a song of uncompromising pain. The singer's burden is soothed by the profoundest sonic waters of the keyboard. 'Il- Hamdillah', rounds off the work: a medley of two songs, one, the promise of building and healing is constructed on a zikr mantra, familiar to many branches of Sufism. No song could be more appropriate for perpetuating Palestinian traditions in this brave and thrilling cycle. R. J Moss, Alice Springs
17. Spin the Globe, USA, April 2006
Palestine often evokes thoughts of political strife more than fantastic music, but anyone seeking respite from geopolitics would be well served to grab this album. Subtitled "Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" the album begins with a bold vocal statement on the opening track "As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow" featuring Kelani's solo voice over a vocal drone (a tribute to her fascination with Eastern Orthodox Christian chanting).
The UK-born Palestinian singer, who grew up in Kuwait, is considered one of the foremost researchers and performers of Palestinian music. Jazz undertones, such as Idris Rahman's clarinet on "Galilean Lullaby," soften a style of singing that can sound harsh to uninitiated Western ears. That's not a criticism; just an acknowledgement of the region's sharply emotional, sometimes intricately adorned vocal style. In truth, Kelani has a voice of awesome strength and grace. She explores Palestinian music much as Eliseo Parra has done with Iberian music. And her gorgeous debut album will give any listener a richer appreciation of Palestinian culture. Highly recommended. Scott Allan Stevens
16. fRoots, April 2006
It’s been a long time coming, but Reem Kelani’s debut CD finally sees the light of day thanks to Leon Rosselson’s Fuse label. This is a celebration of the musical culture of the Palestinian people, a culture that the bigots would rather deny or forget. But it’s no mere exercise in cultural excavation; Kelani’s dark, intense voice cuts like a razor through the traditional songs and musical settings of Palestinian poetry, and she’s backed by a small ensemble that features both Middle Eastern musicians (violinist Samy Bishai, percussionist Fariborz Kiani) and jazz players (Zoe Rahman on piano, her sax- and clarinet-playing brother Idris and his Soothsayers band-mate Patirck Illingworth on drums). There are a number of songs that have been thoroughly road-tested at her live shows over the years, including the haunting, a cappella As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow and the swirling A Baker’s Dozen. On the wonderfully desolate Yearning, Kelani sounds as though she’s exorcising some very serious personal demons, whilst piano and violin weave and swell around her. Mawwaal sounds like Palestinian blues, allowing her jazz singer tendencies to come to the fore. This isn’t easy listening, there’s a lot of it and with its well-researched, informative booklet (including a glossary), it demands to be sat down with and properly listened to. A veritable banquet in a world of musical fast food. Jamie Renton
15. The Times, 31 March 2006
Desert songs - the rise of Arab music
Last month marked the return here of Kazem al-Sahir, the Arab world’s most celebrated and charismatic singer, an exiled Iraqi who has captivated millions across the Middle East and who has begun to build a reputation far beyond the suffering country where he was born, studied and first recorded. Iraq has become a metaphor for misjudgement, mismanagement and hate. But to the Arabs al-Sahir’s voice tells of something very different — of love, longing, nostalgia and pride in an ancient civilisation and gentler culture. His face and voice dominate television across the Middle East. His CDs have sold more than 30 million copies. His lyrics are known by millions more. But his fame has spread beyond those speaking Arabic. He received the Unicef award in England for the song Tathakkar (Memory), and in 1999 he performed it before members of the US Congress and UN diplomats. Two years ago he was the overall winner of the World Music awards. Last week, performing for the Melkonian Foundation for children, he sang several old favourites but added others that summed up the tragedy of Iraq, including a haunting, unaccompanied ballad for a country “where we used to be one and where we are now all separate”. The largely Arab audience, waving flags and cheering, was clearly moved.
More surprising is the almost rapturous welcome that British critics have given to another Arab woman singer, Reem Kelani. A Palestinian, brought up in Kuwait and living in Britain, she has so far had little exposure on television or the publicity of a mass audience. But she has just released Sprinting Gazelle, a haunting and powerful CD of traditional Palestinian songs painstakingly collected over 20 years. Kelani makes no compromises: her bittersweet themes are matched by a haunting, nostalgic delivery with an implicit message on the Palestinian plight. She dwells on themes central to the tragedy — the loss of a community, loss of land, bitterness of exile and happiness of long-lost days. Yet her music, which mingles joyfulness and vibrancy with darker emotions, has transcended the barriers of language. Older Arabs recognise songs not heard for 60 years; young British schoolchildren, in musical workshops across the country, are moved by universal themes, even in a different language and from a different world. The sprinting gazelle, in a song she found in a refugee camp, is as much a symbol of flight as it is of life that bounds beyond political tragedy. Michael Binyon
14. The Independent on Sunday, 26 March 2006 ****
This CD is full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope, as befits the situation it is designed to reflect. In these Palestinian songs, Reem Kelani celebrates her musical heritage with the aid of both local musicians and a Western jazz combo. Her timbre is exceptionally firm, which makes her occasional bursts of melisma, over an accompanying drone, all the more effective: she can sound irresistibly seductive, but her default mode is a sacramental seriousness. A lovely album, with bilingual liner notes which illuminate both the lyrics and the provenance of the melodies. Michael Church
13. Palestine News, Spring 2006
Reem Kelani is well known in the UK both as a solo artist and for her performances with Gilad Atzmon in the past. She has carried the flag of Palestinian music almost single-handedly here for the last few years. Although born in the UK, her family is from Galilee and she was exposed to many kinds of music from an early age. Her CD, ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ (Fuse Records CFCD048 distributed by Proper Music – www.properdistribution.com) is a mixture of traditional songs, the result of extensive research into her Palestinian heritage, and settings of popular and resistance poetry.
Reem is passionate in live performances, evolving the pain and longing of a dispossessed people. Often such passion does not translate well to the cold conditions of a studio recording, so she has wisely chosen a varied menu with changes in tempo, dynamics and musical colour but that still expresses that essential fervour of a live performance.
In most Arab music, as with these CDs, poetry is the predominant force and inspiration that is in turn served by the music. Whether it is a poem by Mahmoud Darwish (Track 5 Mawwaal – Variations on Loss) or a song collected from women in a Lebanese refugee camp (the title track, Sprinting Gazelle), the words are crucial, and are helpfully printed in full in both Arabic and English in the CD booklet. The richness of the musical arrangements is due mostly to the variety of musicians and styles supporting Reem: from the jazz world of piano, bass and drums (Zoe Rahman, Oli Hayhurst and Patrick Illingworth) to more exotic sounds and rhythms from the Diaspora, such as the Palestinian yarghul (played by Armenian Tigran Aleksanyan), Iranian tombak (Fariborz Kiani) or the violin of Samy Bishai.
The recording deals deftly with all these complex textures as well as the full power of Reem’s voice. ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is both a celebration of the Palestinian spirit and a debut album for a truly original musical talent. Paul Hughes-Smith
12. HMV Choice, February 2006
Haunting songs of Palestinian pride and resistance
Subtitled 'Palestinian Songs From The Motherland And The Diaspora', the British-born Kelani travelled to the West Bank and the refugee camps of the Lebanon to research the traditional folk music of her people. Back home she collated and reworked the ancient songs, added her own compositions using the words of prominent Palestinian poets and turned the material into this haunting, self-produced album.
The accompaniment mixes traditional Arabic instrumentation with a jazz rhythm section, piano, strings, sax and clarinet to hypnotic effect. Yet it's Kelani's striking voice that commands centre stage. She sings entirely in Arabic but translations are included in the superb 32-page booklet and much of the poetry, with its message of cultural pride and resistance in the face of great suffering, is highly moving.
The result is a compelling portrait of Palestinian national identity that cannot be separated from its politics, but nevertheless constitutes a powerful musical experience in its own right. Nigel Williamson
11. Musician – the Journal of the Musicians’ Union, Spring 2006
Born in Manchester, Reem reflects her parentage throughout this fascinating 10-track album, which features a tasteful combination of traditional Palestinian songs and musical settings of popular poetry. Presented in a comprehensive CD package with introductions, translations and a glossary, vocalist Reem soars about the stirring foundations laid by such masters as Idris Rahman (clarinet/sax), bassist Oli Hayhurst, drummer Paul Clarvis and Solid Strings’ Sonia Slany. The listener, seduced by her powerful, keening voice and the delightful range of emotional material, is drawn into a world of passion, eartbreak, humour and hardship. Thoroughly absorbing throughout. Keith Ames
10. Subba-Cultcha, Sunday, 5 March 2006
Traditional songs of yearning and loss explored through jazz
Reem Kelani was born in the UK, but raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents. Intimately familiar with the music of her native culture, she grew up to become an unofficial cultural ambassador for the art and poetry of Palestine.
Many of the songs she recreates here are ancient, collected from women of her mother's home in Galilee, in the refugee camps of Lebanon and from all over the Diaspora. One 19th century song (As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow) dates from Ottoman rule in Palestine; others hark back to Bedouin tradition. Some are her own compositions, written around the work of Palestinian poets such as Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.
There's no doubt that Reem Keleni is serious about her music, which she delivers with a passion and emotional depth which rivals Andalusian flamenco. This is no easy-listening crossover album; it's profound, often harrowing, and very beautiful. But instead of adopting a narrow academic attitude to the music and poetry, she explores it through a subtly experimental jazz instrumentation which includes piano and saxophone as well as traditional instruments such as the Arab clarinet, the yarghul.
This is a CD which will repay repeated listening, but perhaps its most immediate impact comes from the keening Yafa!, where Reem Kelani's vocal evocation of exile mixes with Zoe Rahman's jazz-inflected piano improvisations.
Both intimately personal art and profoundly political statement, Sprinting Gazelle is a powerful evocation of national identity and individual loss. Clare O'Brien
9. The Observer, Sunday, 26 February 2006
Kelani has a voice of amazing power and intensity, but it’s always controlled, and there’s a moving vulnerability there too. The subject matter of Sprinting Gazelle also fascinates – it’s important that we hear songs learned from Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, for instance.
It particularly helps that Kelani herself writes so lucidly about the process by which she came to record the album in the liner notes of what is a handsomely packaged CD.
Caspar Llewellyn Smith, Editor, Observer Music Monthly
8. The Daily Telegraph, Saturday, 25 February 2006
When a self-produced album by an unknown Palestinian singer gets as much attention and better reviews than the Arctic Monkeys in mainstream publications such as Time Out and London's Evening Standard, you know something significant is afoot. Reem Kelani's achievement is all the more impressive for the fact that her music is challenging stuff. Born in Manchester of Palestinian parents, raised in Kuwait, but now based in west London, Kelani collects folk songs from old Palestinian women and performs them in an unflinchingly austere manner with subtle jazz-inflected arrangements.
While the tunes are trickily ornamented, the tone of Kelani's singing is grave and unadorned, with a conviction that suggests she would happily have performed the whole album unaccompanied. Violin and bass clarinet cohere in driving bagpipe-like drones, while Zoe Rahman's piano has a deliciously sombre quasi-classical feel. Combined with the often cantor-like quality of Kelani's voice, it creates poignant echoes of Jewish klezmer music at its most reflective. While the sufferings of the Palestinian people loom large over this powerful album, its very existence feels like a sign of hope. Mark Hudson
7. The Financial Times, Saturday, 25 February 2006
Kelani was born in Manchester but soaked up the music of the Arabian peninsular growing up in Kuwait. Sprinting Gazelle collects traditional songs from the Palestinian diaspora as well as setting poems to music. Some arrangements are classically Middle Eastern, others use a jazz backing. Kelani herself is a forceful, compelling singer, heavy with anger and defiance: Sprinting Gazelle adds up to a strident musical manifesto for Palestinian nationalism. Not easy listening, but impossible to ignore.
6. Metro, Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Music from the Outer Reaches
Born in Britain to Palestinian parents, singer Reem Kelani travelled to her homeland to archive the songs and lullabies still sung by the women in refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Several tracks on Sprinting Gazelle are rooted deep in history: the opening song, As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow, was originally sung by women as their men went off to fight in the Ottoman army. Waves of grief radiate from the newer material, too, which includes new arrangements of resistance poetry: the music to Mawwaal, a poem written by Mahmoud Darwish in 1967, was composed to mark the anniversary of the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. Kelani’s music is by turns joyous and desperate, with every sinewy note and impassioned lyric imbued with a rare sense of urgency. Claire Allfree
5. The Musical Intifadah, The Netherlands, 18 February 2006
Reem Kelani’s debut CD, “Sprinting Gazelle”, presents to the world a work of art that seems to travel beyond the regular definitions of musical genres. While it undeniably possesses the necessary entertainment value that is needed in music, keeping its listener spellbound as the songs treat his or her ears to a rich variety of sounds and melodies, it also seems to take him or her on an educational journey through the cosmopolitan richness of Palestinian culture.
At times, you imagine yourself present at a traditional Palestinian wedding or other festivity, while at other times the choice of instruments and melodic lines involved reminds you, that this music encompasses more than only its Palestinian folkloric heritage. However, since historically, Palestine has always hosted a variety of cultures, this mixture is far from estranging, but feels balanced and in tune with historical reality.
Reem’s voice, deservedly, plays the leading role in this masterpiece of musical art. Whoever listens to it, will acknowledge beyond the shadow of a doubt that this lady is a true vocalist, in possession of the qualities that are needed to rank her among the top professionals in her field. The unique colour of her voice enables listeners to easily identify with the emotions that she is attempting to convey, in such a harmonious fashion that it feels completely natural. At the same time, her vocal technique has a unique and personal touch that defies comparison to other well-known singers in the Arabic genre.
It is obvious, that the music was recorded and mixed with dedication, and attention to detail, while retaining its directness, and its purity. The piano, enchantingly played by Zoe Rahman, sometimes is reminiscent of the work of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, at other times touching upon the style of Ziad el Rahbani. Percussion has been applied with the utmost subtlety, avoiding to allow it to override the details of the melodic workmanship of the other artists in the recording. The acoustic bass is clearly present, yet equally subtle, serving as a solid foundation for the rest of the music.
Surprisingly, the Ud (Arabic lute) is absent, which could be considered a downside, but is rarely missed. Had it been present, it might have caused unnecessary competition with the piano, and undermined the “jazzy” transparency of the music. The saxophone, which is played quite skilfully by Idris Rahman, seems at times to act as the second voice in the songs, as if answering questions raised by Reem’s vocals, and providing a lovely counterbalance for them. This role is also assumed by Samy Bishai’s violin in the song “Yearning”, who does a beautiful, sometimes daring job at challenging and pulling at Reem’s melodic line, adding to the tension and variation of the track.
This CD, “Sprinting Gazelle”, which in my view is to be considered a landmark musical work of art in the history of Palestinian music, is clearly not aimed at the mainstream ear. One should not expect it to draw people to the dance floor, or to cause them to clap their hands to the rhythm. However, for those who appreciate the finer and more subtle types of Arabic, classical, jazz or world music, this CD is a veritable treat, and a beautiful invitation to Palestinian culture. By releasing this unique collection of songs, Reem has certainly earned the praise of her people, for representing them in such a stylish and dignified fashion. Tariq Shadid
4. The Financial Times, Wednesday, 15 February 2006
“Many of this winter's most exciting albums are made by exiles: Maurice El-Medioni's Algerian/Cuban fusion on Descarga Oriental; Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle, a set of Palestinian songs set to haunting, melancholy piano. And Ambrose Campbell, who came to England out of a sense of loyalty to a mother country he had never seen, has made his own contribution.”
3. Time Out, Tuesday, 7 February 2006
You may have heard British-born Palestinian folk singer Kelani as a featured vocalist on Gilad Atzmon’s BBC award-winning album “Exile”, or heard some of her Radio 4 documentaries about the music of displaced communities around the world. This, her first album as a leader, is split between pre-1948 Palestinian folk songs culled from refugee camps and new music set to classic Arabic Palestinian poetry.
It’s a compelling collection of children’s songs (‘Galilean Lullaby’), rambunctious wedding tunes (‘Sprinting Gazelle’), flamenco-tinted dance stompers (‘A Baker’s Dozen’), bonkers trance anthems (‘The Cameleer Tormented My Heart’) and piano-led ballads (‘Yearning’, ‘Mawwaal’, ‘Yafa’), that avoids being dry or ethnological.
The jazz-inflected accompaniment (from the likes of pianist Zoe Rahman, bassist Oli Hayhurst and percussionist Paul Clarvis) is never intrusive, the ECM-ish production is exquisite, Kelani’s voice is an awesome instrument and her own compositions and arrangements swerve between delicate, joyous, trancey, austere, boisterous and beautiful.
Furthermore, without ever pleading victim status or resorting to militancy, it presents a female vision of Palestinian culture that we rarely hear – and one that Hamas certainly won’t be promoting. John Lewis
Time Out No 1 Critics’ Choice Recent Albums, Tuesday, 14 February 2006
2. Evening Standard, Friday, 3 February 2006
Born to Palestinian parents in Britain, raised in Kuwait and a frequent visitor to Palestine, Kelani has collected some marvellous songs that are gentle as well as defiant. You can hear the pain in her voice on the farewell song that opens this album. Galilean Lullaby sings of loss and emigration, while the Qasidah of Return is powerfully dramatic. Much bleaker is her setting of Mawwaal (Variations on Loss), a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, composed for a BBC documentary about the Sabra & Shatila massacres. Kelani has assembled a good band and guests to make a rich and moving tapestry. Simon Broughton
1. Saudi Gazette, Tuesday, 31 January 2006
When the Palestinian singer and music researcher Reem Kelani, on a visit from London, told women in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon her name they immediately burst into the traditional song “Sprinting Gazelle”. This was a tribute to the name Reem, which means gazelle (or more specifically, according to the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary, white antelope or addax).
The spontaneous performance of the song by women of three generations epitomises the irrepressibility and deep-rootedness of Palestinian musical culture. The women also demonstrated for Kelani the circle dance that accompanies the song at weddings
Kelani has over the years done vital work in recording, arranging and singing the songs she has collected, as well as composing her own songs. The song she heard in Ein el-Hilweh is now the title track of her debut CD “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and Diaspora”, newly released on the British label Fuse Records. The infectiously danceable title track includes musician Tigran Aleksyan on the double-reeded yarghul that is played at Palestinian weddings.
The CD opens with Kelani’s haunting rendition of “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow”, unaccompanied but for a background vocal drone. According to local Nazarene folklore, women would sing this song while saying goodbye to men folk leaving to serve in the Ottoman Army.
In the CD’s sleeve notes, Kelani recalls how an elderly man from Shefa ‘Amer near Nazareth approached her after a performance she gave in Dubai “and said that he had not heard this song for at least 60 years.”
Some of the ten tracks are based on traditional songs, such as “The Cameleer Tormented my Heart”, “Galilean Lullaby” and “A Baker’s Dozen”. Other tracks feature Kelani’s compositions for Palestinian poetry: “Mawwal – Variations on Loss” based on poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, “Yearning” by Rashid Husain, “Yafa!” by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and “Qasidah of Return” by Dr Salma Khadra Jayyusi. The CD concludes with the rousing “Il-Hamdillah – Giving Praise”.
Running through the tracks is a sense of longing and pain, mingled with joyfulness and vibrancy. Kelani’s remarkable voice enters deep into the soul of the music with emotions ranging from tenderness to passion and fury.
Kelani is supported by a terrific line-up of musicians. Her core band, with which she often appears in performance, includes jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, whose piano improvisations (taqasim) add a magical dimension to tracks such as the evocative “Yafa!”
Woodwind whiz Idris Rahman plays clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. On the percussion side, Iranian Fariborz Kiani plays daf, tombak and naghghareh, and Parick Illingworth plays drums. Oli Hayhurst is on double bass and Samy Bishai plays violin.
The sleeve notes are in the form of a 16-page booklet rich in information on each track and with the lyrics in both English and Arabic. The literary consultant is Palestinian scholar Dr Salma Khadra Jayyusi and the poetry consultant the well-known British poet Alan Brownjohn. The cover and sleeve notes were designed by Nada Irani, and the Persian-style calligraphy was done by Iranian calligrapher and musician Bahman Panahi. Susannah Tarbush
Other CD Reviewsback to top
13. Various Artists. Album: Celebrating Subversion:The Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, Fatea Records, March 2013
The ACR's united aim is to challenge the narrative that says "there is no alternative", and the two hours' worth of music (together with a visionary poem by Ian Saville, the aforementioned magician) on this pair of discs forms part of the resistance to insidious capitalism, and part of another way of looking at the world. The participants could not have been better chosen to voice these concerns with total conviction, all of them having proven (and mostly very much long-term, nay virtually lifelong) credentials in the field of musical agitprop and eminently sensible social and political commentary in song. All but a very few of the recordings here were made last summer, although a number of them serve as contemporary updates to, or timely revisits of, songs that have previously appeared on record (or tape! - some being now long-deleted).
The range and tone of the songwriting is, as you'd expect, extensive, from justifiably angry (Jim Woodland's The Grapes Of Wrath) and satirical (Janet Russell's lambasting of the arms trade in Guns And Bombs) to cheerily caustic music-hall-style (Robb Johnson's Why Not?) and sharply perceptive (Leon Rosselson's wry account of the 2011 riots, Looters, and his cheekily cautionary tale of fitness-for-work, Benefits), via the feistly anthemic (Robb Johnson's Be Reasonable and Peggy Seeger's adaptation Doggone, Occupation Is On). Roy Bailey contributes several key tracks including passionate, typically adept accounts of songs by Si Kahn; Frankie Armstrong brings her stentorian tones to powerful activist texts by Godoy, Biermann and Brecht; 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; and Sandra Kerr poses the still-all-too-relevant question Can We Afford The Doctor?
But perhaps the biggest discovery of the set for me was Grace Petrie, an impressive young Leicester-based singer-songwriter who, despite not having been born for the majority of Thatcher's reign, has a singularly acute grasp on the evils of the world she inherited - the world which Mrs T shaped. Grace's three contributions to the set are distinct highlights, and choice tracks certainly, but I could almost as easily turn the spotlight on the many more incomparable performances here which make the set thoroughly recommendable to any thinking listener with an ounce of humanity and political sensitivity. David Kidman
12. Celebrating Subversion by the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, New Internationalist, March 2013
Brought together under the auspices of Socialist folkie and author Leon Rosselson, this splendid double CD is crammed with a lo-fi fury against the state we're in. Rosselson is aided and abetted in his righteous indignation by a mighty host that includes Palestinian-British singer Reem Kelani, Frankie Armstrong, Peggy Seeger, and socialist magician (apparently the only one) Ian Saville.
Arising from Occupy! and fuelled by a deep disquiet at the actions of Britain's coalition government, the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow's subversion is aimed at the arms trade, the dismantling of the welfare state and the 'delirium of consumerism'. There is a great, if nostalgic sense of political community that pervades the collection. Musicians guest on each others' tracks and sing, musically and metaphorically, in concert.
High points are Peggy Seeger's raucous arrangement of a Depression-era 'Doggone, Occupation is On' and Kelani and Rosselson's 'Song of the Olive Tree' - a lament for Palestine that should make one weep. It also has a pert buzuq (Levantine lute) section that will get feet going. Louise Gray
11. Celebrating Subversion: the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, Living Tradition, January 2013
The Anti-Capitalist Roadshow is a collective of singers and songwriters, comprising Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Reem Kelani, Sandra Kerr, Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson, Janet Russell, Peggy Seeger and Jim Woodland; plus the only known socialist magician, Ian Saville. No, I'm not sure exactly how, but he uses magic tricks to illustrate Marxist theory - if he has a magic wand that makes politicians disappear, I could suggest a few names!
The roadshow is a response to the injustice felt by many to the way in which the Westminster government is imposing an austerity programme that victimises the poor, vulnerable and disabled. The roadshow's aim is to raise spirits and give hope and heart and a smile or two to those who are angry at this injustice.
This last point is a good one, and this double CD collection mixes a number of styles to get the messages across, including humour, as in Robb's Why Not? which has a music hall style and chorus, as an ability to laugh in times of adversity is an essential survival tool. Plenty of other approaches are here as well, from reflective to angry, from poignant to joyful statements of solidarity.
Topics cover, amongst others, the plight of would-be benefits claimants, trade unionism, occupation, police, pacifism, arms dealers, migration, and the roles of activists in general. Any of these could have a whole album dedicated to them, but this collection gives us lots of timely reminders of just what is going on out there.
In addition to specially written pieces, there are numbers from earlier hard times, and the whole thing is rounded off by Frankie and Leon performing To My Countrymen / Proletarian Lullaby by Berthold Brecht. Although written in the early 1930s, they still speak to us today of themes of deprivation and struggle.
Based on this release, the live event should not be missed. Gordon Potter
10. Celebrating Subversion: the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, Folk Wales Online Magazine, January 2013
Leon Rosselson - I take my hat off to you in deep respect for this magnificent, intelligent and deeply funny double-CD which was born out of a need to resist and fight David Cameron, George Osborne and all the bullying Tory philosophy. There's a feature already on this page, about the folk artists and singer-songwriters who stood up and said: "Enough!" to the policies of capitalist greed, which really is doing nothing except clobbering the waged, the unwaged, the poor, the vulnerable and the disabled. Our own Frankie Armstrong, Peggy Seeger, Roy Bailey, Sandra Kerr, the Palestinian activist and respected singer Reem Kelani, Grace Petrie, Janet Russell, Jim Woodland and Ian Saville, the only socialist magician, have been invited to Roots Unearthed at the Level Three Lounge at Cardiff's St David's Hall on Tuesday January 15 - and I, for one, can't wait to see and hear them.
The roadshow powers into the first track, Be Reasonable, which has the belting, anthemic chorus: "Be reasonable - and demand the impossible now!" Grace Petrie sings of a middle-class worker brought to poverty levels by right-wing thinking (Maggie Thatcher's Dream) and Leon playfully sticks the knife in with his song (Benefits). Reem and Leon bring the show beautifully down to earth with Song Of The Olive Tree, a lament about Arab land rights being dashed to pieces by the brutality of invading Israeli soldiers. A Jew and a Palestinian harmonising together to make a protest - what a poignant, stunning gesture.
Looters is a valid comment on the August riots, with all the Tory venom meting out ultra-harsh sentences - four years for stealing a bottle of mineral water - while all the time the corporate banks and businesses are looting the nation by stealth, and getting away with it. I Didn't Raise My Son To Be A Soldier is a mother's First World War protest song, when to sing it was a treasonable offence. Guns And Bombs is Janet Russell's demolition job on the arms trade philosophy; it doesn't matter who they are, just sell 'em weapons!
Favourites are Rosa's Lovely Daughters, Farewell To Welfare, My Personal Revenge, I'm Going Where The Suits…, the exquisite Babour Zammar and the finisher, To My Countrymen. My opinion is that folk music has grown too slick and smooth as of now, and we all need the rough edges, the blunt and straight-to-the-point statements and the up-against-the-wall prose to really light the blue touchpaper (figuratively speaking.) This double-CD has got a lot of powerful balls, and will prove an absolute bargain and a fine souvenir of a fabulous concert night out. I fervently hope it will tip the Tory enemy over the highest cliff, but, in the words of Jim Woodland: "I don't believe in miracles…" Just see The Anti-Capitalist Roadshow when it comes to St David's Hall on January 15, 2013 - it'll be really worth it! Mick Tems
9. Celebrating Subversion: the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, Irish Left Review, 18 Dec 2012
In 2009 the British National Party took to promoting English folk music on its website. One particularly favoured song was Steve Knightley's Roots:
…When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots…
Although Knightley was dismayed by this "betrayal" and "violation" of his "invention", he should have realised that such imagery is in perfect harmony with the discourse of fascism. In 1934 the Nazi musicologist Fritz Stein maintained that "as long as it remained undiluted and true to its German roots, folk music was an essential means of gaining respect abroad." Furthermore, the juxtaposition of "they" and "we" in Knightley's verse, although purportedly privileging the "Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts [sic]", is in fact a careless gesture of exclusion.
One consequence of the BNP's opportunistic advocacy of English folk music was the foundation of Folk Against Fascism (FAF). Describing itself as "neither left-of-centre nor right-of-centre", this organisation (which appears to be moribund at present) claimed to be "simply a coalition of people who care passionately about British folk culture and don't want to see it turned into something it's not: a marketing tool for extremist politics."
Both of these well-meaning responses leave something to be desired, and that something has now been provided by the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow , "a collective of singers and songwriters: Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Reem Kelani, Sandra Kerr, Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson, Janet Russell, Peggy Seeger, Jim Woodland plus one socialist magician, Ian Saville." With no feeble nod to being "neither right nor left", this collective claims to be "part of the resistance to a capitalism that functions only on behalf of the wealthy, that aims to shrink the public sphere and privatise public services,… and that is destructive to the planet."
Many of the 30 tracks of the collective's new double album, Celebrating Subversion, deal forcefully with such specifically British issues as Thatcherism, Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's views on "the benefits lifestyle", the dismantling of the National Health Service, the occupation of St Paul's, the sinking of the Titanic (as metaphor for "the practical outcomes of capitalism"), looting during the 2011 London riots, British arms exports, the Peterloo Massacre, and the suffragette Emily Davison, martyred just a century ago.
However, Celebrating Subversion is not thereby celebrating another form of national navel-gazing, but places these issues in a firmly internationalist context. Robb Johnson's Be Reasonable adapts the May '68 slogan (itself adapted from Che Guevara) "Soyons réalistes - exigeons l'impossible!" ("Let's be realistic - demand the impossible!"). Frankie Armstrong's Encouragement translates a song by the former East German dissident (or former dissident) Wolf Biermann ("Don't let your strength die. / Don't let them make you bitter in these bitter times…"). Armstrong also sings My Personal Revenge by Nicaraguan songwriter Luis Godoy, based on words by the Sandanista leader Tomás Borge ("My personal revenge will be to show you / The kindness in the eyes of my people / Who have always fought relentlessly in battle / And been generous and firm in victory."). Leon Rosselson's classic Song of the Olive tree, sung here by the incomparable Manchester-born Palestinian Reem Kelani and introduced by a passionate buzuq solo from Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, pays homage to the living symbol of Palestinian sumud (steadfastness and resistance). Kelani sings in Arabic on the rousing Babour zammar (The Ship Sounded its Horn), a Tunisian "migration anthem" from the 1970s, here dedicated to the memory of Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation instigated the Tunisian revolution and hence the so-called Arab Spring. Bread and Roses, a song by Dubliner Martin Whelan inspired by a 1911 poem by American James Oppenheim, is sung by Roy Bailey who also gives us They all sang Bread and Roses by the contemporary American civil rights, labour and community organiser Si Kahn. The collection ends with Proletarian Lullaby by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler: "And you, my son, and I and all our people / Must stand together to unite the human race / That unequal classes no more / Will divide the human race."
Rosselson was born in 1934, and both Roy Bailey and Peggy Seeger in 1935. The latter, daughter of the classical composer Ruth Crawford-Seeger, moved to Britain in 1956 to escape anti-communist hysteria in the USA, eventually marrying the socialist singer-songwriter Ewan McColl. Her contributions to this album are hard acts to follow; Doggone, Occupation is On is an adaptation (partly by Dave Lippman) of the dustbowl classic Doggone, the Panic is on by Hesekiah Jenkins, Progress Train (Seeger) is as fast and furious as the vehicle it evokes ("The human brain's an intelligent fool / Build you a hospital, build you a school / You wake up the very next day / The progress train took it all away."), while the unaccompanied Peacock Street, composed by "pistol-packin' momma" Aunt Molly Jackson, exudes a mixture of pathos, anger and droll humour (p)reminiscent of Janis Joplin's Mercedes Benz ("I was cold, I was hungry, it was late in the fall / I knocked down some old big shot, took his money, clothes and all.").
At the other end of the generational scale, feisty Leicester-born Grace Petrie found her voice in 2010 with the election of the Tory/Liberal coalition government. Her Protest Singer Blues asks "How many deaths will it take 'til we know / Too many people have died?", decides that "There's no answer blowin' in the wind", and concludes: "How many times can a man turn his head / And pretend he just doesn't see? / 'Cause I'm ashamed, the times they have a-changed / And a better world was not to be."
The parody of Dylan is cheeky, but surely to the point: "neither right-of-centre nor left-of-centre", his early songs modified his mentor Woody Guthrie's robust anti-fascism into a vague, undifferentiated protest that became the hallmark of a generation unwilling to translate that stance into overt political action. Petrie and the rest of her Anti-Capitalism Roadshow colleagues reach back to earlier traditions of activism, and reach across national and sectarian boundaries in a spirit of generous solidarity. The result would make an ideal Christmas or New Year's present for anyone willing to be provoked and inspired as well as entertained. Raymond Deane
Irish Left Review
8. Celebrating Subversion: the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, The Guardian, 29 Nov 2012
Describing themselves as a "collective of singers and songwriters, plus one magician, opposed to the ideologically driven austerity programme imposed by this millionaire government", the Roadshow consists of 11 angry musicians from a remarkable variety of age groups. There's the impressive Grace Petrie from Leicester, who sounds like a young female version of Billy Bragg in both her lyrics and phrasing, and matches songs about austerity and the rich getting richer with the thoughtful and personal Protest Singer Blues. Then there's Robb Johnson with the singalong Be Reasonable ("and demand the impossible"), Reem Kelani with an oud-backed anthem from Tunisia, and - best of all - two distinguished folk-scene veterans. Leon Rosselson is now in his mid-70s, but still in fiery and witty form with Benefits and Looters, while Peggy Seeger reworks a swinging song from the 1930s with a rousing call of "Let's go to St Paul's and occupy!".Robin Denselow
7. Leon Rosselson, Reem Kelani & Janet Russell. "The Last Chance: 8 Songs from Israel / Palestine", Songlines Jan / Feb 2011
A long-term commitment from Leon
On this release, Rosselson seems resigned, however defiantly, to the downward spiral of the conflict. But that does not stop him from bearing witness to the inhumanity of what occurs. In such pessimistic times, perhaps the most consoling of all the tracks is Kelani's mournful qasidah (an Arabic singing tradition) to Jaffa. In its acknowledgement of pain and acceptance that we do not always find justice personally, it reveals how music can be a balm to the soul. Nathaniel Handy
6. Leon Rosselson with Reem Kelani & Janet Russell - "The Last Chance" (Fuse Records), Net Rhythms Nov 2010
The magnum-opus that is the heartfelt part-spoken title track remains the primary focus, with Leon's earlier narrative The Song Of Martin Fontasch forming an ideal starter to the disc and My Father's Jewish World the perfect introduction. Leon himself performs all but two of the disc's items; these append to the aforementioned classic Rosselsongs a pair of newly recorded offerings - the sardonic, jaunty Loyal Soldiers ("included in the interests of balance") and the predictive The Third Intifada - together with the passionate They Said… (taken from Leon's 2004 Turning Silence Into Song collection).
Janet Russell's unflinchingly superb 2005 recording of The Song Of The Olive Tree just had to be included, while Reem Kelani's intense composition Yafa! (Jaffa!) - powerfully sung by its writer in the time-honoured Arabic singing tradition of qasidah (an ornamental vocal improvisation, here rendered with a free-flowing, responsive taqasim-style piano accompaniment by Zoë Rahman) quite threatens to upstage Leon's own works in its visceral impact here (I must hasten to add, that doesn't happen!). The Last Chance may not be everybody's cup of tea, but this is intellectually and morally stimulating fare and pretty much essential. David Kidman
5. Leon Rosselson with Reem Kelani and Janet Russell "The Last Chance", the Guardian (Australia), Sept 2010
Rosselson, now 75, comes from a Communist Party background. Once a member of a socialist-Zionist youth movement, today he’s an active supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. In the revealing notes accompanying this CD, he describes spending a year in Israel at the end of the 1950s “where the word ‘Palestine’ was never mentioned” and admits that he has “argued the rights and wrongs on both sides” over the years.
Now he acknowledges that critics of the 1993 Oslo Accords were right. Israel’s goal for Palestine, he writes, is “a patchwork of disconnected Bantustans.” In his personal view, a two-state solution is now “almost impossible to envision.”
Leon Rosselson is the composer of The World Turned Upside Down, a much-covered song about the Diggers, the agrarian communists who represented the left-wing of England’s bourgeois revolution in the mid-17th century. His topical and satirical songs first gained notice on the influential BBC TV show That Was the Week That Was in the early ’60s. Since then he has released some 20 albums and written 17 children’s books. Storytelling is, indeed, a strong feature of Rosselson’s art.
The Song of Martin Fontasch tells the tale of a folksinging Jewish partisan during World War II who manages to convince his German captor to let him write one last song before he is shot. Adapted from a story by the Jewish-Italian writer Primo Levi, this effective opening track links Jewish resistance to the genocidal Hitler regime with the contemporary Palestinian liberation struggle.
The connection is suggested by the use of contrasting musical forms. The verses narrating the grim story of the Jewish partisan and his German captor are sung in march time while the chorus breaks out into a yearning waltz of freedom:
This song is for those who are cast out by history
The banned and abandoned, the spurned and ignored
Whose homes have been taken, whose dreams have been broken
Who huddled on hillsides, demand to be heard.
Palestine is not named, but if anyone hasn’t yet got the analogy, Rosselson drives it home in the last verse:
Then let not our sufferings turn our souls to ice
So that we do to strangers what was done to us.
Rosselson’s Song of the Olive Tree, convincingly performed here by English folksinger Janet Russell, is a song of classical simplicity. Its melody alternates between minor and major tonalities as it contrasts the destruction and theft of Palestinian olive trees by the occupying regime with the deep inter-generational meanings that they hold for the Palestinians:
The settlers came, they beat us black and blue.
They said, Next time we shoot you. Understand?
But still we dared to come, we had no choice
We came at night like thieves to our own land.
The most unusual track on the album is The Last Chance, narrated and sung by Rosselson, who accompanies himself on the piano. It’s set in the late ’50s in a nightclub in Beersheva, a city on the edge of the Negev desert in southern Israel. The protagonists, Meier and Sam, engage in an increasingly acrimonious debate. Meier, a butcher and holocaust survivor, espouses militant Zionism and despises not only Arabs, but also “donkey riding Yemenis” and other non-European Jews.
The mournful, pacifist-leaning dancer Sam mischievously questions the newly victorious ideology. Their debate climaxes when, in a fit of rage, Meier flings a stone in the dancing Sam’s direction. In response Sam puts his arms around his head and says, “I want to go home.” Elegaic in its tone, The Last Chance appears to be a metaphor for the broken dream of an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine:
They came from nowhere
The lost, the broken, and the mad
They blundered in like blind invaders
There’s not a weak track on the album, but in the interests of brevity I shall restrict myself to brief comments on two other songs.
They Said examines the guilt and denial surrounding the notorious massacre of Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948, an atrocity that many historians believe precipitated the flight of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland called the Nakbah. Rosselson sang this song in 2005 at a commemorative meeting near the site where Deir Yassin had once stood, organised by a group of Israelis called Zochrot (Remembrance).
Yafa! (Jaffa!) introduces Palestinian singer Reem Kelani. She performs the only non-Rosselson piece on the album. It’s a keening qasidah (vocal improvisation) based on an Arabic poem by the Jaffa-born Palestinian writer Mahmoud Salim al-Hout (1917-1998) who was driven into exile in 1948 and lost all of his manuscripts in the process. The anguish of the uprooted poet is powerfully conveyed and transcends language.
This album is highly recommended. It can be ordered directly from the artist (with PayPal) at: www.leonrosselson.co.uk or from www.fourdogsmusic.co.uk. They’re your best bet if you want the hard copy with Rosselson’s notes. If you’re satisfied with just the music it can be downloaded from iTunes. Wally Brooker
The Guardian: the Workers' Weekly
4. Leon Rosselson with Reem Kelani and Janet Russell "The Last Chance", July 2010
Getting the new album by Leon Rosselson is like a time travel for me. When I was a kid, my father got two cassettes with music from Leon Rosselson and Roy Bailey and after hearing the music many times my father took his guitar and started to play them himself. So some of Rosselson's songs are part of my life for over thirty years I think. My all time favorite is the record Love, loneliness, laundry, a record that I still love listening to. Although my father forced me to listen to all his albums from the past twenty years and some I did like, I find this new album one of the most impressive collection of songs in Rosselson's entire oeuvre. Eight songs, six by Rosselson, one beautiful Song of the olive tree by Janet Russell and the song Yafa by Reem Kelani taken from her beautiful album Sprinting Gazelle. They sing songs about Israel and Palestine and tell about their feelings in an intense, sometimes emotional and personal way. For many people this is a controversial theme but I think it's so important to keep standing up and share our feelings, our doubts, our thoughts and hope. These three artists did that in a wonderful way and hopefully they encourage people to keep the dialogue alive.Eelco Schilder
3. Leon Rosselson, Reem Kelani and Janet Russell: "The Last Chance" (Fuse Records), April 2010
Before The Last Chance, an anthology of eight songs about Israel and Palestine" on themes of Shoah and Nakbah - the 'Holocaust' and 'Catastrophe' of Jew and Palestinian - I regret to say that the Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster, Reem Kelani's music had passed me by. As had her name. It also appears in some places as Riim Yusuf Kilani.
Yafa! ('Jaffa!' as in the ancient port) is her setting of words by the poet Mahmoud Salim al-Hout (1917-1998). It is a threnody for a bygone time in the city of the title, in a place that seems as if it was a paradise in comparison with the Hell it is now.
Zoe Rahman's piano accompaniment is languid and brooding. The pairing of voice and piano is powerful stuff. The track originally appeared on Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora. From The Last Chance (Fuse Records CFCD 008, 2010). Kent Hunt
World Music (Ken Hunt & Petr Doruzka) Giant Donut Discs
2. Leon Rosselson with Reem Kelani & Janet Russell - "The Last Chance" (Fuse Records), Net Rhythms Nov 2010
The magnum-opus that is the heartfelt part-spoken title track remains the primary focus, with Leon's earlier narrative The Song Of Martin Fontasch forming an ideal starter to the disc and My Father's Jewish World the perfect introduction. Leon himself performs all but two of the disc's items; these append to the aforementioned classic Rosselsongs a pair of newly recorded offerings - the sardonic, jaunty Loyal Soldiers ("included in the interests of balance") and the predictive The Third Intifada - together with the passionate They Said… (taken from Leon's 2004 Turning Silence Into Song collection).
Janet Russell's unflinchingly superb 2005 recording of The Song Of The Olive Tree just had to be included, while Reem Kelani's intense composition Yafa! (Jaffa!) - powerfully sung by its writer in the time-honoured Arabic singing tradition of qasidah (an ornamental vocal improvisation, here rendered with a free-flowing, responsive taqasim-style piano accompaniment by Zoë Rahman) quite threatens to upstage Leon's own works in its visceral impact here (I must hasten to add, that doesn't happen!). The Last Chance may not be everybody's cup of tea, but this is intellectually and morally stimulating fare and pretty much essential. David Kidman
1. Garth Hewitt, Martyn Joseph, Reem Kelani - Gaza, Palestine, July 2009
Six track charity EP of folk ballads in aid of a Gazan hospital. An extended EP of songs for and about Bethlehem, in Garth’s acoustic-roots style. These songs, inspired by Garth’s travels and interviews with those living in this ‘little town’, together raise awareness and concern for what’s happening behind the wall. It follows the launch of Garth's book, Bethlehem Speaks: Voices From The Little Town Cry Out in August.
Following the huge interest in Garth’s song, They’ve Cancelled Christmas In Bethlehem (The Wall Must Fall) last year, this EP is a prayer for the people of Bethlehem who are suffering a devastating impact from the separation wall that now surrounds them. The song received an extraordinary 36,000 hits on internet video site YouTube.
*** These six songs are powerful folk ballads telling the stories of the 'Broken Heart of Gaza' and the tragic loss of multiple lives. It contrasts this Hell on earth with an accusation as to why the world is strangely silent accompanied with a prayer for the Prince of Peace to bring healing. These are anti-war songs in the vein of 1960's Vietnam protests typical of Neil Young; an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ at home in a peace camp. This is Garth Hewitt's follow up to his song "They've Cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem (The Wall Must Fall)" which portrays Angels singing behind the wall where the Palestinians are contained. Welsh troubadour Martin Joseph contributes a heartbreaking track about the death of a family of five sisters killed in a moment by a rocket while Reem Kelani contributes an Arabic inspired track that can transport a listener to the melancholy of a Gazan funeral or a life in continual suffering that fuels the ongoing hate. As a charity record in aid of a Gazan hospital, this powerful EP deserves wide circulation. Simon Eden
Music & Life: Cross Rhythms
Live Reviewsback to top
54. EFG London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 22 November 2015
The Palestinian singer and ethnomusicologist is a remarkable live performer, as Peter Culshaw witnesses, and urges all music lovers to share the experience.
There are those artist who don't really fit into prescribed musical boxes, like Tom Zé, Susheela Raman or Bjork. But they also tend to be among the more interesting, provocative and inspiring ones. Reem Kelani is a fully paid-up member of this brilliant, awkward squad. If you get a chance to see her, grab it, as she doesn't do conventional tours - she puts so much into each performance she needs to rest for several days afterwards.
At the closing concert of last year's EFG London Jazz Festival at Rich Mix she kicked off with 'The Preachers' Anthem', with lyrics about the Sykes-Picot Agreement and how the Egyptians felt betrayed by the British after World War I. The music switched from a gorgeous Arabic melody to snatches from English music hall and 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary'. The jazz bass and piano mixed with 'oud (lute) and bendir (frame drum) reflected the clash she was singing about. Other songs were about Palestinian women visiting their husbands in jail and (usually tragic) lullabies and wedding songs.
She is certainly a brave singer, fearlessly taking on 'Strange Fruit', the classic that is so identified with Billie Holliday that most singers wouldn't go near it. Having explained the song was written by a Jewish writer, Abel Meeropol, under his pseudonym Lewis Allan, Kelani gave the song a whole new meaning. She ended the evening by merrily exhorting the rapt audience to "**** ISIS, let's dance".
If some of her material is harrowing, she is hugely entertaining, flirting with the band and audience and revelling in her self-described status as a "sexy momma", and at times she is closer to a stand-up comedian that a conventional singer. She is part of a ragtag collective called the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, which includes singers like Leon Rosselson and 'socialist magician' Ian Saville.
Kelani was born in Manchester of Palestinian heritage. Her dad was a huge jazz fan, and she became obsessed with Palestinian music after a visit to a family wedding in Galilee in the 1970s, and its Palestinian culture and the struggle of its people seems closest to her heart. She does, though, spread her musical net wide, having collaborated with Gaelic singer Catriona Watt, Portuguese fadista Liana, and Selim Sesler, the legendary Turkish Gypsy clarinettist.
While her work has been supported by the BBC, the Arts Council, the British Council, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and others, she feels, with some justification, relatively overlooked within world music circles. Partly she thinks that's because she is London-based and not some "submissive, Oriental beauty fluttering her eyelashes", flying in as an exotic outsider.
She is something of a perfectionist too, which may have held her back - her debut album "Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora", received to rapturous reviews, was ten years ago.
Her magnum opus on Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish has been several years in the making. Impatient fans can at last hear some of that work in progress on her new album "Live at the Tabernacle". It comes with, as befitting an ethnomusicologist, meticulously researched notes and is a handsome package. As well as being informative, it is an excellent souvenir of her work. But to get the full Kelani experience, she should really be seen live in concert.
Peter Culshaw, Songlines, May 2016.
53. Celtic Connections, The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 25 January 2016
Long Live Palestine! Long Live Scotland!
Finally the exceptional talent that is Manchester-born Palestinian singer, Reem Kelani, and her band took the stage. She has an impressive multi-cultural background, and that is clear in the approach to songs. While she uses traditional song from Palestine, (and Egypt, Turkey, Spain) and sings mostly in Arabic, she often updates them either lyrically or in their musical treatment - her father's enthusiasm for early Fred Astaire films have led to a major jazz influence in her own work - and she is also happy to introduce western standards. A Palestinian wedding song, and a lullaby from Nazareth, were followed by a song about the 1919 Egyptian revolution - that she paralleled with Tahrir Square.
Chris Bartter, Culture Matters.Click here to see the original review
52. Celtic Connections, The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 25 January 2016
BEMIS Celebrates Burns: Reem Kelani, Old Fruitmarket
Burns but not as you know it, Jim, as BEMIS, the umbrella body for Scotland's ethnic minority voluntary sector, joined with Celtic Connections for a "supper" in which the haggis came in pakoras and the performers were powerful exponents of music from a beleaguered Middle East, all of it reflecting the Ayrshire bard's humanity, egalitarianism and internationalism.
Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was an ebullient, commanding presence, accompanied by a sterling quartet of piano, saxophone/clarinet, double bass and drums. Her repertoire - apart from a brief, blues-steeped reprise of Burns's Slave's Lament - was frequently drawn from refugee camps. A Gallilean lullaby, for instance, with its all-too-resonant references to departed loved ones and abandoned homes, worked its way from incantatory cadences to impassioned outpouring, while her closing Il-Hamdillah, with its whooping opening, was a hypnotic statement of resilience in the face of displacement.
Jim Gilchrist, The Scotsman.Click here to see the original review
51. Celtic Connections, The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 25 January 2016
Reem Kelani doesn't hang around. The Manchester-born Palestinian singer was renewing her Scottish connections - her father studied in Glasgow and she has entertaining memories of her own experiences of Millport bars - and she wasn't to be hindered by formalities like waiting for the sound engineer's thumb's up.
Her off-mic introduction turned out to be an endearingly apt overture to a performance in which she combined restless energy with vigorous political engagement, persuasive audience involvement and an illustrated, impressively far-reaching musicological dissertation.
Visiting Celtic Connections as the headline attraction in a Burns Night celebration staged by the festival in conjunction with BEMIS, the organisation that empowers Scotland's ethnic and cultural minority communities, Kelani took care to include her own Burns tribute, The Slave's Lament, delivered as a deeply-felt blues.
Kelani's frank emotional engagement with her material could easily tumble into complete chaos but she has her performance under her own kind of control and the way she works with her highly schooled quartet and her songs' exacting arrangements is mesmerising. One song was taken from village square to conservatoire in a primal to baroque adventure and another, with the audience's participation, brought harmony to the Middle East. If only political leaders could find such healing charm.
Rob Adams is Folk & Jazz critic, The Herald, Glasgow.Click here to see the original review
50. Stabat Mater, the Royal Albert Hall, London, 30 October 2015
Stirred to the core tonight by newly knighted Sir Karl Jenkins conducting the London Philharmonic Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall.
Dies Irae from Requiem;
Benedictus from The Armed Man;
Song of the Spirit, Adiemus, Song of the Plains
All these and more were spellbinding.
Stabat Mater solos from soprano Lucy Knight, mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, the startlingly glorious Palestinian singer, musician and musicologist Reem Kelani, together with charismatic performance from percussionist Zands Duggan, and sheer exuberance and involved joy in two male choristers especially, all these moved me to tears and overwhelming joy in equal measure.
But, next to the breathtaking stardom of the maestro himself, I think the entire assembly was lifted early in the evening to a sublime height never experienced, or ever even dreamed about, by the presence in and of, and the violin solo Lament by, the spectacularly extraordinary Joo Yeon Sir.
Defying description, save by the soaring notes themselves, I think I was given a glimpse of how a capacity for Lament, reaching to breadth, depth and height, might ultimately and eternally unite all things; a glimpse of something truly redemptive, a longed-for restoration, a coming home, the ultimate arrival, eye-blinking and astonished awakening. Pure genius. A bridge between worlds.
49. Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN), Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 7 March 2015
On 7 March, the London-based cultural organisation Arts Canteen launched AWAN (Arab Women Artists Now), a new annual festival to celebrate women artists from the Arab world. After a day of heated discussion on art and politics, and a visual art exhibition, the event came to its finale with a night of daring musical performance, with three acts challenging artistic boundaries in front of a packed out room of enthusiastic supporters. Headed by the irrepressible Palestinian vocalist Reem Kelani, we were also introduced to Christelle Madani and Reham, two very different singers with unique and undeniable talents. Together they highlighted the potential power of Arab womens' voices in today's world.
Reem Kelani is a real phenomenon of contemporary Arabic music. As a Palestinian artist constantly battling against the British recording industry's refusal to see beyond the "P-word", Reem has had to fight for recognition (and is even crowdfunding her next album, Live at the Tabernacle). But as her AWAN performance showed, this is music that demands attention, as Reem and pianist Bruno Heinen gave everything to a captivated London crowd. Reem's stage presence moves beyond the category of 'singer', not only in her flamenco-reminiscent rhythmic stomping and call and response clapping, but also in her flamboyant sense of humour. After recalling one of her many stories about Palestinian 'big mamas' - this one in particular about a 'beautiful gazelle with breasts like luscious pomegranates' - she asked loudly, "are you listening Isis?" The audience was in stitches.
I'd recently been a bit disappointed at myself for missing out on cheap tickets to see a Brecht/Weill play, but Reem totally made up for my error of judgement with an exploration of the pioneering works of Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish (1892-1923) and his lyricist Badi' Khairi. These anti-imperialist anthems satirised the British colonial occupation, bypassing its many censors, and it is startling that Reem's reworkings show that the songs still have relevance a century later. With a dynamic introduction, Heinen's piano brings virtuoso jazz into The Porters Anthem, before staccato rhythms to lyrics celebrating the role of workers in the 1919 Egyptian revolutionary struggle.
Reem's performance brought an ecstatic encore as all the evening's performers were brought to the stage for a totally unplanned rendition of Zourouni (Visit Me), a classic Darwish melody later performed by Fairouz. The lyrics were brought to life with improvisational vocals from Christelle Madani. 'Visit me once every year, it's a pity that you would forget about me completely.' Nobody present will be forgetting this remarkable performance any time soon and it will be fascinating to see how Aser al Saqqa and the other organisers top this concert next year.
Louis Brehony is a musician and activist from Manchester, Britain. He is also initiator and director of the musical project 'Let Palestine Sing'.Click here to see the full review
48. Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 July 2014
Well I can be perfectly honest in saying that 2 weeks ago I had no idea who Reem Kelani was or even guess what field she was involved with. However, after witnessing this inspiring performance from the Palestinian artist, I was beyond determined to delve deeper into her catalogue of work and to grasp on to her contemporaries work.
Reem Kelani, as I found out with some brief Internet surfing prior to the performance, has brought the music world’s attention to Palestinian music. And what a joy it is. Reem stated during the performance that tonight we were to be brought into the Palestinian village; to be able to experience culturally through her music, what the Palestinian life could be. Performing in an intimate lounge/bar/gallery room Reem’s dramatic flair varied with each note she sang. Her movements on stage matched the emotional pull, caressing the air with her hands and tapping her shoes, she was painting us all a picture and with each layer you moved with her. All this sounds quite overly dramatic. Possibly because this is my first experience of such an occasion and to a seasoned person of Middle Eastern music this may be their daily muse. Yet, for someone who has been raised in East London where Middle Eastern culture is a daily part of your life whether you like it or not, this performance was inspiring as insightful.
As Reem went through her Sprinting Gazelle album, which found international acclaim, and into her upcoming material to be released her backing band provided a glorious mix of jazz and subtle Middle Eastern rhythms that left the audience hooked on the double bass riffs. Most exciting about the whole performance was Reem’s interaction with the audience. Throughout the evening she talked through her songs in both English and Arabic while getting the audience to clap, sing and laugh with her. A true performer throughout, her over arching presence on stage kept all eyes on her while she sang of Palestinian love, despair and ancient history. Even further interaction towards the end saw various members of the audience given laminated cards with factions of the Palestinian people marked on them. With Reem propelling the emotional resonance of the room to its height, the audience members called out their faction. I had my moment calling out my faction and once all had been stated Reem gave a round of applause and hummed her way back into song. A brilliant moment and reaction from the crowd followed in appreciation.
The room provided the perfect space for such a performance where the artist and audience had strong intimacy and play off one another. Rich Mix’s Main Space room proved to be very enjoyable for the event with the setup, lighting and sound always on par. Although, the one draw back was, being a multipurpose venue, Reem briefly pointed out some disturbances on the floor above to which she had to pause a highlight the issue before she could continue.
Reem continued to satisfy leading to the inevitable a standing ovation by the end. From newcomers to loyal fans and from those speaking Arabic to those who don’t, Reem Kelani achieved what seemed to be her goal all night – to enhance the spread of Palestinian culture to all and to bring people together through Palestinian music.
The MongrellickClick here to see
47. Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 July 2014
From last night's amazing EFG London Jazz Festival concert by Palestinian singer, musician, musicologist Reem Kelani at Rich Mix London presented by Arts Canteen. Arts Canteen's curator, founder & director Aser El Saqqa not only introduced Reem and her musicians from the stage, but also duetted most pleasingly with her in 'Zourouni (kull sana marra)', sung as the encore demanded by the audience while it gave Reem a prolonged standing ovation. Reem had an extraordinary rapport with the highly-responsive audience in the packed-out concert hall. There was much audience participation, clapping, ululating and singing along. Many members of the audience tweeted their appreciation; John Scott who tweeted: "The wonderful @ReemKelani, channeling Joplin, Brecht and Um Kalthoum. She is a force of nature."
Reem performed with a great line-up of musicians: Bruno Heinen on piano, Ian East on reeds, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Antonio Fusco on drums. The programme varied widely in geography, time and genre. Some of the songs were from her first, 2006, album Sprinting Gazelle and certain of her Palestinian songs incorporated her moving field recordings of Palestinian "big mamas". And there was her setting of 'Love Poem' by Palestinian poet Samih Qassem, translated by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. From the southern USA there was the jazz number 'Strange Fruit', on the lynching of Afro-Americans, written by Abel Meeropol in 1937 and famously recorded by Billie Holiday. (It was excellent to hear that Reem and jazz pianist Bruno Heinen are to record an album together). There were songs by Sayyid Darwish from Reem's forthcoming album of works by the great Egyptian composer who lived from 1892-1923. Reem's eagerly-anticipated second album, 'Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle' is due to be launched in March 2016.
Susannah Tarbush, cultural journalist and blogger
46. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 21 May 2014
Stemmer (Voices & Votes), Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway - review
An illuminating, often moving account of 200 years of the struggle for human rights
Orlando Gough has a well-established reputation as a composer who can deliver imaginative large-scale events that span abilities and genres; his latest work, which opened the Bergen Festival (on May 21), is no exception. Stemmer, which means both "voices" and "votes" in Norwegian, was commissioned by Bergen National Opera to mark the bicentenary of Norway's constitution, bringing together children's, youth and adult amateur choirs alongside international soloists, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and five multi-instrumentalists as an onstage band.
This illuminating, and often moving account of the fight for freedom and human rights over the past 200 years focused on well-known campaigns in India, South Africa and Israel/Palestine. Wimme Saari, a Sami singer, bookended the 90-minute opera-torio which began with a summary of the rights enshrined in Norway's 1814 constitution. However, the pellucid tones of soprano Hanna Husahr, as early Norwegian feminist Gina Krog, swiftly asked: "Whose rights?" The question was reiterated by Manickam Yogeswaran, as Gandhi fighting for India's independence, and baritone Njabulo Madlala, who superbly recounted Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom in South Africa.
The most poignant passages highlighted the still unresolved conflict in the Middle East, juxtaposing those who fought for the state of Israel with the Palestinians forced from their homes. Reem Kelani's haunting laments for Jaffa, the construction of the wall, the unstoppable intifada and the mounting dead were searingly beautiful.
Gough has an ear for a good tune, deftly weaving these diverse cultural strands together to create a vibrant musical tapestry, while in the pit, conductor Clark Rundell kept all the musical forces in play with crisp precision while maintaining momentum and balance throughout.
Staging productions of this nature can be tricky to bring off dramatically and director Olivia Fuchs wisely kept things simple. The 250-strong combined choir flanked the stage, contributing to the main action as and when required. The use of historic voice recordings, archive photos and other imagery projected on to a large screen also created a sense of unity, as did dancer Sulekha Ali Omar as a silent witness/companion moving elegantly between the different worlds.
It was humbling to be reminded of the hard-won freedoms we now take for granted along with many other human rights which are still not universal. Stemmer concluded by envisioning a new all-embracing constitution that commemorates the lost voices of the past, represented by candles flickering in the darkness, and reconciles dreams with reality.
Susan Nickalls, Financial TimesClick here to see the original review
45. Traditions Cafe, Olympia, Washington State, 9 April 2013
From the Soul, For the World: Reem Kelani performs in Olympia
The cozy interior of Traditions Cafe is almost full. The noises of people conversing fills the air as the stage and microphones are prepared. As seven o'clock rolls around, the lights are dimmed and someone gets onstage to introduce the night's performer, Reem Kelani. She is a native of Kuwait, raised there but born in Manchester, England. The performance tonight is brought to Olympia by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, who have been trying to get her here for twenty years.
Reem begins her set simply by saying, “Don't be scared.” It becomes obvious why as she begins to loudly and rhythmically stamp her feet and clap her hands. After this first song (an intense piece with minimal musical accompaniment) she tells the audience that it is an old Palestinian wedding song. This is typical of the rest of the evening. Kelani is as much telling stories at this performance as making music. Virtually every piece of the night is prefaced and expanded upon with both Kelani's personal feelings and historical facts. The effect of such knowledge is profound. It transforms what would otherwise be simple bits of musical experience into equal parts folk tale and history. Every piece of music Kelani sings has a place in the world and in her soul, and she expertly imparts this onto her audience.
The fact that much of the performance is personal inevitably leads to personal opinions. Kelani does give her own political views during the show, but not in the form of a lecture or self-righteous tirade. They are simply given as facts that inform the music and her choices, and once again the audience is richer for it. It helps greatly that the show is not a somber parade of pain and suffering. It is rather more akin to a stand-up show. Kelani is not afraid to let humor flavor her ideas, in fact, it is a big part of the show. Throughout the night she asks the audience, “Is there anyone here from Spain? Any Arabic speakers?” When there are no audience members fitting the description she simply laughs it off. And she asks these questions for a reason. The night is filled with audience participation, whether that be simply clapping along or singing onstage with her. Combined with the storytelling and history provided, it ingrains the listeners into the world Kelani brings into being.
The music of jazz pianist Bruno Heinen bears mention as well. He accompanies her on all of her pieces during the night, whether on piano or drum. His skill on the keys deftly slips from classical jazz to Middle Eastern-inspired minor chords to 15th century troubadour. Heinen also becomes part of the audience participation of the night, as Kelani constantly apologizes to him for rambling, or encourages him to take the stage with her, or tells stories of his life and family. It truly comes off as unrehearsed (which it may well be) and adds further to the atmosphere of fun and personal storytelling of the show.
Kelani and Heinen's musical variety shines throughout the performance. While all but a few of the songs are contemporary Egyptian or Palestinian, the differing styles make each one feel like an entirely different genre. And there are traditional songs like the opener, and even older ones dating back hundreds of years. The aforementioned humor is quite often there, but Kelani knows when to make things somber and quiet, such as during a piano backed reading of poetry.
Reem Kelani is currently working on her second album, dedicated to the work of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish, and she has worked with the BBC for “Songs for Tahrir.”
Thomas Petrie, Works In Progress community newspaper, OlympiaClick here to see the original review
44. Musicport Festival, Whitby, East Yorkshire, 5-7 October 2012
Rather than go to see another artist we hung onto our seats at the main stage to ensure we had a good position to watch Reem Kelani and her band. I have seen Reem twice before at Musicport and she is an astounding performer, using music and song to demonstrate the plight but also to celebrate the life of Palestinians and others caught in the tensions that exist in the Middle East and North Africa. Ninety minutes passed incredibly quickly in the company of this charismatic woman and her superb band - if you get the chance to see Reem please do so - your life will be better for it.
Sunday morning we headed straight to the theatre to see Reem Kelani's presentation which, despite problems with the laptop and projector, was so informative and enjoyable it was hard to tear ourselves away to see Calaita.
Joe Grint, FateaClick here to go to the full review of the Festival
43. Ealing Jazz Festival, London, 28 July 2012
Remembering Egypt and Palestine with Reem Kelani at the Ealing Jazz Festival
“Many people ask me, how come you like jazz and you're an Arab? And I tell them it's because I'm an Arab“ Reem teases, laughing at her own joke. She's referring to the make-up of her band; it's unusual to see an Arabic singer with British jazz musicians.
In the South tent of the Ealing Jazz festival this Saturday, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani goes on to describe similarities between Arabic music and jazz. As her voice thunders out Reem's lyrics are in full harmony with her band, leaving the audience wondering what other rhythm her words could possibly blend so well with.
It's not just the nature of the music that is curious but Reem herself. With a mother from Nazareth in Galilee and a father from Ya'bad near Jenin, Reem was actually born in Manchester and grew up in Kuwait. She has a striking appearance with blonde hair, a loose black tunic with embroidered pink edges, high-wedged shoes and a voice to match.
Not entirely content with belting out each song for listeners to digest, she stops in between to address the audience. There is an unmistakable element of story-telling to her music, one that is easy to relate to as the songs unfold in a mixture of Arabic and English. Many of Reem's songs are laced with nostalgia, a way of remembering the past or educating people about the Middle East.
One of Reem's passions is the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892 - 1923). Describing an experience she had on Qasr el Nile Bridge, Egypt amongst the tear gas of the 2011 revolution she introduces her next song, originally by him.
“At that very minute when we were on the bridge Mubarak's regime cut off telephone lines, the internet, everything, and the revolutionaries were isolated... in the 1919 revolt in Egypt against British rule... it was the revolutionaries who cut off the telegrams and the telephone lines to isolate Cairo from London, to be able to make sure that the revolution worked... I was thinking of that song walking on the bridge.“
Ironically, here were two revolutions one hundred years apart, with the Internet and phone lines down, purposefully cut only for completely different reasons.
If Egypt is one of Reem's connections to Arabic music, Palestine certainly provides another. Reem tells us how great it was to watch Palestine in the Olympic procession, of her support for stateless countries. Her pride and positivism is uplifting throughout her performance.
“I will take you back to where I originally come from, Palestine... people talk about destruction. We're going to talk about construction. This is a song that people sing when they're building homes in Palestine, it only revolves around one word. Alhamdulillah.“
As the last song finishes, amongst the clapping and dancing a lady in the audience all dressed in pink with a Palestinian keffiyeh wrapped around her shoulders, gives a standing ovation. Reem is back for another Sayyid Darwish song.
Amelia Smith, al-HourriahClick here to go to the original article
42. Casablanca, Refugee Week, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 22 June 2012
The penultimate event in this year's Refugee Week took place in the glorious environs of the Victoria & Albert Museum - with the themes of flight, refuge and identity resonating loud and clear in the programme, which included screenings of the classic black & white film, Casablanca, plus music.
Time for some refreshment in what is surely one of London's most ornate and beautiful cafés - for this particular night recreated as Rick's Café, with a grand piano taking centre-stage. This is where Palestinian singer Reem Kelani sang a rousing set of songs with her trio of musicians on piano, double bass and percussion. Kelani is a dynamic performer and got the audience's full attention with her engaging and passionate introductions to the songs, many by the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish, from her forthcoming album. She dedicated one to the revolution in Tunisia, 'Babour Zammar,' by Hédi Guella. A prominent political singer in Tunisia, Guella died shortly after the revolution last year. The song - more commonly known as the 'Anthem for Emigration' by Tunisians - speaks of the emigration of young Tunisians to work in Europe.
Jo Frost, SonglinesClick here to go to the original article
41. Sheffield University Spring Concert series, 13 March 2012
Live performance is at it its best when it surprises. What was I expecting when – a week last Tuesday – I attended a concert at Sheffield University by Anglo-Palestinian singer Reem Kelani? Well perhaps it was the somewhat formal publicity photo. Or the description of her voice by the London Evening Standard as “…holy…like a call to prayer.” Whatever it was, despite the concert billing as “Music of the Egyptian Revolution” somehow I wasn’t expecting to be leaving Firth Hall having witnessed one of the most spontaneously joyous and uplifting musical performances of my whole life. The first surprise – on a Tuesday evening – was that the hall was packed. The second was the extraordinary music of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923) that Reem was showcasing alongside her own material. In his short life Darwish wrote music that made the journey between traditional Arab, western music hall and jazz, and penned genuinely moving calls to rise up against the British during the 1919 revolution at the same time as hilarious songs seeing life from the viewpoint of cigarette smokers and even cocaine addicts.
But the main surprise was Reem herself – about as far from the ethereal world of religious mysticism that I had been expecting that it is possible to get. After a deceptively quiet start the woman on stage seemed to become possessed by some collective energy and by the second half of the set had transformed into a cross between dervish and shaman, almost literally making the music come alive, throwing its crazed rhythms out among us like sparks from some ritual fire. The final surprise was when I got home and found that on her way to becoming an acclaimed singer, musicologist and broadcaster, this Manchester-born Palestinian activist had been an accomplished marine biologist. Like my hero Belzoni, that is some career. And like him, I know she is going to be a continuing inspiration.
TheGreatBelzoni, SheffieldClick here to go to the original article
40. Nour Festival of Arts, London, 22 October 2010
Reem Kelani delivered one of the best concerts seen in years at Leighton House last week.
From start to finish, her energy burst from the stage making it impossible for the sold out audience not to sing, clap and in many cases dance along. Showcasing new material from her forthcoming album and including acclaimed numbers from her past best-selling record 'Sprinting Gazelle', the influence of the great Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923) was never far from the surface. While her Palestinian heritage was at the core of the performance, her delicately crafted songs touched on the traces of Turkish, Egyptian and British musicianship in vogue in the Middle East in the early 20th century. A memorable element of the evening was Kelani's storytelling between songs, highlighting their origins and her natural ability to make the audience feel they were all personal friends.
A truly memorable evening.
Leighton House, London
39. St Ethelburgas, London, 12 December 2009
A top class performance from Reem Kelani and her band. It's hard to know what to say about this performer whose 'live' shows are always full of passion as she sings her heart out with every song. She is so comfortable with her audience and in the intimate setting of St Ethelburga's even more so, leaving the stage on a number of occasions and moving around to sing closer to the audience. There's always a ripple of humour with Reem as well. Each song has a story behind it, often based on research she's been doing over 20 yrs with Palestinians and their struggle in the Middle East. Her family hail from Galilee and she has deep feelings about her roots there. Also outstanding in the band line-up was Zoe Rahman. English born with Bengali roots. This is a Mercury nominated jazz pianist and watching her caress the keys of the piano with such agility was another bonus to another outstanding night at St Ethelburga's.
Wallee McDonnell, World Music Coordinator, St EthelburgasClick here to go to the original article
38. St Ethelburgas, London, 12 December 2009
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd
An hour with Reem Kelani
Listening to the Palestinian artist Reem Kelani is food for the soul, heart and mind. As a university graduate, she mixes her scientific methodology with her musical knowledge and powerful voice, giving us as ever a rich background on her songs and arrangements. Her primary area is traditional Palestinian music, in which she takes great pride. And whilst some of our musicians might spend their leisure time in coffee shops, nightclubs and the palatial homes of rich benefactors, Reem spends her time in places such as the British Library and research archives across the world, or conducting field work in the Middle East, listening to songs performed at weddings and other celebrations. She listens, collates, records and analyses.
Reem is an artist of whom Arabs and Muslims should be proud: a true ambassador for her people and her cause. I've often wondered why we don't chose our ambassadors from among our literary figures, artists and intellectuals, those who can interact with universal cultures. Instead, our diplomats seem to think that inviting a Western official over for stuffed courgettes, stewed okra and vine leaves that may give them a tummy ache for a week, is a guarantee of converting them to our cause.
I say that she is a source of pride because Reem has become an authority on Middle Eastern folklore, as well as the music of the 'other'. Her musical ensemble boasts an international cast of various nationalities and creeds. She is also a seasoned broadcaster, with her series of documentaries for BBC Radio Four about the music of migrant communities as one example.
Reem has performed at many venues, both in the UK and overseas. Her last concert at St. Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London was a showcase for songs from her next album which is dedicated to the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. One of the songs she presented was a song so famous that there isn't an Arab that doesn't know it; the song was made even more famous by the Lebanese singer Fairouz. The song, of course, was Zourouni (Visit Me).
We all know this song as a romantic song where one lover berates the other for not visiting them often enough. But now, thanks to Reem, we found out that the 'lover' in mind is our own Prophet Muhammad.
Fairouz added the song to her repertoire after it had been made famous by Sayyid Darwish in the 1920s, following his meeting with a musician from Iraq. "Mulla" 'Uthman al-Musilli was a professional and proficient reader of the Holy Qur'an. When the Ottoman Sultan heard of al-Musilli, he invited him to Istanbul and appointed him as an official Qur'an reader and caller to prayer in the Aya Sofia Mosque.
Al-Musilli lived in Istanbul for a while, but the soul of Sufi asceticism rebelled against palace life. Thus, he returned to the Arab world and settled in Aleppo where he became master of a Sufi brotherhood. It was also in Aleppo where he established himself as a virtuoso singer, musician and expert on Arabic maqams (melodic modes).
Apparently, al-Musilli saw Prophet Muhammad in a dream one night, whereupon the Prophet berated him for not visiting his grave in Medina. When he woke up, al-Musilli had made up his mind about going on a pilgrimage to visit the Prophet's grave.
When he returned to Aleppo after his pilgrimage, the Prophet's reproof continued to occupy his mind and to play on the strings of his artistic self. Soon after, this preoccupation resulted in a song in which, in accordance with Sufi philosophy, al-Musilli combined love with faith, love of the Divine with the love of others, and yearning for God and his Prophet with desire for beauty and perfection:
Visit me, even if it's but once a year
It's not fair
To forget all about me
It's not fair
To forget all about me
When Sayyid Darwish met al-Musilli and studied under him in Aleppo, he got to know this song. Subsequently, he adapted it in a secular context, thus giving it pride of place as a love story.
Khalid Kishtainy, Iraqi journalist and critic, al-Sharq al-Awsat, UKClick here to go to the original article in Arabic
37. Duke of Yorks Theatre, London, 10 November 2009
Eloquent Protest (an artist’s response to the price of war, which honours the fallen and counts the cost of their sacrifice)
Third musician to raise the roof was Reem Kelani, a Manchester-born Palestinian who sang a song based on the words of Mahmoud Darwish, a celebrated Palestinian poet. Coming in straight after Messrs [Tony] Benn and [Roy] Bailey, she elicited a laugh of disbelief from the audience when echoing Bailey’s invitation for us to sing along – the fact that she was singing in Arabic aside, this woman could do things with her voice I’d hitherto thought impossible. In contrast to the caged fury we’d got from Fiona MacDonald, Reem Kelani was a dervish, beating her drum, flailing at the air, and screeching and screaming through a beguilingly energetic rendition of what she told us was a 'celebration of life'.
Sam Haddow, Culture Wars, UKClick here to view the full review
36. London, 9 October 2009
Review of the Arab Women's Association's Let Gaza Live
The Arab Women's Association presented Let Gaza Live at the Royal Geographical Society, London, 9 Oct 2009 and it was a fascinating evening by turns deeply moving, highly intelligent throughout and informed by an intensely concentrated, though controlled anger. All proceeds were in aid of the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip and the Arab Women's Association Fund for Gaza.
Whilst the nature of the event inevitably made for a tone both sombre and outraged, there was - thankfully - a degree of humour, especially in the performances of the amazing phenomenon that is the charismatic Reem Kelani (who not surprisingly got the loudest cheers of the evening) and with the contrasting but equally effective stage presence of Leon Rosselson ('Song of the Olive Tree' and-"by command of Reem!"-his "Conversation on a Mobile", which brought the house down).
Victoria Brittain brought the wealth of her experience to compering. Shelagh Weir, former curator for Middle East Ethnography at the Museum of Mankind at the British Museum gave a fascinating illustrated talk on Palestinian costume and textiles. Despite the time constraints she managed to convey very powerfully the nature and continuity of the Palestinian culture and history that antedated the nakba, giving a sense of just how much had been lost and why it had been such a catastrophe for an entire, settled people. (Writing this note, I can't help but be reminded of the comparable loss of Yiddish theatre, newspapers, klezmer music-another whole culture-in the European destruction of the 20th century.)
A backdrop screen projected still and moving images throughout, giving added force to the words and music. One section comprised a video of singer-songwriter Rev. Garth Hewitt performing the song he composed, inspired by a letter written to him by a priest, "The Broken Heart of Gaza".
Camilla Saunders, well known musician who uses improvisation in her performances, played a piece - "Unbinding - for Gaza" - at the piano. It began and ended quietly, reflectively, on a plaintive modal theme, which she elaborated into arpeggiated angry flashes, especially in aggressive repeated bass notes and clusters, resolving again to the theme and mood with which she began, and ending with a slightly ambiguous cadence, as if to suggest not resignation, but that things were not yet resolved, the last chord leaving a question in the air.
Alfie Horrocks and his dad Bill played and sang "In Memory of Iman from Gaza" - the 13 year old girl shot by an IDF soldier on her way back from school one day. (He said he thought her satchel was a suicide bomb, he said, but went on shooting ... The crime was reported round the world at the time.)
Nobody needs me to tell them about Reem Kelani, so I wont attempt it. Except to say that I couldn't help thinking, witnessing how the audience received her, what a towering cultural icon she is for the Palestinian people (although her musicianship and artistry make her appeal wholly universal). Later, when I got home, I was reflecting on this. During Reem's final performance of the evening, I had snatched a few glances at those faces in the audience that I could see and what I saw there brought home to me just what she means, and not only as artist, to Palestinians especially.
Most of the effect is of course musical, but there's something extra-musical as well. I've seen the same thing amongst Jewish audiences listening to, for example, Yehudi Menuhin or Itzhak Perlman - something for want of a better word that I'd describe as a consciousness of a shared soul.
I really don't think I'm overstating this. I thought, there she is, Reem Kelani, pouring every milligram of her being into this performance, her audience rapt, transported before her, and there's this precious, non-violent force transmuting a mouthful of air into articulate energy, an energy that evokes sympathetic vibrations through whole communities, giving hope and strength, lifting human spirits from out of their dark times.
And then I thought of how greatly tyrannies, dictatorships, occupying colonial powers, fascist states of all kinds fear this one thing - the power of art, probably music above all, and the voice of the artist, to undermine their foundations.
It reminded me of a book I have and often dip into, called "University over the Abyss: The story behind 520 lecturers and 2,430 lectures in KZ [Concentration Camp] Theresienstadt 1942 - 1944", compiled by Elena and Sergei Makarov and Victor Kuperman. It makes for grim but at the same time inspiring reading, a record of how people can sometimes rise above the most awful of circumstances. I shall come back to this in a moment.
The evening was for Gaza and it was from Gaza that Dr Mona al-Farra had been expected to come to present her report, Siege and Survival. As everyone in the audience would have known, Dr Mona al-Farra is a Palestinian physician living in Gaza and a Project Director for Middle East Children's Alliance.
However, the Rafah crossing had been closed, and neither the Israelis nor the Egyptians would let her out, so her talk was read for her by her student daughter, who came specially from Manchester for the occasion. Her daughter read the piece admirably, and it proved to be an extraordinarily powerful denunciation of Israeli brutality and cruelty from one who has seen at first hand the medical consequences.
The food journalist Joanna Blythman spoke on "Food and Palestine". This was a most fascinating and illuminating account. She spoke of the destruction of the Palestinian agricultural economy, the obstacles placed by the Israelis in the way of farmers and their markets, and connected all this to the politics of supermarkets in this country and their close monitoring of customer opinion.
It was a chore, she knew, and boring, but she implored us to write to supermarkets where they were stocking goods ambiguously (i.e. dishonestly) labelled as coming from "the West Bank". Every customer letter and phone call is logged, scrupulously, and sent to HQ, so that if there are enough of them the supermarkets are forced to take note and act accordingly. And she told us to tell them about the delicious Palestinian olive oil, the almonds ... "We'll buy them", tell them. (And there was a great display of Palestinian goods, including Zaytoun olive oil, za'atar, almonds, dates, soap, T-shirts and more, for sale in the foyer outside the hall, and those who knew the quality, i.e. everyone, soon snapped them up!).
Joanna got the second loudest cheer of the evening (to my ears Reem would have won on sheer decibel levels) when with inexorable logic she led up to a call to support the boycott of Israeli food produce.
The event approached its conclusion with a immensely strong, dramatic reading by Corin Redgrave and Kika Markham, appearing together as they had one year ago, at Cadogan Hall, London, in Palestine Aloud: A Cultural Celebration in support of Palestine. On this occasion they read from Ghassan Kanafani's deeply moving "Letter from Gaza". (Corin's character visits his niece in hospital after her wounding at the hands of the IDF. He tells her that he has brought her presents, especially the red pants she'd always wanted. She is weak, quiet, very subdued and begins to weep. At last she lifts her head from the pillow and in a small voice manages to tell him: her leg has been amputated at the thigh. You may imagine how Redgrave conveyed the horror of that moment.)
As the audience entered at the start of the evening, they found on every seat a leaflet in the style of a folded programme. Inside, printed beautifully in English and Arabic, were the words of the song, Mawtini, (My Homeland), lyrics by Ibrahim Touqan, Music by the Fuleifel Brothers. The translation was made by Reem Kelani and Christopher Somes-Charlton.
On the cover (it's before me now) is a lovely reproduction of the picture, Orphan Child, by Nicholas Egon. It can be seen here: http://www.awa-london.org/
Reem and her musicians ended the evening with this anthem, Mawtini, getting the audience to join in, in a heartfelt rendition. It was a great end to a great evening.
I had not intended to write this review at all. I hadn't taken any notes during the evening and it had simply not occurred to me to write about it. Somehow, and I can't explain why, when I got home and sat at the computer to check my email, I just found myself beginning to write about it - at first a few short sentences, and then it just grew almost by itself.
When I got to the bit where I tried to compare the experience of Gazans with that of European Jews in concentration camps, I wondered how many points of comparison there might really be, or whether it might be perhaps invidious to try to make them.
I'm a signatory of the Statement of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, a founder member of the UK branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and I've been to Palestine twice, most recently last year with a group of clinicians on a fact finding tour (the Israelis refused us entry to Gaza although we'd applied to enter several months beforehand).
I ended the night feeling how unbearably tragic it was that the nakba had been done by 'my' people to Reem's people, and that 'my' people are still perpetuating, every hour, that monstrous iniquity.
It all happened and is happening, and now our two peoples might, in time, have so much to share, but only if those of my people who inflicted and are inflicting such misery can truly repent, can effect some degree of restitution, make reparation to a degree sufficient to help Reem's people to forgive us. I don't know if that's ever going to be possible - although I look with hope to the example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. But first there must be repentance and restitution. Perhaps then - in the end - her people can forgive mine.
Dr Brian Robinson, Musicweaver, UKClick here to go to Musicweaver
35. al-Wehda, Syria, 20 July 2009
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2009
Reem Kelani and her Anglo-Syrian band at Jableh
I told a number of my colleagues who attended the Palestinian musician Reem Kelani's concert with me "the Roman spirit is alive and well in Jableh's ancient amphitheatre" because the Festival has brought to it a new lease of life, after years of neglect by local residents.
There she was, the singer Reem Kelani coming from the UK to make wonders with her voice, her songs, her choreography, her humour and her ability to enthrall. Evidently, the Jableh audience had been waiting long for Reem; that much I could see from the way in which they responded to her. Indeed, they gave Reem and her band a well-deserved standing ovation for their brilliant performance.
Reem sang and told the audience that she was a daughter of Jableh every bit as much as she was a daughter of Palestine. Her concert was a big success and it was extremely well received at this year's Jableh Cultural Festival.
Reem's Anglo-Syrian line-up for this concert comprised:
- Basel Rajoub on saxophones
- Amir Qara Jouli on violin
- Simon Mreach on drums
- Bruno Heinen on piano
- Ryan Trebilcock on double bass.
Together they presented us with a unique artistic display.
Samah Muhammad al-'Ali
34. Burngreave Messenger, Sheffield, 29 May 2009
Songs and stories with Reem Kelani
On Monday 11th May, well known London based, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, (accompanied by Bruno Heinen on Piano) gave a stunning performance of a number of songs from Arabic speaking countries, to a packed audience at the Burngreave Vestry Hall.
“This was multiculturalism at its best, a real celebration of diversity. Reem has such a gift for story telling, and sharing her knowledge of the history of music, musicians and composers from many countries. All were invited to participate, in clapping, finger-clicking and ulullation.” David Havard
Though the performance (organised by Jon Cowley and Rashida Hassanali) was free, a collection raised £300 for a children’s charity in Gaza.
As part of Adult Learner’s Week provision, Reem also led a workshop just for women on the following morning at Sorby House on Spital Hill. This surpassed even the excellence of the previous evening’s performance. Women from a dozen different nationalities were supported into learning and performing each others songs. Language didn’t matter! It was a very emotional morning.
“It was a very special day for me. She carried me back to Palestine, making me sing our own songs. I appreciated the common feelings we shared.” Arwa
“Reem Kelani made everyone special and everyone sang without music in their own languages. We felt sad, happy and emotional. People who even weren’t Arabic sang in Arabic language. It was incredible event. She reminded people of their past and what they learned from their mothers when they were young.” Amal
“Reem asked me to sing in my language. I did’t have any idea how to sing but she pushed and encouraged me. And I sang and every body got happy. We were all from different countries and had different languages but we were singing all together.” Azeb
“Listening to Reem I felt so proud to live in such a diverse community. I wish I could do more to bring Burngreave people together to celebrate and share things like music, stories, customs and recipes.” Rashida Hassanali
Story: Saleema Imam
33. Ritmos del Mundo, Issue Number 08, Barcelona, Spain, January - February 2009
Translated from Castilian Spanish © Noemí Rubio i Gómez & The Miktab Ltd, 2009
To say that it rained does not do justice to what fell from the skies during Manresa's Festival of Traditional Performing Arts. One of the heaviest storms arrived just as the UK-based Palestinian singer Reem Kelani began to sing in a half-full marquee.
Faced with such a prospect, more than a few of us were irritated that, with this great artist of Arabic traditions and innovative Jazz rhythms before us, we couldn't hear her properly because of the weather conditions. It was Kelani's first performance in our country and perhaps she had somewhat invoked the severe weather, as she explained that "rain in Palestine means that God is with us". And then she started to sing with her impressive voice and she delighted us with material from her debut album “Sprinting Gazelle“.
It was a most beautiful repertoire of popular Palestinian songs, from refugee parting songs to lullabies and wedding songs, part “cante chico“ (light-hearted singing) and part “cante jondo“ (deep singing).
Kelani's daring attempt at singing “El noi de la mare“, one of the most traditional Catalan Christmas carols, provided a cheeky little surprise. We were also treated to the real thing in “Mawwaal“, her own setting of a poem by Mahmud Darwish who died last summer and whom we were reminded was one of the most celebrated Arab poets of modern times. Magda Farré
32. Agenda - Out and About in Brussels, 27 November 2008
Thierry Noville has lined up quite a few groups for the Palestinian Festival Masarat, but Reem Kelani is particularly close to his heart. "Reem Kelani performs a popular repertoire, whereas the other Masarat musicians are more linked to classical Arabic music or to more modern stuff, like Kamilya Joubran or the rappers of DAM", explains Thierry Noville, who is in charge of world music programming both at the Espace Senghor and for Masarat.
"Kelani is the only one who takes a real interest in popular song, in wedding singing and so on. When I travelled to Palestine to prepare for Masarat, I was asked to find some traditional singing. I searched, but I couldn't find anything. Back in Belgium, by chance, I came across Reem Kelani, a Palestinian singer who lives in London and works in this field.
"For a country like Palestine, much of whose culture has been scattered in the diaspora, it is moving to see Kelani carrying out this work of collecting, in the refugee camps, in historic Palestine, and in England. On the basis of that research she produces something very personal.
"This is very expressive music, which at times evokes the joy of weddings but can also be very tragic, for it is the music that accompanies the everyday lives of Palestinians. While other musicians at Masarat may stimulate the imagination more, Kelani expresses more feelings.
"She adds modern instruments to this traditional repertoire, such as a piano, drum kit, or a saxophone. I love it when traditional music is reinterpreted by musicians here and now. These people explore their roots; they know where they come from, but at the same time they are the musicians of today.
This is not the music of the past, but music that has been brought to life - in Kelani's case, by adding elements of jazz".
31. Musical stories of the invisible country (a Catalan cultural website), 6 November 2008
Translated from Catalan © Laia Serra Sanguesa, Noemí Rubio i Gómez & The Miktab Ltd, 2008
Mediterrania Festival, Manresa, Barcelona, Spain 31 October 2008
For many years we have been able to get to know Palestinian music through three women whose art appears to complement each other: Rim Banna, Amal Murkus and Reem Kelani. Three different ways of interpreting the musical traditions of their homeland are embodied in a large number of fascinating CDs: for example, the one CD to date published by Reem Kelani entitled "Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora (2005) which is the wonderful result of many years of work, research and reflection.
Born in Manchester, of Palestinian parents, and brought up in Kuwait, Reem Kelani learned this music in the refugee camps in Lebanon and Palestine and has refined it by arrangements containing elements of jazz, respectful, precise, and perfectly integrated with the musical narrative.
We were much interested in seeing live the great artistry contained in the CD, and we have to confess that initially there was something in the performance with which we were not comfortable: perhaps it was because the audience was small or maybe the sound of the rain, or maybe the dramatic way in which the performer tackled the songs. Nevertheless, within a short while, the power of her dramatic persona, the strength of her voice, the precise arrangements of the musicians accompanying her, overcame all reservations and enchanted us. We were introduced to a repertoire which was full of turns and surprises: the pianist played an oriental melody influenced by Keith Jarrett; a suite of children's songs which flowed out into "El noi de la mare"; an Andalusian muwwashah in 17/8 rhythm which captivated the audience with her enormous energy and was persuasive. One of the most delightful songs from Sprinting Gazelle was A Baker's Dozen, and she completed the set, leading her audience in clapping in 13/4 time while the musicians painted a melody of concentric circles, her voice flaunting its potential and its expressiveness.
Reem Kelani doesn't just sing; she lives the song. She performs with profound emotion, proud of her culture and with an ability to communicate from which you can not escape - which overcame any initial doubts - and which made us fall at her feet. Josep Vicent Frechina
30. Poetry International, Southbank Centre, London 31 October 2008
Poetry International Opener (Reem Kelani: A stunning performance)
The first night of poetry international was a vibrant well collaborated start to a celebration of different cultures.
The energy and excitement was electric you could feel volts bounce through your body as Reem Kelani worked the stage with her powerful voice projecting her thoughts and songs aloud to the audience the Palestinian singer engaged and included the crowd with an uproar of cultural difference the wild clapping and stomping was enough to set a weary heart ablaze, she danced she jumped about walked through the audience what more could you ask for, really a woman so strong and passionate about what she can do deserves a place in the hall of fame.
Reem Kelani thank you for a spectacular evening! Micheal Oladeji
To see a clip of Reem's performance, go to: Poetry International Opener
29. The Financial Times, 26 September 2008
The rhythms of Ramadan
Reem Kelani: LSO St Luke's, London
Outside, it was too dark to tell a black thread from a white. Inside, the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was opening the Barbican's Ramadan Nights festival. She began singing alone, seated, an invocation echoing off the walls of the church. On "Hawwilouna", a boisterously belligerent wedding song, the band joined in, clapping and stamping and slapping the body of a double bass.
On the third song, a grim Galilean lullaby, her musicians finally had their head. Zoe Raman set up a slow swell of piano, building into a rippling torrent before dropping away abruptly into an ominous minor key, over which her brother Idris played brooding clarinet.
Partly, this concert was road-testing songs by one of Kelani's heroes, the tortured Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. "Definitely a working-class hero," she asserted, "torn between his faith and his music." His anthem for the porters of Cairo had a bouncy swing, Patrick Illingworth riding his hi-hat and Zoe Raman barrelhousing away: Kelani's claims for Darwish's kinship with Gershwin seemed eminently plausible. His "Anthem For the Downtrodden", in solidarity with the Nubians despised by the Egyptian street, was set to a metallic strum on the tanbur, a Sudanese lute.
But she dedicated the concert to another Darwish, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died in August. Kelani read his last poem aloud, and then sang her setting of his "Mawwaal", written in the immediate aftermath of the six-day war but rejecting despair. Over a funereal drumbeat, Idris Raman played a slow lament, building through quiet passages into a thunderous climax. Zoe Raman picked out high notes and the song ended in a whispered percussion coda, Fariborz Kiani stroking the skin of a darbuka with the tips of his fingernails.
The encore belonged, again, to Sayyid Darwish. It was perhaps his most celebrated song, "Zourouni", with an "Egyptian Mae West", in Kelani's words, begging her lover to come up and see her. She started slow, over a murmur of piano and bowed double bass, hesitating as if at the top of a rollercoaster before the song tipped headlong into its chorus. Ian East played pennywhistle patterns on the flute and two women from the audience leapt on stage to karaoke along. Darwish's impudent march was a joyous, if frustratingly early close. David Honigmann
28. Tanjara, London September 2008
Palestinian singer Reem Kelani opens the Ramadan Nights season of concerts in London
The Ramadan Nights concert given at the London venue LSO St Luke’s by the Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani and her band on Thursday night was in effect a tribute to two great Arab artists who happen to share a surname: the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923), and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who died on August 9.
The concert was the opening event of the Barbican Centre’s fourth annual Ramadan Nights season of concerts by outstanding Muslim singers and musicians from Britain and abroad. Kelani is a long-time resident of the capital, and tickets to her concert had sold out well in advance.
The event began in stunning style with Kelani singing unaccompanied her arrangement of Sayyid Darwish’s “Birth of the Chosen Prophet”. Her pure voice, subtly ornamented, took wing with this devotional song and soared in the spacious yet intimate hall of the 18th century former church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Then came the rousing traditional Palestinian wedding song “Hawwilouna”, from the coastal city of Akka. The audience joined with gusto in the syncopated clapping by Kelani and the musicians. There was laughter when Kelani observed that the song “tells the family of the groom if you treat our daughter nicely in marriage we’ll make you ruler of all the Arab tribes, but if you don’t you’ll be cleaning after our animals and sheep.”
Kelani dedicated the concert to Mahmoud Darwish, and among the songs she performed was her setting of his 1967 poem “Mawwaal – Variations on Loss”. The opening lines read: “I lost a beautiful dream / I lost the lilies’ sting / My night has been long / stretched over the garden walls / But I have not lost the way.”
The song began with drummer Patrick Illingworth setting a somber beat before the Anglo-Bengali pianist Zoe Rahman came in with a captivating hymn-like succession of chords. Saxophone playing by Ian East and by Zoe’s brother Idris Rahman gave the Mawwaal a soulful sound. Kelani’s powerfully moving rendering of the song was concluded by a skilful tabla solo from the Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani.
“Mawwaal – Variations on Loss” and several other numbers performed during the concert came from Kelani’s 2006 debut CD “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora”. She is now working on her second CD, devoted to the music of Sayyid Darwish, “considered to be the godfather of contemporary Arab music.”
Half the 12 songs performed during the concert were Kelani’s arrangements of compositions by Sayyid Darwish to lyrics by various authors. Kelani described Darwish as a “working class hero” who wrote anthems for professions such as water sellers, sailors, fortune tellers and builders.
She said: “He was a tortured soul and I relate a lot to his suffering. He was torn between his faith and his music, and [this is] something that many practicing Muslim artists, especially if they are women, go through. So Darwish’s suffering was very much collective, and he remained with that turmoil most of his life, and the third dimension that came out of that suffering was his beautiful music.”
“The Porters’ Anthem”, with lyrics by Badi’ Khairi (1893-1966), says “buckle up your belt and carry the heavy load because as an Egyptian you’re proud enough to work hard instead of stretching your hand asking for money.” It includes the porters’ cries of “hina hina” that Darwish used to hear in the markets of Alexandria.
Kelani’s performances always include the unexpected, even for those who know her music well, and one surprise in this concert was her first-ever public performance on the tanbour lyre. She accompanied herself as she sang a Sayyid Darwish song about Nubians, which she has entitled “Ode to the Downtrodden
Kelani was born in the northern English city of Manchester, to a medical doctor father from the village of Ya’bad near Jenin and a mother from Nazareth, and grew up in Kuwait. It was in Kuwait that she first heard Sudanese music and got to know the music of the famous Nubian Sudanese singer, songwriter and tanbour player Mohammed Wardi.
The concert was the occasion for Kelani’s first public airing of “Ode to the Downtrodden” (originally entitled “Ashinger Damolina”), and it went down well with the audience. It had a distinctly African feel, particularly through her playing of the tanboura. Kelani gave the audience an idea of the stereotyped way in which Nubians have tended to be viewed in Egypt. She worked with a Nubian linguistics professor visiting Britain to try to ensure that her translations of Nubian words were correct and that she was not treading on sensitivities. She dedicated the song to the Nubian villages that were submerged as a result of the building of the Aswan dam.
Kelani performed several songs from the Palestinian repertoire for which she is best known. The lyrics of the traditional “Galilean Lullaby” were collected by the Palestinian poet Tawfiq Zayyad. Kelani has composed her own music to the lyrics, which begin: “Our loved ones have left home, / Gone away without saying goodbye”.
She learned a song she calls “A Baker’s Dozen” from a group of women in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. She found the song had a 13-beat cycle, and when she was recording “Sprinting Gazelle” her production engineer Steve Lowe, who is from Bolton in northern England, suggested the title “A Baker’s Dozen”. The original Arabic title is “Habl el-Ghiwa” or “The Pull of Seduction”.
The striking introduction to “A Baker’s Dozen” was played on the double bass by Pete Billington with Arabic inflections that gave an effect almost like that of an oud. Kelani said the song expresses both the tragedy and love of life, and she got the audience to come in with cries of “Awf!” at appropriate moments. The effect of Kelani’s vocal improvisations interwoven with the excellent tight playing of her band was very jazzy, and yet at the same time utterly Arab.
As an encore Kelani and her musicians performed the Sayyid Darwish “I am Egyptian”, segueing into one of his most famous songs “Zourouni!” (“Visit Me!”). At the end of the concert members of the audience were invited to partake of Ramadan dates and almonds.
The concert was an exhilarating opening to the Ramadan Nights season of four main concerts, and several smaller Freestage and Clubstage events. The other concerts feature the Azeri singer and daf player Alim Qasimov and his daughter Fargana, sharing the bill with the Kronos Quartet; the legendary Iranian-Kurdish Kamkar family - seven brothers and one sister –appearing on the same program as Turkish ney player Kudsi Erguner and his group; and the Mali musician Bassekou Kouyaté with his Ngoni ba group, and the Mali Tuareg group Tartit. Susannah Tarbush
27. Liverpool Echo, 24 July 2008
RATHER like the BBC, Reem Kelani's remit seems to be to educate, inform - and of course to entertain.
The indefatigable Palestinian doesn't simply perform the songs she sings. She also takes time to act as an enthused teacher explaining the historical, religious - though rarely political - background to each. These are less tub-thumping protest songs and more the lyrical tales of love or loss.
Manchester-born (but Kuwait-raised) Kelani has researched her subject well over 20 years, talking to people in both Palestine and Palestinian refugee camps. But as her two-hour set showed, her net spreads wide to embrace the music of Egypt, Spain, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Nubian people and even Bulgaria.
In a crowded Bluecoat performance space, non-Arabic members of the audience outnumbered the Arabic. But then that was mirrored on stage where Kelani's excellent jazz-style ensemble included a double bass player called Oli, a bald-headed drummer from Lancashire and a sax/flautist with floppy hair. And there was a jazz inflection to Kelani's performance, born from growing up with her father's jazz records. Songs were delivered with intense passion with the singer telling the story with her arms, urging on her musicians, stamping her feet and clapping her hands. It's a performance that needs real stamina.
She also cajoled the audience into joining in when they felt like it, declaring the evening less of a gig and more of a workshop. There were flamenco overtones to an energetic, insistent short song written by Egyptian composer Sayid Darwish - described by Kelani as the Arabic equivalent of English rural folk song champion Percy Grainger.
It was one of the highlights of a set which also touched on Bollywood, blues, "Palestinian bebop" and a Persian song in mind-bending 17/8 time, all delivered with an infectious sense of fun. The evening of Middle Eastern travel came to a satisfyingly raucous conclusion back in Palestine with a touch of Arabic yodelling and an infectious encore number paying homage to Lebanese legend Fairuz. Catherine Jones
26. Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, Seattle, USA 15 May 2008
REEM KELANI: SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FESTIVAL GLOBAL DIVAS SHOW
Some of the best music I've seen in Seattle at any venue over the last few years has been at the Seattle Children's Festival. Last night, during the 2008 version was no exception. I'm a fool for the music of Colombia and Petrona Martinez and her ensemble were stellar. Savannah Fuentes is a native daughter who's chosen the long and arduous road of becoming a flamenco dancer has all the right moves to make your heart drop. My wife pointed out to me the next morning that the cantadora was named Keiko who clapped some mean palmas. Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was a new name in my world, but the woman was so endearing I'll never forget her.
Let's face it; this is not a great time for Arab-US relations. But humans know deep inside that what their governments do don't often reflect what the citizens feel. Kelani brought that point home over and over again in a program that exposed her love of her country, the music of the Arab world and the beauty of the contributions that world has made. She's a sweet and easy sip of tea that introduces you to the village, the city, and the world she marvels at. Born in Manchester England and raised in Kuwait, Kelani has researched the music of the refugee camps of Palestine and Lebanon. She's a spokeswoman for her heritage and it was a treat to be introduced into her world that to Americans is exotic for no other reason than it's not readily available to us. Her perfect English was witty and her repartee hilarious. Once during the show she explained how she had been asked to include the other two groups for the evening's finale. She said about Spanish Flamenco "No problem, remember the Arab world ruled Spain longer than the Spaniards have". And then she added "No problem with Colombian Petrona Martinez, for me she's Mother Africa".
In some ways the music was a surprise to me containing as much of a jazz element as it does. It probably should not have, as the Palestinian neighbors in Israel have been producing some of the most exciting new jazz coming out these days. Kelani's group was comprised of trap drums manned by a Brit, an obviously classically trained pianist who played folk and conservatory both in the same phrase and an Egyptian violin player that when added up into a whole reminded me of some vagabond gypsy troupe that had spent more than a minute at the casbah and had reveled at more than one wedding that lasted for days.
It was another surprise to me that Seattle has a strong Palestinian contingent. There were fans in the audience singing along who obviously relished the chance to reunite with their homeland and during one very touching moment during the performance of a village wedding song many in the audience led a mass rush to the dance floor, where with joined hands they danced the traditional dance of the ceremony. There was so much love and joy in the room that tears were surely brought to many happy eyes.
Kelani is certainly a cheerleader for her love of Arab music and I was glad to be at her game of introducing us to the beauty of her language and music. Never once did I feel like an outsider and more than once I thought she was performing just for me. She's bringing her cards to the table in an effort for us to recognize not only the vastness of her knowledge about the music of the Arab world but also for the right for her community to live in peace with her neighbors. Music is a powerful weapon for healing and Reem Kelani is a master of seducing us gently into her thoughts and goals. Gary Bannister
(Gary Bannister is Artistic Director at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, Seattle)
25. Soundroots.org, Olympia, Washington State, USA June 2008
Seattle International Children's Festival: the Best Semi-Secret Festival on Earth
My favorite secret festival has come and gone once again, leaving me with new cultural impressions, a bit of puzzlement, and a lot of music and laughter ringing in my ears.
The organizers of the Seattle International Children's Festival aren't trying to keep it a secret. In fact, they do a great job of spreading the word to area schools, which ship off shouting yellow busloads of kids, filling the theater seats with their noise and energy and fidgeting. Talking, twisting, and being shh'ed by teachers, the kids can seem a little ambivalent about what they're doing here and what they're about to see.
It's exactly the focus on the kids, however, that tends to keep SICF secret. Most shows are held mid-day, when kids are in school and when adults generally toil instead of attending concerts and circus performances. But the festival will gladly sell tickets to those adults willing to pry themselves away from work for an hour or two of entertainment at the hands of some truly compelling global acts.
After a short break, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani took the stage. Her band's cool sophistication was a sharp contrast to the earthy energy of the Colombians, but Kelani established her own claim on the audience's attention with her first song, a bare vocal piece with clapping and stomping percussion. She followed with the "Galilean Lullaby" before launching into a long raucous dabke (dance) tune that got much of the mixed crowd of kids and adults up and moving.
Kelani is clearly a master organizer/director - not only in leading her band in sometimes unexpected direction, but also in getting the kids to ease from this jubilant dancing to quiet breathing exercises, which she calls chillaxing (chill/relax). Without lecturing, she spoke of the interfaith heritage of Jerusalem then introduced a song based on a poem by Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. Tough to count (17/8 time!) but easy to enjoy, the song is a savory taste of Kelani's upcoming tribute album to Darwish, who was trained as a Muslim clergyman but was pulled away from the pious life by the allure of music.
"Most of his songs have become pan-Arab classics," Kelani said in a Spin The Globe radio interview, "and as an Arab musician if you haven't tackled the Sayyid Darwish repertoire, you still haven't been initiated." Scott Stevens
24. The Scotsman, 3 March 2008
Live music review: Mehfil
Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow
THE four feisty international women artists at Mehfil 2008, the second event of this nature organised by Glasgow's multi-racial Ankur Productions, gave new meaning and impetus to the Urdu word for "artistic gathering". Each pushed the envelope of creativity in unexpected directions, embodying stories of family, community, migration and exile with original vision and quirky humour.
Kicking off, Bangladeshi poet Shamin Azad conjured up what was to come by calling herself a "heritage animator". Her vibrant account of the Bangladeshi myth of the migrant journey to Britain involving the fording of seven seas and 30 rivers touched the well-springs of folktale tradition. It also illuminated her witty argument about the necessary relationship between "naked truth" and "story" if we are to hear the experiences of others and glimpse the world through their eyes.
Gaelic singer Catriona Watt continued the theme with songs her Lewis grandmother had taught her, delivered with a sense of moving wonder and serenity. She was followed by Iranian singer Vida Kashizadeh whose fluent German/French-inflected accordion playing and beautiful vocal jokes revealed subtle new angles on cabaret.
While the night belonged to all four women, undoubtedly the charisma of Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was a high spot. In witty repartee with both audience and her inventive pianist, Bruno Heinen, Kelani took us from Galilee to Egypt, India to Persia and back to Palestine, her riveting songs of deep soul delivered with thrilling panache. Jan Fairley
23. The Waterfront, Swansea University student newspaper, March 2008
Reem Kelani at the Taliesin
Describing how one particularly insensitive journalist had recently asked her if she was 'willing to die for Palestine,' Palestinian singer Reem Kelani told a packed Taliesin that she had firmly replied 'I want to LIVE for Palestine'!
With a set comprising songs from her new album Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora she demonstrated a range and vocal dexterity of awesome power.
Accompanied by an excellent five piece jazz ensemble including Mercury prize nominee Zoe Rahman on piano, Kelani's style is difficult to categorize, but encompasses elements of classical Arabic music, folk and jazz.
Classical Arabic songs by Rashid Husain and the world renowned Egyptian musician Sayyid Darwish were given an added emotional impact by the continued sufferings of the Palestinian people.
The crowd rose to their feet after the closing number to give Reem Kelani and her top notch musicians a well deserved standing ovation, although there were perhaps a few tears shed as well by those exiles in the audience missing their homeland. Paul Seacombe
22. The Swansea Evening Post, February 2008
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
Sunday, February 24 Musicians who attempt to straddle the very different genres of jazz and what has become known as "world music" have become increasingly popular in recent years, due in no small part to the manner in which enlightened audiences have embraced multi-culturalism and the perception that we now live in a global village.
Palestinian singer Reem Kelani is one such artist, and while her musical style owes far more to traditional Arabic and folk music - including sequences which clearly demonstrate the roots of Gypsy music and flamenco - than to Western jazz, of which there was very little(if any)here, then this is more than compensated for by her extraordinarily powerful and emotive voice and her confidence in connecting with her audience.
Joined here by Zoe Rahman(piano), Ian East(saxophones/flutes), Pete Billington(double bass), Samy Bishai(violin), John Blease(drums), Kelani performed songs from her debut album Sprinting Gazelle and blew the crowd away with the depth of emotion with which she delivered these complex and lyrical works.
A total lack of the kind of political controversy for which such events are renowned was a definite plus, inasmuch as Kelani chooses to spread the word about Palestinian culture and identity in an infinitely more subtle and effective way. Graham Williams
21. Red Pepper, Manchester, December 2007
The Voice of Palestine
Reem Kelani filled Sheffield City's Memorial Hall on 17th October, with her presence, her music and her voice that ranged further than the hills of Palestine. Her band of top class jazz musicians, renowned in their own right, provided vibrant improvisation to support her voice and the adaptation of traditional Arabic rhythms and melodies to modern interpretations of classical Arabic poetry and songs.
Reem has collected traditional folk songs from Palestinian women around the world. The women she has met have inspired her to sing, to portray their struggle through the celebration of Palestinian musical heritage. She told the story of how she learnt a wedding song in Syria from a Palestinian woman refugee - how that woman had held onto her songs and memories despite having left her land over sixty years ago.
Her passion for the voice of women through song echoes the tribulations of Palestinian life through the centuries through to the modern day. It belies the propaganda which denies the Palestinians their past and their culture. It belies the notion that Palestinian women (or any Arab women) are not a central element of creating and maintaining the strong sense of Palestinian life, culture and society which has enabled them to carry on their national struggle.
As Reem explains: "I care about the land, but without Palestinian culture it's meaningless. Turning my nation into refugees has meant that we have lost, and continue to lose, our cultural heritage, but what is worse is Israeli cultural appropriation. We can't access many of the manuscripts of our poets and musicians because they are held by the Israeli government, and you need a permit to visit the archives."
Born in Manchester, raised in Kuwait and now living in London, Reem has worked to bring Arab and non-Arab musical traditions together. Her use of a jazz rhythm section as a backing band, allows her the flexibility of improvisations whilst she maintains the conventions of classical Arabic singing. The power of her voice to ring clear on the lowest softest notes through to ululating during a wedding song, and threatening to break the windows in the hall, captivated the audience.
With the sublime accompaniment of Zoe Rahman on piano, Samy Bashai on violin, Ian East on saxophones & flute, Patrick Illingworth on drums and Oli Hayhurst on double bass, Reem sang wedding songs, songs of return, of labourers and of the harvest. She had adapted traditional and modern poetry into song. Her poignant rendition of Mahmoud Salim al-Hout's poem, YAFA, left the audience holding its breath as the last note rang out across the concert hall. It tells of the poet having to flee his home when Israel was established, how he walked away never to return.
Reem explains to the non-Arabic speakers, the meanings and sometimes the literal translation of the lyrics, and why and where they were sung. One song that dates back to the Ottoman period (14th – 19th century) tells of a woman wishing her husband soldier to return safely.
Reem was able to convey the Palestinian woman's soul and the Palestinians’ claim to identity and rights far more effectively than weeks of leafleting streets or holding vigils and marches. There were no need for slogans, no need to push the message home, the beauty of her voice, her presence and of the women who have sung the songs over centuries was captured for us in that concert in Sheffield.
The concert was jointly organised by Yorkshire Palestine Cultural Exchange, Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign and concert4palestine, as a fund-raiser for children’s projects in Gaza Strip. Sara Gowen
20. The Institute of Musical Research, November 2007
Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum
The second Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum concluded with live music, a wonderful performance of Palestinian music by Reem Kelani on voice and frame drum, accompanied on piano by Bruno Heinen.
Many of the songs were collected by Reem from women in Palestinian refugee camps. But Reem's music also draws on a wide range of musical influences beyond Palestinian repertoire, from flamenco to jazz, and her performance at the Forum included a particularly interesting 'fusion' between Palestinian music and Bach, as well as some wonderful dancing and unusual rhythmic and metric patterns, including a 17-beat cycle which Reem managed to teach the audience.
19. Oor World Music magazine, the Netherlands, August 2007
One pleasant surprise was the fiery, flaxen-haired Palestinian singer Reem Kelani who, with her mix of flamenco singing, Arabic dance music, poems of Palestinian suffering and songs by forgotten Egyptian legends like Said Darwish, was one of the great revelations of Womad. The combination of a jazzy quartet and her fabulous, powerful voice was a successful experiment.
Later on, at the Taste World tent where musicians talk about the role of food in their cultures, she proved to be a very good cook, handing out bowls of her wonderful pumpkin dip. Pieter Franssen
18. The Bristol Evening Post, 30 July 2007
Acts shine, but no sign of the sun
Womad: Charlton Park, Malmesbury. It was billed as the great homecoming to the West, after many years away. Sadly, the story of the summer - rain and more rain - was also the story of Womad 2007.
This is always the sunniest of festivals - if not in terms of the orange ball in the sky, then certainly in the dazzling array of musical talent from across the globe.
But while the acts burned brightly, the weather grudgingly refused to catch up, rendering Womad's new home at Charlton Park a mudpit of vast proportions.
The festival spirit was severely tested by two weekend downpours but, as Womad founder Peter Gabriel noted, if the festival had remained at Reading, by the Thames, it would have been cancelled outright.
Friday's outing for Senegalese hip-hoppers Daara J was a welcome excursion into hi-energy dance, while the Kronos Quartet offered an unlikely but otherwise fantastic insight into avant-garde classical music.
Slightly disappointing were ska legends Toots and the Maytals - more cabaret than Caribbean - and Mr Gabriel himself, who seemed to lack the verve to swing a flagging crowd around.
As ever, the trick is to find the off-kilter acts who might one day reappear as headliners. The Radio 3 stage, in the new Aboretum area, was the place and, if there's any justice in the world, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani should be back again soon. The same goes for Brazilians Clube Do Balanco, who paid homage to their country's rich musical heritage with a fine retro samba-rock sound.
Saturday also saw the live debut of The Imagined Village, a broad church of like-minded stars (Martin and Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah, among others) playing re-interpreted English traditional music. When it worked, it soared; when it didn't, it felt clunky and forced.
Rain and unfamiliar territory were the root of some grumbles, but there were more than enough compensatory smiles. Mel Greenwood
17. BBC Manchester, July 2007
Manchester International Festival: Exodus Live
Reem Kelani and the Beating Wing Orchestra shine at a celebration of world music at Club Academy
With performances from countries including Palestine, Kurdistan, Brazil and Angola, Exodus Live brought a world of music to Manchester.
This was an evening of performances from musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Opening with Bhangra and semi-Classical, Asian Music Talent started the night with music from India and Pakistan, with Angolan singer/songwriter Serafim Bernardo hot on their heels to warm up the crowd with a gentle acoustic set featuring African and Latin sounds.
Next up, the Lost Melody Music Group presented a vibrant set of Kurdish folk songs with musicians from Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey before Gambian Kora player Jali N Kuyateh took to the stage, followed by the laidback sounds of Heritage Survival, the final act before the interval bringing their own blend of Zimbabwean Afro-Jazz to the stage.
Following on, the pièce de résistance was Paradise In Strangers, a new piece of music composed especially for the Manchester International Festival by Palestinian musician Reem Kelani and performed by the Beating Wing Orchestra.
In a five part musical exploration of migration, reunion and slavery, Reem brought a powerful sense of coherence to a performance which featured musicians from all corners of the globe.
From China and Brazil to Kurdistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Paradise In Strangers drew together a wealth of musical influences to create a powerful celebration of cross-cultural collaboration.
As Britannia Rumba played out the night, the atmosphere in the Academy spoke volumes about value of world music. When it comes to collaboration, the Manchester International Festival does not get more international than this. Zannah Ingraham
16. Manchester Metro, Tuesday 10 July 2007
Manchester International Festival
Reem Kelani & Beating Wing Orchestra *****
World music, like blues, used to be predicated on the appeal of the other. For full enjoyment, the music had to come from somewhere remote and exotic. The bluesman or griot from up the road was viewed with suspicion. Globalisation has changed all that. The Beating Wing Orchestra consists of musicians-in-exile from Manchester’s wide immigrant population. Their union disproves the idea that multi-culturalism is a threat. Communities can best unite, is the Beating Wing lesson, not by inter-faith dialogue, but by inter-musical dialogue.
The achievement of Reem Kelani’s stunning work, Paradise In Strangers - commissioned by Manchester International Festival - is to penetrate superficial differences to reveal deeper human truths. The first section introduced variously ethnically diverse singers in succession, each with a song of exile. Haili Heaton brought the highly stylised refinements of Chinese opera, whereas Alan Mardan might have been chanting across a mountain-range in Kurdistan. Emmanuela Macholi Yogolelo, from the Congo, transcended language with the tragic force of her singing. If pain is a universal, so is love, and Haili and Azhar Nasir made an attractive cross-cultural Romeo and Juliet in the third section, Question-And-Answer on Love.
This is not watered down fusion, but the antidote to watered down fusion. The entire company participated with gusto in the ‘Gulf clapping’ of Dhow Boat Speaks. The mood by now had irreversibly shifted from sadness to celebration. Kelani mischievously sprang the biggest surprise with the final section - an adaption in 6/8 time of a Manchester broadside ballad. It was the first full outing for her own incomparable voice, and surely represented a reconciliation with her birthplace: Reem Kelani is the world’s most prominent Manchester-born Palestinian singer. This impression was confirmed when the singers began chanting in unison, ‘sing hey, sing ho, sing hey down gai-ly, Manchester’s improving dai-ly.’ Exile has its bright moments too. Mike Butler
15. Saudi Gazette, 25 June 2007
Reem Kelani sings at Leighton House
It is difficult to think of a more fitting venue for a festival of Muslim Cultures in London than Leighton House Museum near Holland Park in the west of the city.
For those with an interest in Arab music, the Afternoon of Middle Eastern Music was a particularly memorable part of the festival. The afternoon featured two London-based women singers from different parts of the Arab world. Houria Niati was born in Algeria, while Palestinian Reem Kelani was born in Manchester, England, to a mother from Nazareth and a father from the village of Ya’bad near Jenin, and grew up in Kuwait.
Reem Kelani’s CD “Sprinting Gazelle” was released in early 2006 to much critical acclaim. The CD comprised traditional Palestinian songs and Kelani’s settings of works by Palestinians poets. In her recital she performed compositions from this CD as well as from her second CD which is dedicated to the work of the great Egyptian musician Sheikh Sayed Darwish of Alexandria. He died in 1923 at the age of only 31.
Kelani began her recital in a whirlwind of clapping, yodeling and foot stamping as she performed a wedding song from the city of Acre. The audience was amused by her comment: “The family of the bridge tells the groom’s family that because you accepted our daughter in marriage, we are going to make you ruler of all Arab tribes. Mind you, if you had rejected her we would have made you clean up after our cattle.”
After this boisterous beginning, David Beebee jangled cow bells from the Khorasan region of Iran in the gentle introduction to a Galilean song, a setting by Kelani of a work by the late Palestinian poet and politician Tawfiq Zayyad. The song tells of the singer’s loved ones moving away. “My heart has never stopped shedding tears for them…if you see the cameleer of the caravan stop him to tell my loved ones in their deserted homes that hardship shall never last for ever.” The song was juxtaposed with a contemporary lullaby and with a 19th century lullaby in which Muslim women in Bethlehem ask the Virgin Mary to protect their babies while they are sleeping.
Niati had performed muwashahat from North Africa in her recital, and Kelani’s recital included a muwashaha from Egypt. Kelani observed that Western music abandoned quarter-tones but that they remain in Arab music. In her arrangement for piano of the muwashaha, “I’d like to pay tribute to the meeting point when quarter tones were still not dropped - and hopefully we’ll put the notion of a clash of civilizations into the dustbin, at least for this afternoon.”
Kelani then moved on to a song by Sheikh Sayed Darwish in a 17/8 rhythmic pattern known in Farsi as “khosh rank”, meaning “beautiful color.” The intricate dynamic rhythm carried the listener along with its syncopations and Spanish-type inflections. She also sang the Darwish composition “The Porters’ Anthem”. Darwish studied Italian opera, and also wrote a song for almost every manual profession in Egypt at the time. In his porters’ anthem he incorporates the porters’ cries of “Hela hela” that he would hear in his area of Alexandria.
Kelani’s next number was a love song she described as “’mellow,’ a sanitized way of saying it’s a wrist-slasher”. It was her setting of the qasida “Yafa!” written by Yafa (Jaffa)-born Mahmoud Salim Al-Hout in 1948 when he lost all his manuscripts while fleeing the city. He compares Yafa to a beautiful woman. David Beebee seemed to utilize the entire length of the piano keyboard in his solo introduction to the piece, which was tinged with sorrow and captured the depth and movement of the sea.
Kelani compared the qasida to Niati’s style of singing which is called in Spanish “canta hondo”, meaning “deep singing.” She observed that the Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca had written much about canta hondo and had paid tribute to the poets of Seville and Granada at a time when there was not much recognition in Spain of the influence of Arab music and Andalusian culture. Kelani said that Lorca had influenced many Palestinian poets after 1948 and that Samih Al-Qassem and Tawfiq Zayyad had dedicated poems to him.
Niati joined Kelani on stage for a rousing rendering of one of Darwish’s most famous songs “Zourouni kull sana marra” or “Visit me once a year”. As an encore Kelani performed Palestinian poet Salma Khadra Jayyusi’s translation into English of Love Poem by Samih Qassim. Susannah Tarbush
14. Alitidal, USA/Syria, March 2007
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
The ‘Oaff’ melisma is more powerful than the sword
She came, she amazed us, she sang, she danced, she made us cry and she made us laugh. Her powerful voice ignited within us feelings of longing, as did it evoke contradictory and heart-rending feelings of sorrow.
Under the patronage of the Minister of Culture Dr. Riyad Naasan Agha, Reem Kelani was invited by the British Council to perform in Damascus recently at the Syrian Opera House. And there… she sang Palestine.
Kelani has sung her songs in Europe, the Middle East and the USA for years. “She doesn’t sing the music, but lives it with her whole body and soul” wrote British music critic Roger Van Schaik, “The sheer emotional power of it hits you right in the solar plexus, but it’s totally controlled – she can switch instantly from anger to laughter, from grief to celebration.”
Kelani was accompanied on her tour by a group of excellent Syrian and British musicians.
13. Tishreen, Syria, Friday 9 February 2007
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora
Palestinian singer Reem Kelani gave a concert organised by the British Council at the Syrian Opera House in Damascus, accompanied by British and Syrian musicians including Amir Qara Jouli, Basel Rajoub and Simon Mreach from Syria and Oli Hayhurst, Patrick Illingworth and Zoe Rahman from Britain.
The concert was entitled ‘Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’, which is the sub-title of her debut CD ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ released in February 2006. The album is the fruit of her research into traditional Palestinian music and song that has taken the best part of the last twenty years.
Kelani chose the title of the CD because “the gazelle is a free and beautiful creature, but it is also vulnerable. My people are free, beautiful and they love life despite the many attempts at their annihilation. There are many similarities between the gazelle and the Palestinians: the gazelle knows that it is surrounded by danger and is in a continuous state of fright and flight. At the same time, the gazelle is neither cowardly nor reluctant. It is always sprinting deep into the woods seeking its freedom, just like my people who reject death and victim-hood.”
When asked by British journalists if she would die for Palestine, Kelani retorts that she would rather “live for Palestine”! With sentiments such as these, Kelani rejects the Western media’s portrayal of the Palestinians as a people in love with death. She manifests this in her music and in her collation of traditional songs which exist in her own collective and which she memorised from older Palestinian women. Kelani travels the world with her repertoire, sprinting around like a gazelle, to show how our thirst for life enriches our music and traditions.
She appears on stage with a determined face and an agile body, her voice afire with songs from the motherland and the Palestinian Diaspora. She shows the bankruptcy of the claim that Palestine was ‘a land without a people. Kelani sings songs about farming, harvest, marriage and parting that go back over a century and which are imprinted in our collective memory. By this act, she affirms that Palestine before 1948 was indeed a land with a people pulsating with life and song.
In concert, Kelani presents the traditional repertoire as well as her own settings of contemporary resistance poetry. Of particular note is her arrangement of ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’, which was previously researched by poet Tawfiq Zayyad. Her voice rises halfway through the song, hailing the Palestinian right of return. Through this rendition, Palestine was present from the outset of the concert.
Kelani’s innovative and dramatic performance came through a joint British-Syrian project which gave her the opportunity to challenge the notion of a ‘clash of civilisations’.
Kelani’s many abilities of singing, composition and performance enabled her to fill the auditorium with sadness, joy and life. She seized hold of us with her passion, a passion which rejects the protracted sense of catastrophe and dispersion which has been visited upon the Palestinians in the wake of Israel’s creation. In an instant, Kelani switches effortlessly from anger and pain to joy and laughter, in a successful juxtaposition of our collective existence: one of pain and the other ridiculing that pain.
Kelani’s soul and voice are stronger than any political map. She performs ‘Galilean Lullaby’ about the pain of separation and ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’ about Nazareth and its resilient women as they crossed the pasture of Ibn ‘Aamer. It is as if Nazareth and 1948 Palestine were present before us in folklore and music, a riposte to those politicians and diplomats who seek to deny this existence.
“There are those who would like to ignore the original problem and erase the past” Kelani adds, “but they can not take away our identity within”. Kelani may have no political clout or authority, but she has her traditions and her music which, interestingly enough, she combines with piano and jazz.
Some may find this innovative style confusing, but Kelani explains that she does not wish traditional music to remain “confined within its regional borders.” In her view, the melodic sentence should be preserved, but one should also strive to take it to a wider audience. She directly relates her use of jazz in the traditional repertoire to the origins of this idiom. “My musical message is inspired by the suffering of African Americans. When I sing traditional Palestinian songs, I see this as a victory over two forms of racism, that of the white man and that of Zionism. When I listen to an old Scottish woman singing a traditional lament, it moves me the same way a Palestinian parting song might. Traditional music is universal, only the language is different”.
Kelani’s stage presence, performance and passionate renditions are controlled and they combine emotions of suffering and victory. She does this by singing a defiantly celebratory traditional song. Kelani parades her cause in song on stage with all her power, using instruments such as piano, violin, percussion and drums. The upshot is one complete voice emanating from a British-born Palestinian who follows her roots wherever she may be.
Her settings of resistance poetry included ‘Mawwaal’ by Mahmoud Darwish, a poem that contains many a subtle declamation such as ‘I defend my right to defend my right’. The concert ended with a rousing performance of ‘Il-Hamdillah’, a traditional song ironically themed around house building, when Palestinians are often forced to rebuild their bulldozered homes. One verse boasted the following lyrics: ‘Praise God we planted peppers in the heat… Our foes said they wouldn’t turn red… Praise God our peppers grew and turned red’. As Kelani performed this verse, she used traditional hand gestures in a manner so impulsive it ignited instant and infectious laughter amongst her audience. Not comical laughter, but something full of self-belief and resilience. Very much like a sprinting gazelle. Khuzama Rasheed, Damascus-based Palestinian writer and playwright
12. Al-Hayat, London/Syria, 5 February 2007
Reem Kelani celebrates the Palestinian DNA!
Grandmothers’ songs in a journey that delves into the collective memory inside the refugee camps and the Occupied Territories:
Imagine the Opera House inviting some old women to sing traditional songs. How do you think the concert would fare? What would the audience be like? That is assuming that they turned up in the expectation of something more than just light entertainment and ridicule.
As it happens, someone did take this idea seriously and was welcomed by a responsive audience, all the more so when it became clear that this woman had carried her tape recorder and gone in search of the surviving traditional songs in Palestinian refugee camps and in the Occupied Territories.
This was a painstakingly long journey undertaken by Reem Kelani, who transports the Palestinians’ songs from the streets of refugee camps into theatres and opera houses.
Her journey might be deemed to have begun when she was born in Manchester in Britain to Palestinian refugee parents. Or perhaps it started when she sang in public for the first time at the age of four. In either case, her experience led to her debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ and to her songs being performed in Europe, America and the Middle East.
It is not really enough to think, from a distance, about Kelani’s journey and all its tribulations. I only began to appreciate the precision and substance of her work after attending one of two concerts she gave with her band at the Syrian Opera House recently.
The concert programme stated that the evening was dedicated to showcasing traditional songs, but the sight of western instruments on stage made this seem unlikely. If we were wondering how Kelani would present her songs, it did not take long to become clear. Kelani walked on stage alongside her musicians and headed towards a designated chair in the middle. She took a bow beside it, and then she sat down facing the microphone.
This made us think initially that the performance would be of a formal and traditional nature, but Kelani dispersed this notion in an instant. The chair was merely a point of respite, rather than an onstage base. She soon left it to lead her jazz rhythm section playing Eastern melodic modes into a passionate song. Next, her body was swaying with the rhythm, adding foot-stamping percussion that borrowed from Flamenco, among other sources.
Kelani continued to sing traditional songs, at times whilst sitting on her chair and playing her frame drums. And her ecstatic dance in no way distracted her from playing her drums. Instead, she used the charges emanating from the music, rhythm and dance in order to breathe life into the lyrics of these songs. In so doing, it looked like she was singing with her whole body and spirit.
The evening was more than just a musical performance; it was a multi-faceted show which sought to revive the very spirit of tradition. Kelani had a story to tell about each song: parting songs that used to be performed by our forefathers as they bade their loved ones and their homeland farewell, and love songs that were sung by ancient lovers in moments of passion. And the storytelling was not complete until Kelani recounted her meetings with these Palestinian women. She even acted out some of her conversations with them. But this was not done in a random manner or for comic effect. It was merely one of the many tools that she used in order to celebrate what she appropriately coined the “Palestinian DNA”.
Even Kelani’s way of introducing her musicians was inspired by the simplicity and impulsiveness of daily talk laced with local dialects. As in the case when she introduced Patrick Illingworth (drums) as someone from the north of England, she put on a northern English accent with an unmatched sense of humour and timing. Alongside Illingworth, Kelani was joined by Zoe Rahman (piano) and Oli Hayhurst (double bass) from Britain and Amir Qara Jouli (violin), Basel Rajoub (saxophones) and Simon Mreach (percussion) from Syria.
Kelani’s way of relating to her musicians was noteworthy. She helped to create a second spotlight over each of them, in an attempt to encourage them and more importantly, to instil their names in our memory.
In order not to confuse her audience, Kelani answered an inquiry about how much of her arrangements are pre-prepared or on-the-spot improvisations. Those of us who noticed her set her stopwatch at the beginning of the show did not need reassurance, and Kelani explained her song arrangements, including the individual solo slots (as would happen in jazz performances) and rhythmic grooves.
It was confusing, nonetheless, that the evening was given only the one subtitle, namely ‘Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’. Was this evening simply a performance of song or a novel and versatile jazz gig?
In truth, it was far more than this, and it entered the realms of theatrical performance and the use of monologue, as Kelani told the stories behind every song and interacted with her musicians and the audience. She was even joined by an old woman in the audience who engaged in a spontaneous call-and-response rendition of the yodel-like chants of women’s songs during weddings and celebrations.
What is clear is that the format that Kelani has created is more like a celebration, and an unprecedented one at that, of Palestinian folklore. She has turned it into a unique artistic idiom that was received with admiration and interest as she enthralled her audience which joined in singing with her. I should also mention that the traditional songs that Kelani presented are the very ones that you might hear from an old woman, including the style of singing, as manifested in the lengthening and shortening of phrases according to traits handed down across generations.
Reem Kelani has succeeded in re-presenting the old songs that are stuck in the collective memory of Palestinians, and doing so faithfully on stage. In this way, she has invented an artistic format which is more than mere documentation. Indeed, she makes traditional music pulsate with a modern splendour that neither diminishes nor harms it.
Kelani’s efforts pose an important question to Arab musicians: is reviving traditional music and verse in both documentation and performance only possible when it is under the threat of annihilation and elimination? This goes to the heart of an answer Kelani herself gave, when she was asked how, as an Arab, she sang Jazz: “It is because I’m an Arab that I sing Jazz”. Wasim Ibrahim, Syrian music critic
11. As-Safir, Lebanon/Syria, 3 February 2007
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
A Universal Presentation of Palestinian Soul
I was one of many stunned members of the audience who recently attended a concert, organised by the British Council, by Palestinian singer Reem Kelani at the Syrian Opera House in Damascus. This was not only because we witnessed a style of singing which is so against the current trend, but also because of the richness and multifarious talents in view in one personality.
Born in Britain to Palestinian parents and raised in Kuwait, Reem Kelani attended a traditional wedding in a village outside Nazareth in her childhood. After some hesitation about her musical direction, this experience proved to be a changing point which eventually led her to hold firm to her innate musical feelings. It was obviously a seminal moment which strengthened her resolve about which way she should go. Through learning these traditional rituals, Kelani felt proud at belonging to an identity which is often shrouded with the ambiguity of dispersion in the Diaspora. She naturally assimilated the first experiences upon which she would later build new musical forms.
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. According to her, “music should be able to exist in its own right”. Kelani, who studied piano as a child and was fascinated by Jazz from an early age, managed to take in all the details of the Palestinian wedding and to present them in a different arrangement. Who would have imagined that our own folksongs could be conveyed by a Jazz rhythm section comprising saxophones, drums and piano?
In concert, Kelani performed songs such as ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, an old traditional song about Palestinian women from Nazareth bidding their men farewell as they crossed the pasture of Marj Ibn ‘Aamer. She also sang ‘Il-Hamdillah’which Palestinians sing when they build homes, and she arranged it in a zikr fashion as in sacred remembrance sessions. Kelani also brought forth the poetry of Palestinian poets such as Rashid Husain, who was burnt alive alone in his room in New York, Tawfiq Zayyad and Mahmoud Darwish. For the latter, she sang his poem ‘Mawwaal’, where the chorus line is taken from the traditional verse: “O Mother! I can stand a dagger’s thrust… But not the rule of a coward”.
I must admit that whilst I am quite keen on traditional Palestinian music, what I found here was more than just mere singing. I saw the amazing presence of this singer, her towering stance and appearance on stage, her interaction with the band and with the audience. It all reflected Kelani’s many talents: aside from singing and composing, Kelani is a freelance broadcaster and a passionate folk dancer. And nor did she conceal her acting abilities during this performance.
To be honest, throughout the concert I could not stop thinking about Kelani’s emancipated posture on stage and of her amazing versatility and resourcefulness, and most importantly, what I can call the universal presentation of the Palestinian soul. Such universality can also be found in the excellent works of other Palestinians such as Elia Suleiman [Divine Intervention], Hany Abu-Assad [Paradise Now], Nizar Zu’bi and the Joubran family; it is nothing like the scary narrow image we otherwise have of internecine strife.
Kelani’s experiment could be described as a “civilised and artistic response”, an expression which the Palestinian actor Muhammad Bakri normally uses when he describes the Palestinian creative and artistic riposte to Israeli brutality.
But Kelani’s experiment gives us another example of co-existence, as opposed to fusion, coming as it does out of Britain. Such co-existence encompasses the experience of immigrants and shapes their creative input, thus combining to produce works of universal appeal. So it was natural that this co-existence in Kelani’s work should be manifested in working with musicians who are mostly non-Arab. As well as being accompanied in Damascus by British musicians such as Oli Hayhurst (double bass), Patrick Illingworth (drums) and Zoe Rahman (piano), Kelani also involved Syrian musicians Amir Qara Jouli (violin), Basel Rajoub (saxophones) and Simon Mreach (percussion).
The concert in Damascus by Reem Kelani was billed as ‘Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’, but it was not overtly populist in any way. The audience may have included only specialist musicians and dedicated fans. Kelani nonetheless commanded great influence and authority over the audience, and they joined in with her and interacted well with the band. If the absence of those Palestinians in the crowd who are accustomed only to listening to their ‘own songs’ was not a matter of bad publicity, then it is a sign worthy of reflection. Rashid Issa, Damascus-based Palestinian art critic and writer
10. Albaath, Syria, February 2007
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
Reem Kelani’s Emergence as a Role Model
Diversity in culture requires mastery of more than one language. For me, this is exhibited in the widespread use of English in the Gulf, but the same could be said about the use of French in North Africa and Lebanon. Universities in Egypt, Jordan and Sudan even use English in their science curricula.
Contrary to what some in Syria believe, this widespread use of other languages did not eliminate Arabic. Such misconceptions led to decisions which have skewed generations and which have made it difficult for them to cope with the ‘other’, even with citizens from neighbouring Arab countries.
Little effort has been made to change this failed policy, and it continues to impinge upon our lives and those of our children. Foreign language teaching in Syria remains inadequate for bringing up people who can adapt, who can think for themselves and who are comfortable with other potentially enriching cultures. Indeed, Egypt is evidence of the positive aspects of ‘inoculating’ one’s culture with other rich and interesting cultures. This has enabled Egypt to promote its own culture abroad, thereby boosting tourism, which is one of its most important sources of income.
We face a dilemma of whether we can have confidence in our Arabic cultural identity as one capable of developing and contributing to the world around it.
The British-born Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani’s experience is an excellent example to follow. In her recent concerts in Damascus, Kelani stunned her audience with a potent blend of Arabic and Western music, which was at once faithful to the Palestinian cultural identity whilst at the same time enriching it with the music of the ‘other’.
Kelani evokes elements of Jazz which are redolent with the pain of the Palestinians, and in so doing, she expands the Palestinian narrative beyond the realms of folklore and takes us to an understanding of true universal human suffering.
Kelani does not present Jazz as an absolute. Instead, she seeks to offer Jazz as a means of expression, in this case of the historic pain of African Americans, and to use it to relate it to the suffering of Palestinians under occupation. Assf Ibrahim
9. Al-Thawra, Syria, Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
Reem Kelani Sings of Palestinian Pain
Reem Kelani emerged from the depth of Palestinian pain to carry her homeland in her heart and through her voice to a wider world. Her voice retains its Palestinian characteristics, especially those from her maternal home of Nazareth, her paternal home of Jenin, and from the Galilee generally.
Kelani found what she was looking so long for in the traditional Palestinian repertoire. She memorised many songs, re-arranged them, and added to their lyrics with the works of well-known Palestinian poets such as Tawfiq Zayyad. She then re-presented this repertoire with her own voice, alongside her own compositions structured upon resistance poetry from her occupied homeland.
Kelani’s project involves performances all over the world, informing her audiences about traditional Palestinian folklore, and thereby about the Palestinian tragedy. This effort has taken the best part of twenty years, dedicated to research and collation of material. Her work is all the more important in Europe and the rest of the world because it stands against Israeli attempts to appropriate Palestinian tradition and claim it as theirs. Indeed, many traditional Palestinian songs have already been appropriated by Israel, through use of the same musical sentences with juxtaposition of modern Hebrew lyrics, published thereafter as Israeli folklore.
Kelani’s project saw her perform recently in Damascus at the Syrian Opera House, during which she presented seven songs from her debut CD ‘Sprinting Gazelle’. The first song ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’ was a song Nazarene women used to sing to their men as they crossed the pasture of Ibn ‘Aamer. Kelani followed this with the traditional ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’, adding new lyrics hailing the Palestinian right of return. ‘Galilean Lullaby’ came next, using traditional lyrics that lament exile and separation, resulting in a haunting singing style that was profoundly sad. ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ followed, a well-known song in Palestine, Jordan and Syria. Unlike the previous numbers, it was a happy and flirtatious song. It speaks of a woman searching for her beloved amongst a crowd of men all wearing the same white headdress.
Kelani also presented her own settings of contemporary poetry. The first was her composition ‘Mawwaal’ from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. The original poem is much longer; it takes up six pages in Darwish’s anthology. Kelani chose three sections and arranged the traditional lament within the poem as a chorus line, as it was intended in the original poem. Kelani composed this piece for a BBC documentary about the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. Through this commission, Kelani realised that Darwish’s poetry was subtle enough to address this painful subject without running foul of BBC guidelines and sensitivities.
From the poetry of Rashid Husain who died prematurely, Kelani sang her setting of his poem ‘Thoughts and Echoes’ which appears under the title ‘Yearning’ on her CD. A return to traditional Palestinian music included Kelani’s rendition of an old song about a woman left behind as her loved ones go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. She also sang ‘Il-Hamdillah’ which she prefaced with a sonorous rendition of the ‘Aweeha’ women’s song-form. To add variety, Kelani sang ‘Salla Fina’ a beautiful strophic muwashshah whose lyrics were written by Homs-born lyricist Amin Al-Jundi. The music is believed to have been composed by Egyptian Sayyid Darwish to a 17/8 Persian rhythmic pattern that is rarely used in Arabic music called ‘khosh rank’.
Kelani’s repertoire is more expansive still, encompassing other traditional songs and translated poems such as Samih al-Qasem’s ‘Love Poem’, which she sings in English.
To introduce her work to a wider audience and to document old Palestinian songs, Kelani produced and financed on her own her debut album which was released in February 2006. The album contains 10 tracks, including the seven songs that she performed during her Syrian tour. The other three tracks are ‘Qasidah of Return’ by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ‘Yafa’ by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and the title track which is a rendition of the traditional ‘Ah! Ya Reem al-Ghuzlaan’. A detailed booklet accompanies the album, containing the lyrics in Arabic, their translation into English, introductory notes and a glossary.
Kelani’s mainly British band on the album includes Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on saxophones, Patrick Illingworth on drums, Samy Bishai on violin and Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani. On tour in Syria, she was accompanied by Britons Zoe Rahman, Patrick Illingworth and Oli Hayhurst on double bass and by Syrian musicians Amir Qara Jouli on violin, Simon Mreach on percussion and Basel Rajoub on saxophones.
I must admit that when I first saw the line-up I felt apprehensive. Traditional Arabic songs, I thought, should be presented with traditional instruments such as the rabaaba spike fiddle, nay flute, mijwiz double clarinet, buzuq long-necked lute and riqq tambourine. I feared that the songs might have been ruined. When I heard the songs, however, I felt complete relief. The western instruments have been skilfully deployed, respecting traditional melodies. Indeed, Kelani’s musical arrangements made sure that the instruments were used to proper effect.
Kelani knew what she was doing when she planned this project: she spent years researching this music; she studied piano as a child and toured refugee camps in search of traditional songs; she moulded this legacy in a scientific and scholarly way.
Reem Kelani was born in Manchester in England of Palestinian parents. She was first exposed to Arabic culture as a child in Kuwait. She studied the Quran and was enchanted by the daily calls to prayers she heard from the minarets around her. She later became interested in American Jazz, Arabic and Iranian music, as well as East African rhythms. Without doubt, this vast pool of musical knowledge served her well when she came to take on her present, enormous undertaking. Ahmad Boubes, Syrian writer and music historian Click here to go to the original article
8. The Financial Times, 16 January 2007
World Music: Towards an Arab-American songbook
A few years ago, at a time of emotional stress, Reem Kelani found herself unable to sing. “Losing my voice was the nearest experience to death,” she says. To get through it, she worked on a setting of her fellow Palestinian Rashid Husain’s poem “Thoughts and Echoes”. It appears, entitled “Yearning”, on her CD Sprinting Gazelle: after some gentle, minor-key piano improvisation from Zoe Rahman, Kelani starts to hum the melody, wordlessly at first, before bursting into Husain’s melancholy words.
“Music,” Kelani insists, “is everyone’s salvation. I made a series of radio documentaries for the BBC about displaced people, and an Armenian Big Mama said to me, you can burn a painting, you can burn a book, but you can’t burn a song. I try to divert my rage and anger into existing, just being. You have to turn it all into music, or you’d go mad.”Kelani is fiercely uncompromising. Sprinting Gazelle gives a jazz background to songs from Palestine before 1948, in contradiction of the notion that this had been a “land without people”. Hers is a cultural nationalism, centred on music and, intriguingly, food. For Kelani, “the greatest form of resistance” is za’atar, the paste of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac eaten with bread in Middle Eastern homes.
She is resistant, however, to Palestinian radical chic. “People said: ‘Why don’t you have a cover with a child throwing stones?’ but I can’t stand that kind of emotional pornography. I didn’t even have a flag on the front cover. Those flowers there” – pointing to the yellow flowers that border the CD – “are rue. A purely Galilean plant. We eat black olives pressed in rue, that’s our native culture. No politician, no neocon, can take that away from me.”
This suspicion extends to the current vogue for the arabesque. “What a lot of people think of as Arabic music is pastiche, orientalism. It’s white man’s music. There are no quarter tones, no melodic modes.”
She scorns the notion of a clash of civilisations based on religion. “I am a Palestinian first and a Muslim second. I refuse the Islamicisation of the Palestinian question. I believe in an ecumenical Palestine, with room for all three faiths, without either Zionists or radical Muslims. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but what a goal to work towards.” Even so, Kelani refuses to appear on stage with Israelis and has joined the call for a cultural boycott of Israel. She complains about her work not being played on the radio unless it is “neutralised by being played with Israeli artists”.
After our interview, Kelani and her band play a concert in the lecture hall at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies as a warm-up for a tour of Syria under the auspices of the British Council. In performance, the songs are relentless. Rahman (Mercury Prize-nominated last year for her jazz album Melting Pot) stirs ripples of piano underneath Kelani, Rahman’s brother Idris growls on the bass saxophone, and drums and double-bass play Arabic rhythms. Kelani marches on the spot, waves a scarf, murmurs “Allah” as the music reaches fever pitch.
Lighter moments come when she expands her repertoire to the songs of Sayyid Darwish, a bohemian Egyptian composer of the 1920s. Growing up in Kuwait, she told me earlier, her father was “obsessed with Gershwin and [Irving] Berlin. It was just like listening to the call to prayer. Insh’Allah, my next CD will be the Arab-American Songbook, mixing them with Sayyid Darwish. He and Gershwin were growing up at the same time. They both had the blues, they were both marginalised in their own backgrounds.”
And indeed, in the middle of Darwish’s suggestive “Zourouni” she swerves neatly into “I Got Rhythm”. When she told me earlier that she did not “see any difference between jazz and Arabic music”, it sounded a stretch; here, for a moment, the two spin together so fast they sound like one. David Honigmann
7. The London Evening Standard, 11 January 2007 ****
Promise from Palestine - Reem Kelani
So often, fine international musicians resident in Britain are overshadowed by celebrity artists flying in from around the world. But Reem Kelani, the London-based Palestinian singer who released her debut CD Sprinting Gazelle early last year, is a voice to be reckoned with and has a feisty rapport with her audience.
She had a standing-room-only audience clapping along in 17/8 time and making this university theatre into a convivial performance space.
This was one of a dozen free concerts from international artists at the Brunei Gallery. There’s a lot of stamping, clapping and ululating in Kelani’s performance, but it’s an intense musical experience and she has a story to tell about every song.
Her excellent four-piece band includes Mercury-nominee pianist Zoe Rahman (sadly electric keyboard rather than piano), her brother Idris Rahman on clarinets and sax, plus drum kit and bass. This is no ethnographic ensemble, but an ace band in which Oli Hayhurst recreates an Arabic oud solo on the double bass.
Kelani has collected many songs from Palestinians across the Middle East and sad but resilient is the overwhelming mood. The emotional contour of the evening was warming, however, and some of the most enthusiastic support was for the words of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish, who said: “Whether you are a Muslim, Christian or Jew, if your country unites you, don’t let religion divide you.” Simon Broughton
6. Gondwana Sound, 30 December 2006
REEM KELANI - PALESTINIAN DIASPORA - came to Whitby Musicport in October and made a lasting impression. She moves around the stage, involving all of her band as she feeds from and gives back musical cues. It was an experience similar to those I've had at jazz gigs, where you are not quite sure where the music might go but you sure know when you get there and on arrival you feel as if you have to let out a ripple of applause or even a whoop an holler in celebration. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a gig, excitement over the music, yet the tragedy of the songs from the Palestinian diaspora, songs of yearning, loss and separation. All the time Reem Kelani would take time to explain the music , the lyrics and where possible she would try and deflect the sombreness of some of the lyrics with her own humerous take . All of this added up to drawing the audience in closer. I've never been to a gig / performance where at the end , myself and so many around me are visibly moved, with tears rolling down our cheeks but with no time or inclination to mop them away as we are too busy applauding. The stage compere walked on stage and she too, could only get a few words out before she too crumpled. Incredible to be a part of and an unforgetable highlight from a tremendous festival. Jill Turner
5. Folkdevils, December 2006
The performance by Reem Kelani at Whitby’s own Musicport in 2006 is one that will be talked about and remembered for a good long while. It had everything: drama, emotion, education, humour, power, musicianship, surprises, and above all a level of musical and personal integrity that shone throughout the whole set. How often do you see not only members of the audience but also the mc, the lovely Jo Freya, brought to tears by the sheer intensity of a performance? Dave Longmate
4. Business AM, Scotland, June 2001
If there is one thing Michael Dale, director of Glasgow's West End Festival, has learned from his years of programming arts events, it is that a festival should open by playing to its strengths. By presenting live music from different corners of the globe, he got this year's shebang off to a truly auspicious start.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to hear the folk music of Palestinian Reem Kelani at the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens. With the mid-evening sun streaming through the Kibble's glass dome, and the children of Glasgow's Palestinian community doing what children do best, we did not have to stretch our imaginations too far to join Kelani in the Palestinian refugee camps of south Lebanon. She performed a scintillating set of songs of plaintive mourning and tunes of defiant resistance. Singing laments for the "big Mamas", the women who are the backbone of the Palestinian exile communities, her emotive, unaccompanied voice sent tingles down the spine. Mark Brown
3. Socialist Worker, 15 May 1993
Songs of DefianceI've never counted, but I suppose in my life I've spoken at about a thousand public meetings.
It's a form of expression which is very much downgraded in these days of the soundbite.
There are obvious problems with it - chief among which is the potential for boredom, and the impossibility of discovering whether people are bored. You can't turn a speaker off, as you can with the television.
You never know, however, and here is proof. On 30 April I had agreed to speak at a celebration organised by Hackney NALGO at the CLR James library in Dalston, north London.
I was not optimistic when I arrived to find two or three Socialist Worker Party members hanging about outside, so bored they had actually fled into the evening sunshine.
When I heard that the hugely advertised meeting had attracted no more than 30 people and that most of the evening was dedicated to poems and songs in languages I could not understand, I became, as so often, overwhelmed with a sense of frustration - part angry, part resigned. Here were another few hours down the drain.
Meetings like this, I comforted myself, though utterly useless from every point of view, were unavoidable in the present lamentable state of British labour.
Gloom turned to a sullen rage as I went up to the meeting, to be greeted by 20 minutes droning from a pompous sectarian whose main message was that socialism lives and works in Cuba.
Would this never end? Apparently not. The long suffering chair told me I would be asked to sum up the meeting at around 9.15pm or slightly later. In the meantime, there would be songs.
I bought historian Brian Manning's latest book on the English Revolution from the bookstall and started to read it avidly, hoping at least to have something to remember from the evening.
The singer, accompanied by a man on a flute and a percussion instrument which I could not identify, was introduced as Reem Kelani. She sat at the microphone and started to speak.
Immediately the whole atmosphere was transformed. She spoke with a gleeful energy which at once infected everyone in the room. The songs of the Palestinians were, she said, all songs of resistance since the entire life of the Palestinian people was resistance.
She spoke in particular about the beleaguered town of Nablus, which escaped the Zionist rage of 1948, but was swallowed up by the occupation of 1967.
When she started to sing, she was smiling, almost laughing with defiance. She sang five songs of different rhythm and pace, but all with the same message of cheerful fury.
Her last song was dedicated to the murdered Palestinians in the Lebanese camps. It was called "Hardship Doesn't Last Forever".
I fell to thinking while she sang that the message is not always true. Hardship can and often does go on forever, or at least for a lifetime. But what the song meant was that people cannot go on being battered forever without resisting.
When I came to speak I muttered that hers was an act literally impossible to follow.
I wondered aloud why I had been so moved by the songs, and thought perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I was born in Nablus. She jumped up, clapping. "And I", she shouted triumphantly, "was born in Manchester".
Who dares to say that May Day, International Day, does not mean anything anymore? Paul Foot
2. Kuwait Times, May 1988
A Night Out for a Good Cause
A British-Palestinian singer and a group of enthusiasts from Britain and Kuwait are putting on a charity show called 'I Got Rhythm' on June 2 at the Regency Palace Hotel.
The one-night variety show is for the British-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) patronised by Dr Pauline Cutting OBE. Dr Cutting's book 'Children of the siege' is well-known for focussing on the plight of Palestinian refugee children.
The lead vocalist at the show will be Reem Kelani. Reem, who is a member of Kuwait Singers, ACT, Kuwait Folk Group and the Kuwait Players has appeared in several musicals staged by amateur theatrical groups in Kuwait. She joined Kuwait Players this February and debuted in Winter Serenade.
The group got the idea after a charity show for Palestinians was held in Britain recently. 'When the British could raise money for refugees, why couldn't we?' asks Reem, who seems to be the driving force behind the effort to raise funds for MAP.
MAP was established after the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla under a deed of trust 'for the relief of poverty and sickness....and education....among refugees and displaced persons, particularly refugees from Palestine'. In 1972, it started as Palestinian Medical Aid and was re-launched in 1984 as MAP. Among the initiators were several British and other citizens who had been in Lebanon in 1982 and witnessed the horrors of Israeli invasion that year.
"MAP's work is purely humanitarian; we are careful to avoid political activity or statements", said Reem.
MAP workers cooperate with UNWRA, Unicef, Save The Children, Oxfam, War on Want and Norwa and other groups which have parallel and complementary interests. MAP is devoted to helping 'non-combatant victims of war' and sends volunteers and specialised medical teams from Britain to Lebanon and supports health and welfare institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Kuwait show was organised after overcoming several hurdles. The name 'Palestinians' seemed to put off a large number of people, who were wary of political implications. 'Once people understood it was non-political and in aid of refugees, they came forward to help', said one member of the group. After overcoming the initial teething problems they are now rehearsing for the 'I Got Rhythm' concert.
Rhythm is aplenty. Reem and her team are to put on a Western musical show with an Oriental touch. Lebanese songs originally sung by Fairouz and a selection of numbers from British and American musicals are to be performed by Reem. Songs by Barbara Streisand and Liza Minelli are also included in the programme, interspersed with Palestinian dabke folk dancing. If past shows are any indication, this one should be a winner with toe-tapping music and oriental dancing.
1. Arab Times, June 1988
I have been a fan of Reem Kelani ever since I heard her sing at a folk concert last year. On Thursday she is starring in 'I Got Rhythm' at the Regency Palace and after attending last night's rehearsal, I can promise that the show is just about the best we've seen in Kuwait for a very long time. My advice is: beg, borrow or steal and see the show.
But be prepared to shed a tear or two, as well as smile. The show packs a real emotional wallop that is rarely found in amateur productions. This is partly due to Reem's stunning voice, but she also has a backing choir of 57 kids from almost as many nationalities, singing songs like 'Let It Be', 'We Are the World' and 'The Greatest Love'. It's a very potent combination that brings a definite lump to the throat. One of the unexpected marvels of the show is little Reza Mohammed, a ten year old pianist, who had the adult musicians goggling with amazement and envy.
From the opening song, 'I Got Rhythm', you know you're in for a great evening. Reem mixes pop songs with some powerful Palestinian folk songs and lots of standards like 'Georgia On My Mind', 'Stormy Weather' and 'New York, New York'. She manages to switch effortlessly from the cabaret sophistication of Fred Astaire's 'Top Hat' to the haunting 'When the Horsemen Ride By' and back to a bustling 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'.
The kids' choir, directed by Jean Chinn, do a fabulous version of 'alexander's Ragtime Band', they're all as keen as mustard and it's a real finger-snapping, toe-tapping, swing-along glory of a song that will have the audience on its feet and cheering the house down.
The concert is being held to raise funds for the British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, MAP, the organisation which employed Dr Pauline Cutting O.B.E. and Dr Swee Chai Ang in Bourj al-Barajneh camp in Beirut. Produced by Kerry Langley and directed by Glenis Muckle, the show is compered by Derek Hicks who tells some moving stories of individual Palestinian children who have been maimed or crippled in the fighting in Lebanon and the West Bank. Whatever one's politics, it is undeniable that the children of the camps have inherited a tragic legacy through no fault of their own. When they are wounded, paralysed or disfigured by the fighting, MAP does its best to restore them to as near a normal life as possible. Keith Wells
Press Quotesback to top
“El Niño de Elche holds out a poetry book. What follows next is not a straightforward recitation, more like a call to prayer from a muezzin blessed with a golden voice. The hairs involuntarily rise on the back of my neck (Reem Kelani was the last singer to have this effect). ”
Dyverse Music, 31 July 2016
“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.”
The Australian, 4 June 2016
“Live at the Tabernacle is potently powerful and deliciously delightful.”
World Music Central, 27 May 2016
“In 2006 I concluded my review of Reem Kelani's debut album Sprinting Gazelle with the phrase "I believe it's a masterpiece." That belief has subsequently matured into a certainty, and the disc has become one of my favourite albums in any genre. A full decade later Kelani's follow-up album Live at the Tabernacle, on Leon Rosselson's Fuse label, could easily have proved an anti-climax. Instead, it complements its predecessor admirably while also being a masterpiece on its own terms.”
Irish Left Review, 4 May 2016
“Reem Kelani is the finest representative of Palestinian song and culture.”
Timnatal Music, 12 April 2016
“Kelani sings with powerful but controlled intensity”
Songlines, 1 April 2016
“[Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle] is a powerful reminder of Kelani's twin strengths as storyteller and arresting singer of Palestinian poetry and song.”
The Financial Times, 11 March 2016
“[Reem Kelani's] off-mic introduction turned out to be an endearingly apt overture to a performance in which she combined restless energy with vigorous political engagement, persuasive audience involvement and an illustrated, impressively far-reaching musicological dissertation.”
The Herald, Glasgow, January 2016
The Scotsman, January 2016
“ She’s an audacious performer and not just in her repertoire - who else would follow a version of 'Strange Fruit' with a song about Palestinian women visiting their husbands in jail and a century old jazzy singalong about the Sykes-Picot agreement, which carved up Asia Minor in 1916. She is a true maverick who often upsets Palestinian factions while also refusing to share the stage with Zionists and hating anti-semitism in all its forms.”
The Arts Desk, 30 December 2015
“Stabat Mater solos from soprano Lucy Knight, mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, the startlingly glorious Palestinian singer, musician and musicologist Reem Kelani, together with charismatic performance from percussionist Zands Duggan, and sheer exuberance and involved joy in two male choristers especially, all these moved me to tears and overwhelming joy in equal measure.”
Wind In My Wheels Blog, 30 October 2015
“The moving vocals of Palestinian musicologist and broadcaster Reem Kelani are an aural experience that will change the way you listen to music.”
Double Negative, June 2015
“Further afield are the musicians living and working throughout the global Arab diaspora whose work is similarly immersed in scholarship and dedication to ensuring that traditions don't die. Reem Kelani, a Palestinian born in the UK and brought up in Kuwait who returned to London as a postgraduate student in the sciences, more or less created the mould for this type of performer. For a generation of Arab Londoners, Kelani has been combining research into the sound archives in the British Library, and field work in Syria and Egypt into informative lecture-concerts to dedicated crowds in venues like LSO St Lukes.”
al-Araby al-Jadeed, 15 November 2014
“Reem Kelani's haunting laments for Jaffa, the construction of the wall, the unstoppable intifada and the mounting dead were searingly beautiful.”
The Financial Times, 25 May 2014
“The amazing Reem Kelani.”
Aftenposten, Norway, 22 May 2014
“Reem Kelani delivers a stunning performance of a song from Tunisia expressing the pain of worker migration, (and) also a riveting account of Leon Rosselson's celebrated Song Of The Olive Tree.”
Fatea Records, March 2013
“The stunning voice of Reem Kelani.....has all the individualised inflection and passion a jazz fan could wish for.”
Jazz Journal, Jan 2013
“I have always been inspired by political culture, by people like Chilean Victor Jara or Palestinian Reem Kelani, who know the split between political activism and culture is a false one.”
Women's Liberation Music Archive, 30 November 2012
“If Western media, both mainstream and progressive, would devote just a fraction of the attention to Reem Kelani that they pay to Palestinian rap, both she, and Palestinian music, would be much better, and broadly, appreciated. (And ditto for Egyptian music.) ”
MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project), Washington DC, USA, 25 January 2012
“Her voice combines the poignancy of Billie Holiday with the glass-busting power of Aretha Franklin. ”
The Independent, 15 July 2011
“It was pretty impressive, surprising and abstract to hear this kind of music out in the open in downtown Shanghai, through a very good sound system, from Palestinian singer Reem Kelani and her band, for example.”
World Music Shanghai, China, 22 May 2011
“Reem Kelani delivered one of the best concerts seen in years at Leighton House last week...............A truly memorable evening.”
Nour Festival of Arts, Leighton House, London, 22 October 2010
“Excellent. We went up to London, had a bit of a celebration, ended up at a concert on the Saturday night. There was a Palestinian singer Gabrielle wanted to see. She said she was really good and she was right. The woman was phenomenal. Reem Kelani. Incredible presence, almost operatic.”
From the novel The Price of Darkness, published by Hachette UK, 8 Apr 2010
“I've seen the same thing amongst Jewish audiences listening to, for example, Yehudi Menuhin or Itzhak Perlman - something for want of a better word that I'd describe as a consciousness of a shared soul.
I really don't think I'm overstating this. I thought, there she is, Reem Kelani, pouring every milligram of her being into this performance, her audience rapt, transported before her, and there's this precious, non-violent force transmuting a mouthful of air into articulate energy, an energy that evokes sympathetic vibrations through whole communities, giving hope and strength, lifting human spirits from out of their dark times.”
London, 12 October 2009
Brian Robinson, Musicweaver
“There she was, the singer Reem Kelani coming from the UK to make wonders with her voice, her songs, her choreography, her humour and her ability to enthrall.”
al-Wehda, Syria, 20 July 2009
Samah Muhammad al-'Ali
“Sprinting Gazelle is an album in which the personal merges with the political, not because Kelani aligns herself with any faction (she is careful not to), but because of the third “P” word: Palestine.”
The No-Nonsense Guide to World Music, New Internationalist, April 2009
“Reem Kelani doesn't just sing; she lives the song.”
Manresa, Barcelona, 6 November 2008
“If the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival leads you to this concert by chance, the mournful voice of Reem Kelani is likely to stop you dead in your tracks. Whether backed by a cool jazz piano or left to soar a cappella, it is a versatile and emotional tool.”
Liverpool, 23 July 2008
Steve Pill, The Metro, Liverpool
“It was a rare treat to have you here and to watch as community and family members popped out of seemingly nowhere to celebrate your visit. Your concerts were extraordinary and the encore of your Thursday night set was the stuff of Festival legend. We will never forget you.”
Seattle, 27 May 2008
Andrea Wagner, Executive director & Brian Faker, Producing director, Seattle International Children's Festival
“Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was a new name in my world, but the woman was so endearing I'll never forget her.”
Seattle, 15 May 2008
Gary Bannister, Artistic director, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
“As ever, the trick is to find the off-kilter acts who might one day reappear as headliners. The Radio 3 stage, in the Arboretum area, was the place and, if there's any justice in the world, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani should be back again soon (WOMAD 2007)”
The Bristol Evening Post, July 2007
“One pleasant surprise was the fiery, flaxen-haired Palestinian singer Reem Kelani who, with her mix of flamenco singing, Arabic dance music, poems of Palestinian suffering and songs by forgotten Egyptian legends like Sayyid Darwish, was one of the great revelations of WOMAD”
Oor magazine, Holland, August 2007
“What I found here was more than just mere singing. I saw the amazing presence of this singer, her towering stance and appearance on stage, her interaction with the band and with the audience”
as-Safir, Lebanon 3 February 2007
“But for our best of 2006, no self-respecting household should be without Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle. A collection of Palestinian songs, Kelani's singing and arrangements emphasize peace and positivity for a troubled location where both qualities are often markedly lacking.”
New Internationalist, February 2007
“Reem Kelani's remarkable performing talents have featured in countless reviews and articles, and anyone lucky enough to have seen her live can testify to the power and intensity of a voice that holds an audience spellbound, electrified, to the very last row of the auditorium. ”
Qantara.de, January 2007
“When she told me earlier that she did not see any difference between jazz and Arabic music, it sounded a stretch; here, for a moment, the two spin together so fast they sound like one”
The Financial Times, 16 January 2007
“So often, fine international musicians resident in Britain are overshadowed by celebrity artists flying in from around the world. But Reem Kelani, the London-based Palestinian singer, is a voice to be reckoned with and has a feisty rapport with her audience”
The Evening Standard, 11 January 2007
“The performance by Reem Kelani at Whitby's own Musicport in 2006 is one that will be talked about and remembered for a good long while. It had everything: drama, emotion, education, humour, power, musicianship, surprises, and above all a level of musical and personal integrity that shone throughout the whole set.”
Folkdevils, December 2006
“Kelani's vocals can only be described as searing in their intensity and passion and lead us to a greater understanding of the philosophy of this part of the world.”
The Singer magazine, Aug - Sept 2006
“Yearning (Khawaatir wa-Asdaa’) is of such an ethereal magnificence that it is not possible to listen to it without being left behind totally crushed.....The interaction of voice and violin...... thrills you from beginning to end: seldom has longing been expressed so movingly.”
MazzMusikaS magazine, Belgium, June 2006
“Reem Kelani is an artist who puts her soul, her emotions and her whole being into her music … Even in her happiest songs, her music is reminiscent of the lamentations of Palestinian women”
Aksiyon, Turkey, 20 June 2005
Translated from Turkish
"Her performance at Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall entranced her audience. Kelani entertained her audience with jokes in Turkish, Arabic and English”
MHA Mesopotamian News Agency Turkey, June 2005 Translated from Turkish
"She has one of the most startling ranges and phrasing ability coiled up in her throat... Reem treats music as both an historical and sociological journey."
Slough & Windsor Express (WOMAD review), 29 July 2004
"The most compelling voice throughout the series was, of course, that of Scheherazade herself, etherially present in spellbinding extracts beautifully read by Reem Kelani."
The Times Literary Supplement, June 4 2004
(from a review of A Thousand And One, BBC Radio 4)
"If Reem Kelani is appearing you'd better bring some pain killers. Your jaw will drop so fast when you hear her voice you'll hurt yourself."
Wakefield Jazz, October 2003
"The Palestinian singer Reem Yousef Kelani, famous for her interpretation of the Arab form "maqamaat", was born in Manchester, educated in Kuwait and now lives in London. Her work as an ethnographer, collecting old Palestinian songs from, and interviewing older refugees in Lebanon, marks her out as a sophisticated exemplar of a diasporic musical tradition being re-founded or conserved after the trauma of the Palestinian dispersal."
Media, Industry & Society, 2003
See online preview of the book, esp. page 290
"Singing throughout in Arabic, Kelani's adroit use of tonics and sub-tonics, coupled with her question and answer routines, were uncanny in their resemblance to devices used for decades by jazz musicians. Her amazing voice spanned a multitude of emotions from pain and despair to sheer joy and exuberance."
Nottingham Evening Post, June 2003
"Rarely has the entire tragedy of a people been condensed into artful melodrama by such a powerful and stirring voice. Her range extends from the deepest lows to the brightest highs, in between which she launches herself unselfconsciously into unending notes, enriching melodies with slides and glissandos."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany, May 2003
Translated from German
"She doesn’t sing the music, but lives it with her whole body and soul. The sheer emotional power of it hits you right in the solar plexus, but it’s totally controlled – she can switch instantly from anger to laughter, from grief to celebration."
Oxford Times, May 2003
Roger van Schaick
"The singing by Palestinian vocalist Reem Kelani is a revelation, soulful and evocative."
Ottawa Express, May 2003
"We were warned to hold onto our seats for the singer, Reem Kelani, and she certainly sent the hairs on my neck up cold.
The praise she has received may seem excessive, but she is unique: a woman in total command of her voice and an impassioned performer"
BBC Coventry, April 2003
"The most incredible vocalist this reviewer has ever come across. The small Kelani overwhelmed the whole concert hall with her powerful voice and her tremendous charisma."
Dilettant.no, Norway, 13 April 2003
Translated from Norwegian
"Reem Kelani's voice will make the hairs on your neck stand up."
Jazz UK, March/ April 2003
"…'Dal'ouna on the Return' features the awesome voice of London-based Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, whose song has become a landmark anthem for this troubled year, seeming to express so many of the agonising emotions aroused by what is happening in the Middle East. …"
BBC website review , March 2003
"…extraordinary Palestinian singer ….Kelani's searing sustained sound, spiralling off into a chilling high warble, opens the set against deep bowed double-bass drones…"
The Guardian , 28 February 2003
"Her voice is holy, strong and seductive, like a call to prayer."
Evening Standard, 27 February 2003
"Reem Kelani is a national treasure of talent, art and a deep sense of belonging."
Al-Quds (London) & Al-Ayyaam (Ramallah),26 February 2003
Translated from Arabic
"An extraordinary musical map of Palestine emerges from her work, more vibrant than any historical document."
The Guardian, 25 February 2003
"Kelani's voice is a technical marvel, capable of transforming deeply felt emotion into a range of pulverising hollers and keening wails."
The Guardian, 14 February 2003
"Palestinian singer Reem Kelani (the presenter of Radio 4's Distant Chords) is an able conduit for a vocal tradition that's one of the globe's most expressive. Her rising and falling declamations are imbued with a natural theatricality that invariably provokes a spine-tingling reaction."
The Birmingham Post, 27 January 2003
"Her beautiful voice carries the characteristics of a people and the identity of a nation. It has vitality, culture and hope."
Al-Ahram, Egypt, August 2002
Translated from Arabic
"Reem's singing at the candle-lit vigil showed the importance of music as a means of directly making contact between cultures and in expressing the Palestinians' identity and history."
Saudi Gazette, 27 May 2002
"We did not have to stretch our imaginations too far to join Kelani in the refugee camps of South Lebanon. She performed a scintillating set of songs of plaintive mourning and tunes of defiant resistance. Singing laments for the 'big mamas', ... her emotive, unaccompanied voice sent tingles down the spine."
Business A.M., Scotland, 13 June 2001
"Reem Kelani is Palestinian but her vocal style seems to effortlessly transcend any boundaries. There's the heavenly swoopes and soars of the Pakistani Sufi singer, the mournful roar of a Yiddish crooner, the bluesy wail of a Jewish cantor, those melismatic glides of the Arabic griot - it's all there in every song she sings."
Time Out, London, March/April 2001
"One of the finest and most popular singers in the Palestinian world."
Athens News, Athens, Greece, 15 February 2000
"She has great vitality, sharp intelligence and definite talent."
Al-Quds, London, 18 May 1999
Husam Ed-Dine Muhammad
Translated from Arabic
"Her audience at Places des Arts witnessed the birth of a great Arab artist who will play a pivotal role in the future."
Al-Mir'ah, Montreal, Canada, 22 March 1994
Translated from Arabic
"On tour, Kelani expresses her nostalgia through the choice of her material and her music gestures of blues and jazz."
The Gazette, Montreal, Canada, 19 March 1994
"Diaspora Palestinian artist Reem Kelani gave two concerts, both of which were of a very high calibre. Her finale concert crowned the artistic programme of the whole season. Kelani's fine musical and vocal talent raised the standards of performance at the camp to an unprecedented level".
Fourth Arab Youth Camp Beir el-Bay, Tunisia, August 1993
"She sat at the microphone and started to speak. Immediately the whole atmosphere was transformed. She spoke with a gleeful energy which at once infected everyone in the room... When she started to sing, she was smiling, almost laughing with defiance."
The Socialist Worker, UK, 15 May 1993
"With her angelic voice and emotional charge, Reem Kelani proves that art is indeed a weapon."
Al-Hadaf, Kuwait, 2 June 1989
Translated from Arabic
"A paragon of performance artistry and passion."
As-Siyasah, Kuwait, 1 June 1989
Translated from Arabic
"She manages to switch effortlessly from the cabaret sophistication of Fred Astaire's 'Top Hat' to a haunting Arabic song."
Arab Times, Kuwait, 1 June 1988
"An accomplished singer and dancer."
Kuwait Times, 30 May 1988
"Reem Kelani: a woman with a cause......If past shows are any indication, this one should be a winner with toe-tapping music and oriental dancing."
Kuwait Times, 22 May 1988
"Reem Kelani has a superb voice, powerful, beautifully controlled and packed with emotion."
Arab Times, Kuwait, 17 October 1987
Radio Reviewsback to top
14. Electronic Intifada, January 2014
Romance and realism merge in Jerusalem-focused radio play
BBC Radio 4, 13 January 2014
The BBC’s coverage of Palestine has come in for plenty of criticism for its biased reporting and failure to give Palestinian voices as much airtime as Israeli ones.
The arts, however, offer a broader space for diversity and discussion than “news” items. A radio play by Palestinian-British writer Selma Dabbagh, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this week, is the latest example.
Titled The Brick, it is billed as telling the story of Rasha Khory, “a Palestinian woman on her way to Jerusalem to run some errands for her mother, but she also has her own secret mission, visceral to her sense of identity. All too swiftly Rasha finds herself thwarted, injured and discovering some unwelcome home truths about her beloved father.”
A short film made for the BBC’s Arabic Service TV arts program Afaq features interviews with Dabbagh and the play’s director, Sarah Bradshaw, giving a sense of how a radio play is put together, and the emotion poured into their roles by the actors.
In the film, Dabbagh reflects on the balancing act she has to perform in fitting political issues into what is also meant to be a piece of entertainment. In the play, the daily struggles of checkpoints, housing permissions and unemployment are raised through the experiences of Rasha and her family, along with the difficulties for young Palestinians of negotiating family and gender relationships while under military occupation.
In the taxi Rasha shares a seat with Mrs. Oud (Souad Farris), whose family land has been taken for a settlement, and whose daughter — living beyond Israel’s wall in the West Bank — has had two children since they last saw one another.
Rasha panics because her permit only allows her to be in Jerusalem until 7pm, while the little boy traveling with them says that ghouls don’t worry him on the village hillsides — just soldiers.
Mrs. Oud’s skeptical reaction to Rasha’s overblown praise of her dead father also alerts us to one of the main themes of the play. Rasha babbles about her father’s community spirit and pioneering legal work to resist Israeli land appropriations; Mrs. Oud bitterly notes that all he saved of her family’s fields was a small garden.
Flickers of humor
Dabbagh’s dialogue is pacey and realistic, informative without lecturing the listener. And flickers of humor show through.
After being reprimanded by her mother and a family friend for wearing a headscarf, Rasha finally reveals that rather than rejecting her father’s secularism or her family’s Christianity, she is actually disguising a bad dye job.
Like Dabbagh’s debut novel Out Of It, the play explores the tricky politics of foreign visitors and their reactions to the land of Palestine and the people they meet there.
Alan (Anton Lesser), a tourist with vague ideas about the land he’s visiting, is a window onto the kind of emotional, uninformed ideas that ignore the context of the churches and architectural wonders that westerners come to visit.
His bumbling, confused notions contrast sharply with Rasha’s lyrically-expressed internal monologue on the sight, sound and smells of the city of her birth.
But Rasha’s romantic views of Jerusalem give way to revelations about the reality of her beloved late father’s life, as she hears tales from his former friends and acquaintances that suggest something other than the heroic campaigning lawyer she idolizes. A chance encounter entwines her father’s story with that of Alan the bumbling tourist and with Rasha’s quest for a memento from her family home.
Ultimately, the combination exposes the violence with which Palestinians are detached from the land and community, their heritage and aspirations casually sneered at and destroyed.
Almost as important to the feel of The Brick as the dialogue and plot is the music, composed and performed by British-born Palestinian singer and ethnomusicologist Reem Kelani.
The songs, taken from Kelani’s 2006 debut album Sprinting Gazelle, open the play and underpin the speech, creating an atmosphere which is Palestinian without stooping to generic oriental tones.
Kelani’s music and Dabbagh’s play are an effective match. Kelani’s music, with its intelligent blend of tradition and innovation, mirrors Rasha’s journey through stories of the past — both personal and national — and the freedom she perhaps could attain when her myths are fractured and re-patterned by unlooked-for new truths.
Along with Rasha’s disillusionment comes Alan’s opportunity, by following her through the reality of Palestinian life in Jerusalem, to shed his own illusions about the “Holy Land.” We are left to speculate about how much each of them seizes the chances proffered by their clearer vision of the “facts on the ground.”
13. MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project), Washington DC, USA, 25 January 2012
'Songs for Tahrir': Music for and from liberation.
Her account is an important corrective to all the hype in the Western media. Kelani in no way tries to marginalize the more "modern" features of the Tahrir music scene in favor of the traditional. The point, rather, is how deeply rooted contemporary Egyptians and their art are in their national tradition.
12. al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt, 26 January 2012
'Songs for Tahrir': Music for and from liberation.
Most times that Palestinian artist and musician Reem Kelani was in Tahrir Square, she took her tape recorder along. She weaves some of these recordings into her radio piece 'Songs for Tahrir'.
The narrative that Kelani creates is both unobtrusive and essential. She gives a sense of the revolution as ongoing, a sense of music as integral to protest. She captures the creativity, spontaneity and potency of protest not just during the 18 days in January, 2011 that led to former President Mubarak's fall, but also in November when the security and military forces attacked protesters in Tahrir Square.
Songs old and new, powerful chants and slogans and ambulance sirens against the backdrop of chants of "freedom, freedom" come together to create a full and rich soundscape of resistance. And as Salam Yousry of the Choir Project says, some of the best music of the revolution came from people who we don't even know. The Choir Project's work involves collective composition, incorporating the perspectives and experiences of many. In a stirring clip from their concert just days after Mubarak's fall, we hear, "Might, strong will and faith, Egypt's revolution is everywhere".
Kelani does not promise an objective or comprehensive account of the music of the revolution - which would, of course, be impossible. Rather, she delivers a sensitive, subjective and insightful exploration of music and protest in today's Egypt, an optimistic one that observes the present and is informed by the history of subversive music in Egypt. Having participated in the initial 18-day uprising, she returned in November - coincidentally on the day that five days of street fights between protesters and security forces began - and interviewed several of the activists, poets and musicians she had met in Tahrir Square earlier in the year. She unabashedly focuses on Darwish, a man whose music the regime either ignored or exploited and whose songs found a rightful home on the streets of Egypt in 2011.
Darwish lived and worked in working-class neighborhoods. The sounds and intonations he heard around him, Kelani explains, went into his songs, many of which were written for the oppressed and marginalized. And in this way, his music was both from and for the people. Kelani takes her tape recorder with her away from Tahrir Square, and records the kinds of sounds that Darwish would have heard and incorporated into his music. From the sound of market-sellers calling out their produce to the ubiquitous and nasal tones of "bikya, bikya" of those who buy and sell on the street, Kelani offers a soundscape of Cairo that complements and informs the soundscape of revolution.
She tells us about one of Darwish's songs - on the surface about dates, but actually in praise of the nationalist anti-colonial leader Saad Zaghloul. She sings the opening lines, and in a beautiful moment, the date seller she is talking to takes up the song. The music of Darwish was rooted in the struggle against colonialism, and Khaled Abol Naga, the lead actor in "Microphone," a film about the alternative music and art scene in Alexandria, says that if we compare the attitude the regime held toward the people with that of colonial powers, you can see why his lyrics resonate again.
The music of Darwish that was sung in Tahrir Square encompassed political and love songs, and also a song of love for the homeland, the Egyptian national anthem, "Biladi, biladi" (Oh, my Country), the words of which come from a speech by anti-colonial leader Mostafa Kamel - a speech that inspired the teenage Darwish to write it. After signing peace with Israel, the regime did not want to continue using a national anthem glorifying military struggle, and so it went back to the iconic anthem of 1919. In this way, a regime subservient to Western interests neutralized the anti-establishment and anti-colonial ethos of Darwish and the national anthem itself. Sung by thousands and millions in 2011 facing the security forces of that same regime, the song's potency was renewed and reinvigorated.
Samia Jaheen, from the band Eskendrella, talks about performing a Darwish song before the revolution. The band has been working together for years, composing their own music, as well as songs from old greats such as Darwish, Sheikh Emam and poems by Saleh Jaheen and Fouad Haddad. They are activists, and throughout 2011 have performed at protest after protest. Samia says that when the band performed Darwish's "Remember Egypt is still beautiful" before the revolution, they were accused of chauvinism. Many responded by saying, "We Egyptians have so many problems...We are dirty, rude, poor, and uncivilized." But, Jaheen argues, "We need to unite to believe in ourselves, and that's how we will become better. We will not become the best we can be by insulting each other".
Kelani's stands out for putting art and music into a context that includes all kinds of resistance and political discussion. It collapses artificial distinctions between art and politics, as she describes the way singing sustained protest. Interweaving the sounds of Cairo's streets with chants and song, she gives music a privileged place not apart from the ordinary, but emerging from and returning to the daily sounds that make up our lives. While recognizing the novelty and creativity of much of the music, she simultaneously ties it to music from the past that also emerged from a collective rage. And as one slogan chanted on the country's streets proclaims, "The rage of Egyptians is a dangerous thing" - for those in power, of course.
11. Late Junction, BBC Radio 3, February 2009
"Reem Kelani is another artist whose music and struggle for cultural recognition and civil rights go hand in hand". Max Reinhardt
10. Domino Records, UK, December 2007
Robert Wyatt's Top Ten Music Listening List 2007
Reem Kelani live on radio with Andy Kershaw, BBC Radio 3, 17 April 2007
9. Perder el Norte, Barcelona, Spain, 2007
"Recreación contemporánea de la música tradicional. Un clásico reciente imprescindible." Brigitte Vasallo
('New arrangement of traditional music. An essential modern classic').
Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2008.
8. BBC Xtra, BBC World Service Arabic, 29 March 2006
"This is vintage Reem. Brilliant Reem. On first hearing it, my immediate impression was relief that she did not succumb to commercial pressures to use any electronic or pop-style arrangement. She justifiably did what she wanted to do and has worked towards for years. Nothing compromised and nothing sacrificed. And so what was meant to be a short 5-minute interview about the new CD on BBC XTRA, inevitably turned into a full blown 15-minute music feature".
7. Late Junction, BBC Radio 3, 20 March 2006
"Soulful singing, as ever. Sprinting Gazelle is definitely one to go out and buy.
6. The Daily Planet, ABC, Australia, 17 March 2006
"Sprinting Gazelle - a fine selection of mostly traditional songs with Jazz / Middle Eastern backing and Reem's intense, emotive voice."
5. BBC Radio 4, 14 February 2006
"The Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was quite extraordinary. After some eccentric throat clearing, the most amazing sounds emerged. She swayed round the microphone to draw out different tones from her voice."
4. The Times Literary Supplement, June 4 2004
"The most compelling voice throughout the series was, of course, that of Scheherazade herself, ethereally present in spellbinding extracts beautifully read by Reem Kelani."
(from a review of A Thousand And One radio series, BBC Radio 4)
3. Voice of Nor Serount, Issue 62, February 2003
"I was impressed by Reem Kelani's genuine understanding, her empathetic approach and her bold confidence in speaking of the Armenian genocide frankly and appropriately."
(Review of Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4)
2. The Guardian, January 24 2003
"Fado is the mournful, mysterious traditional singing of Portugal. Palestinian singer and musicologist Reem Kelani went in search of it among London's Portuguese 100,000-strong community in Distant Chords (Radio 4), and found its power heightened among those far from their home - naturally, perhaps, for fado is expressive of an unbearable longing and sadness. It has a low profile in this country, and Kelani was as likely to find its exponents on this side of the Bay of Biscay waiting at tables in Notting Hill as performing in festivals or concerts. Traditionally accompanied by a 12-stringed Portuguese guitar, fado is not a music to listen to while depressed. The lyrics of one song we heard begged God to stop the singer's heart from beating so that she might be spared further pain, another asked God to fogive the singer for loving fado so much. And that was before we got on to the far-from-upbeat The Dark Night, and The Scream."
(Review of Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4)
1. The Guardian, January 7 2003
"Reem Kelani, a Palestinian musicologist and singer, is familiar with the pressures of exile. In Distant Chords (1.30pm, Radio 4) she explores how other dispersed communities sustain their culture in Britain. Waves of Armenians have arrived here with distressing regularity - after the 1915 massacres in Turkey; from Palestine and India after the war; from civil strife in Cyprus and Lebanon; from Iran and Iraq; and most recently from the Soviet Union. About 5,000 of them sustain a community centre in West London, where they weep over traditional music and recall old times."
(Review of Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4)
What the Fans Sayback to top
“It’s your perseverance as an artist who is stubbornly swimming against the tide that inspires us all“.
Najib, Reem's segment for BBC Radio 3's Music Planet on the music of Palestine, with reference to the Nakba, London, 29 Jun 2018.
“Thank you so much Reem. I'm learning so much about my culture, something I rejected from a young age because it wasn't cool or fun. I'm so happy that (my daughter) enjoys it so much and wants to learn more and actually just sings all these songs to herself while playing. Plus I've finally Iearned the alphabet!“
A parent writing on social media, Reem's First Steps in Arabic Music workshops for children aged 1-4 years old, London, 17 Jul 2018.
“Thank you Reem for a wonderful year of teaching. Layth and I have loved every minute, and we have both learnt so much. See you after the summer break. #bestteacher #loveyourjob #teacherwithpassion.“
A parent writing on social media, Reem's First Steps in Arabic Music workshops for children aged 1-4 years old, London, 16 Jul 2018.
“She contributes proudly to singing assemblies and joins in enthusiastically; she often requests that we sing songs in Arabic!“
Noony's school report, Reem's First Steps in Arabic Music workshops for children aged 1-4 years old, London, 14 Jul 2018.
“Brought back such happy memories of Syria from my childhood.“
Kamel, 8 Jul 2018: in Birmingham, reacting to a video of Reem's workshop teaching Arabic song at Drum Camp, Bungay.
“This the best way ever to fight against islamofobia. Good job that you are doing over there. Thank you Reem!“
Saliha, 8 Jul 2018: in Istanbul, reacting to a video of Reem's workshop teaching Arabic song at Drum Camp, Bungay.
“Thank you for your wonderful workshop in Brighton. Listened to your cd all the way home. It was beautiful! Thank you“
Grace, 1 Jul 2018: Street Choirs Festival, Brighton.
“Thank you for introducing me to this fantastic music and your beautiful singing.“
Deborah, 1 Dec 2017: Mumford Theatre, Anglia Ruskin Uni, Cambridge.
“Your singing on the Parliament square was so inspiring... I heard many versions of Mawtini but most are sad... yours is not. Now I listen to your recording (on YouTube) almost every day!“
Dzema, 4 Nov 2017: Parliament Square, London.
“The awesome Reem Kelani at St Johns Church last night. Wow! What a woman! Bruno's pretty special on piano too. I loved the concert. You two are quite a force to be reckoned with. I love the stories behind the songs & rhythms. Vibrant, alive xxx.“
Justine, 17 June 2017: St Johns, Bury St Edmunds.
“Fabulous concert. Thank you Reem Kelani and Bruno for making such beautiful, inspiring, soulful music. How blessed we are to have freedom #inspiring #informative #energy #happy #making music.“
Amanda, 17 June 2017: St Johns, Bury St Edmunds.
“It was an absolutely brilliant night.“
Bev, 9 Mar 2017: Delius Centre, Bradford.
“Just back from an amazing evening with Reem Kelani at the Delius Centre. This was a most moving emotional experience, with a small audience from so many countries. Thank you for highlighting the similarities between us all through song and shared language. It was a privilege to be there.“
Denise, 9 Mar 2017: Delius Centre, Bradford.
“Words fail me at her pure genius and talent.“
Itxaso, 25 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“I would say that Reem is truly super-human, but that might trivialise the challenge of going from the hospital bed to the concert stage and not merely pull it off, but indeed to give an extraordinary concert.“
Tom, 25 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“"[Reem]: you are amazing. My friends and I were still talking about you today. You were awesome! I have seen you sing many times and always with incredible energy but yesterday ... It was very very special.“
Rosa, 25 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“Such a fantastic concert tonight at SOAS with Reem Kelani and Bruno Heinen. Virtuoso performances.“
Anne, 25 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“It was a ....privilege to see [Reem's] astonishing performance and to experience her passion and joy for music and its many meanings in person.“
Andrew, 25 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“Reem Kelani is really awesome LIVE - I saw her 10 years ago - her album Sprinting Gazelle is lovely too - sounds like Sufi Dhikr in part.“
Hamja, 18 Feb 2017: SOAS Palestine Day, London.
“Absolutely brilliant gig tonight by Reem Kelani to a packed audience. With Bruno Heinen, Ryan Trebilcock and Jon Scott.“
Brian, 28 Oct 2016: the Red Lion, Birmingham.
“The wonderful Reem Kelani kicking off the Nour Festival in K&C last night! She rocked the Tabernacle and took us across the ME with her powerful, emotional voice and band.“
Kristiane, 13 Oct 2017: The Tabernacle, London W11.
“Brava! A very deep and scholarly piece of work. You are able to cut through the fog and identify the real danger. Your talent dear Reem Kelani obviously extends beyond your superb your vocals.“
Aladin, 27 Aug 2016: comment on Reem's musicological writing.
“Thank you so much for a moving and beautiful evening. I have followed you and your music for many years but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to share your live experience. What a great way to start, you embraced those talented youngsters with your spirit, joy and passion for not only Palestine and Greater Syria but life itself. It was an honour to witness such a celebration of Arabic music and dance.“
Amanda, Methodist Central Hall, London, 13 Aug 2016, in support of the visiting Alrowwad Theatre troupe from Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem
“This is one very cool Palestinian lady speaking. Her favourite venue to play is a refugee camp. She says she doesn't have products she has projects as she is independent.“
Steven, 23 July 2016: World on 3 - Lopa Kothari - Reem Kelani in Session - @BBCRadio3
“I have just finished the fourth spin of your Live CD. You have raised the bar so high on so many levels. And...I am being modest.“
“Palestinian soul music.“
Steven Catchpole, 22 June 2016: Youtube
“We all came back from Reem's concert in Halifax with a buzz. It was a fantastic performance. Moving but also so full of energy and beauty. And I am very far from one who enthuses easily.“
Paul, 22 Mar 2016: Square Chapel, Halifax, 13 Mar 2016
Hannah, 13 Mar 2016: Square Chapel, Halifax, 13 Mar 2016
“Reem Kelani's version of 'Strange Fruit' at Rich Mix EFG Jazz Festival was the most powerful and graphic I have ever heard or seen.
Thank you for your bravery in singing it.“
Simon, 24 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“Thank you, thank you Reem for an utterly inspiring night of music and words. You are truly a gazelle and a big mama in voice heart and spirit...“
Fran, 26 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“Wonderful performance. Reem communicates with such energy and passion!“
Jo, 25 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“An amazing concert ..it was the first concert to take my children to ...all inspired and immensely enjoyed it. Thank you.“
Nihal, 25 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“What an awesome lesson in culture - poetry & music. Pure passion & beauty. Thank you. “
Regina, 25 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“This was not an ordinary music concert by the extraordinary Reem Kelani, but a journey through cultures, times and musical traditions. Your versatility, power, passion, and ability to transform with the music are mind-blowing. You don't just sing, you become the song! Thank you for such an inspiring and passionate celebration of art, humanity and life.
You were truly phenomenal! More than amazing. Each time I see you perform you seem more and more powerful and moving. You transform with the music. You become the music. I was in tears at one point. Thank you!“
Nesreen, 23 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“First thing that came to my mind after seeing Reem Kelani and her amazing band at Rich Mix London was that everyone should attend one of their gigs at least once in their life. The Palestinian artist delivered a performance full of energy, mixing Arabic Music and Western Jazz while connecting with her band and the audience in a way I hadn't seen in a long time. Thanks to them and to Arts Canteen, never recognised enough for its efforts to bring the best of the Arabic culture to London.“
Jose, 23 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“I decided to come along yesterday after seeing you at the Karl Jenkins concert. I had no idea what to expect but now so glad that I did - absolutely loved it, great performance and the most infectious energy. Thank you.“
It was a magnificent show, can't wait for the next one.
Paramjit, 23 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“Just to say you were magnificent last night, Reem.
The concert was thrilling - you had everyone in the palm of your hand! I was so moved by the whole event. You really brought me back to life.
You are one hell of a performer, Reem - I see and hear lots and lots of big deal musicians. Last night was a high point - you were superb.“
Nancy, 23 Nov 2015: London Jazz Festival, Rich Mix, London, 22 Nov 2015
“Reem Kelani, what a fantastic voice and very passionate. Also the keyboard player top class.“
Martin, 12 Nov 2015: ACE Centre, Nelson, Lancs, 12 Nov 2015
“Reem: You have been great tonight @SOAS. Your music and the simple songs entertained all the audience. You used the traditional past of Palestinian life to make a silent sadness of tears and to create a hope for the future. Thanks for your commitment to our just cause; together we will never be defeated. Take care.“
Amin, 26 Sept 2015: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, 26 Sept 2015
“Tonight, I witnessed Reem Kelani perform for the second time in the same room after five years, although they feel like five lifetimes considering all that happened in between.
Time and again, through her music, singing, lecturing, acting, dancing and engaging an audience, Reem proves to me that beneath an archaeology of layers that make me what I am, and although I am Egyptian through and through, under my skin the only national sentiment I have is for Palestine.The only Arabic lesson I vividly remember from my early years as a school kid in Kuwait is Ibrahim Tuqan's Mawtini. It is the only national anthem I know by heart, and the only one I will sing, except it is not sung anywhere now, and not in Palestine. Nationalism is justified only if a people are oppressed and only for a people's liberation. And this is a lesson so many zealots today need to learn.
Sa-narji'u (We shall return).“
Amr, 26 Sept 2015: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, 26 Sept 2015
“The most incredibly superb concert from Reem Kelani in the Purcell Room on the South Bank (part of Poetry International). Hard to express quite how brilliant she is ...but anyone who ever saw the late great Mercedes Sosa perform will have some idea of the sort of beauty and power and poetry and political resonance of this extraordinary singer ... I shall be going to see her for the rest of my life ... luckily for me she is London based ... good-oh“.
Elleanne, 24 July 2015: Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London, 24 July 2015
“The best concert I have ever been to for a long time, Reem Kelani you are the best and so proud for being part of the best Laaf Fest“.
Afrah, 13 June 2015: St Georges Hall, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, 12 June 2015
“My introduction to @ReemKelani 2night gave an inkling of what #paradise might be like. Hope, subversiveness, passion. Thanks @arabicartsfest“.
Tayo, 12 June 2015:St Georges Hall, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, 12 June 2015
“Magnificent and moving - I cried when I heard the encore: Mawtini“.
Barbara, 13 June 2015: St Georges Hall, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, 12 June 2015
“@ReemKelani @arabicartsfest Brilliant evening. Reem you engage with everyone in the audience: brilliant, inspiring, moving. Shukran“.
JaspiesMate, 13 June 2015: St Georges Hall, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, 12 June 2015
“Serious Palestinian prozac going down at @arabicartsfest at St George's Hall tonight“.
Pucci D, 13 June 2015: St Georges Hall, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, 12 June 2015
“The concert was absolutely brilliant.
Reem - you were at your best - so much passion, power, vocal range and simply so much fun and joy! The audience were in your hand and the Arabic feedback was wonderful. On a serious note, everyone who came did so to hear your music but the inclusive nature of the performance sends a deep anti-racist message without having to labour it or be virtuous about it, if you know what I mean“.
Annie, 12 June 2015: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 11 June 2015
“Thanks for giving us your music tonight in Leeds. Majestic, passionate, bittersweet, playful and shocking, you do like to be diverse!“
Tom, 11 June 2015: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 11 June 2015
“Tout simplement magnifique! Quel voix, tant d'émotion passe dans cette musique. Bravo!“
Blandine, June 2015: Yearning, Sprinting Gazelle, 2006
“Astonishing how @ReemKelani can give fans such high-energy shows as that for #Awan in #Shoreditch 070315. Loved her subversiveness, too.“
News around Hackney @LovingDalston, 8 Mar 2015: Arab Women Artists Now, Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 7 Mar 2015
“@ReemKelani! She is such a character and amazing artist!“
Malika, 8 Mar 2015: Arab Women Artists Now, Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 7 Mar 2015
“The incredible @ReemKelani Last night such a joy! #arabicmusic #Palestine. @ReemKelani blew me away tonight. Blew me away. Thank you so much @ArtsCanteen and @RichMixLondon “
Nadira, 8 Mar 2015: Arab Women Artists Now, Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 7 Mar 2015
“We had most amazing workshop with Reem Kelani. On Friday 21st November from 10am to 1pm at Vestry Hall in Sheffield.
We had a lovely workshop full of laughter and tears of joy and pain. I had never seen so much pain in some of our learners/clients and music was the best thing ever to bring all sorrows out and fill the room with joy and happiness.
I had women say to me:
- I found Reem as a very friend lady and a very kind hearted;
- Reem brought me to life and made me feel okay to bring my tears out;
- I was hurting inside, worried for my country and family back home and I had alot of heart ache and Reem came in and turned it off for some time and made me have love and patience in my life;
- I learnt how to sing in Arabic. I never thought I would enjoy it because it sounds so different;
- I heard some old and new songs from Yemen which was lovely to hear again;
- I thought this event was fantastic. I would really like to come to Reem's next event;
- Please bring Reem back to Sheffield in 2015. This would really bring communities together.
- Reem is very welcoming and thought full she always welcome people in asks their names. Most amazing women.
There was so much love and caring in that room I cannot express the feeling ladies had for Reem it was close to heart because she's a sister from back home and understand the whole world is going though, bad things like killing and death and she made it okay to speak and express your feelings especially when we were cooling off and take it all off and come back to earth and reality. As an organiser I feel this workshop was such an inspirational event. I learnt so much of from Reem through singing and chanting. It was almost like we have love in the air and Reem was the answer to everyone's prayers. I hope to see Reem again in our area and it would be lovely to reorganise another workshop in summer time“
Yemeni Community Association organiser, 2 December 2014: Vestry Hall, Burngreave, Sheffield, 21 November 2014
“Fantastic Jazz music based on Sayed Darwish music via my amazing friend Ahmed who manages to dig up amazing stuff.
I was in a lousy mood and this cheered me up so much.
Like it is understatement, I love it.“
Ayman, 1 Sept 2014: 'Eih el-'Ebara, Soundcloud
“I just thought I would let you know that the performance on Friday evening was amazing. I did not know your music before then but I am now a devoted fan.“
Andrew, 27 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“Last night must have been really challenging for Reem. She was amazing, however, and gave us the miracle of beauty, hope, and dignity during this awful period.........I've also been listening to Reem's album more. She does such essential, valuable work, and presents it with such intelligence, love, and commitment. What an outstanding talent! Looking forward to more.“
Shanon, 26 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“Thank you .... for an amazing evening. With your music, passion and larger than life character you brought joy to our hearts and tears to our eyes. “
Fayha, 26 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“@ReemKelani at @RichMixLondon last night was something else. What a performer!“
Charlotte, 26 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“What a special concert! You got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up at the start and it only got better and better ... Truly magical.“
Emma, 26 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“I just wanted to say thank you so much for tonight. It was a wonderful concert and I can imagine how much strength - emotional and physical - it must have taken. Everytime I look at my kids at the moment i see the images of the kids in Gaza - unbearable. From my perspective we need you and your music and message more than ever when the days are so dark - you inspire us all to keep fighting..and loving. So sorry you've been having to deal with facebook trolls. Being on stage tonight was a courageous and generous act.“
Miriam, 25 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“Reem Kelani singing with unimaginable passion, defiance and with enormous dignity of her country, of refugees from towns and villages in (ed. what is now '48) Israel, now displaced and being slaughtered in Gaza. She too 'teaches life' sir, in the way only Palestinians can, she has the entire room working, celebrating Palestinian life and indomitable spirit in the face of atrocity.“
Ellie, 25 July 2014: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch, London, 25 Jul 2014
“Words cannot capture my thanks for you and all you did for our concert last Saturday. Reem is absolutely stunning. People kept coming up to me saying how amazing she is - someone said Reem is the most generous performer she's ever seen, and another person said Reem is a consummate storyteller. We hope Reem will consider performing here again. Reem's CD is also stunning. We put it on yesterday and were mesmerised. The cover and booklet design is also gorgeous, and I love how Reem tells a story about each song in the lyric pages. “
Shanon, 30 Jun 2014: St Johns Waterloo Festival, London, 2 Jul 2014
“It was a real pleasure to hear and see Reem perform. Everyone was so positive and uplifted by the sheer energy and charisma.“
Aine, 26 Jun 2014: Celebrating Sanctuary at the BFI, Southbank, London, 19 Jun 2014
“Wow. I am just in love with that woman. Her passion on stage gives me goose bumps! Reem Kelani, you rock!.“
Fouad, 2 May 2014: Joint concert with Kardes Turkuler, TIM Maslak, Istanbul, 26 Apr 2014
“Such a memorable and magical concert. Reem Kelani please come back to Seattle soon!“
Valerie, 17 Apr 2014: The Town Hall, Seattle, 12 Apr 2013
“Thoroughly enjoyed Selma Dabbagh’s BBC radio play The Brick with gorgeous music by Reem Kelani.“
Matthew, 17 Jan 2014: The Brick, BBC Radio 4, 13 Jan 2014
“Reem Kelani is the only thing that has managed to ease my horrible headache this afternoon..“
Tamara, 16 Jan 2014: The Brick, BBC Radio 4, 13 Jan 2014
“The premiere was stunning! Thank you so much.“
Caroline, 4 Dec 2013: Cry Palestine with Vox Holloway, St Lukes, Holloway, London, 1 Dec 2013
“One of the highlights of my year was certainly seeing Reem perform at the 100 Club! “
Sara, 20 Nov 2013: The 100 Club, London, 7 May 2013
“I was delighted to be introduced to Reem's work in Seattle at this concert--how had I not known of her before??? I was enchanted with all the music she performed, and how she got so many others to participate! She is my new favorite artist and I am so happy to hear the title music to this film (ed. Les Chebabs de Yarmouk). I hope it comes to Seattle! “
Marcia, 6 May 2013: The Town Hall, Seattle, April 2013
“Reem Kelani changed my life when i was 17! but it looks like i've missed her (gig at the Tabernacle), much love xx “
Leonie, 26 Nov 2012: Miskin Theatre, North West Kent College, Dartford, Kent, June 2005
“Thank you for an amazing evening - your singing is so magical, passionate, beautiful, and the fusion of styles and countries incredible, exciting. We all wanted it to last forever . . . but you must have been exhausted by that extraordinary connection to the audience you maintain, even though it looks effortless and you so relaxed. . . .
Thank you, thank you, thank you . . .
Where are you singing next?“
Sue, 25 Nov 2012: Headline concert of the Nour Festival, the Tabernacle, London, 22 Nov 2012
“I have no words to describe the artistic strength that we have seen during this concert...“
Kheridine, 24 Nov 2012: Headline concert of the Nour Festival, the Tabernacle, London, 22 Nov 2012
“'Babour Zammar' is the finest piece of music I have heard in a very, very long time. “
Melony, 21 Nov 2012: Playing of Reem's newly released track on Late Junction, BBC Radio 3, 15 Nov 2012
“Fantastic & authentic.“
Mohamed, 2 Nov 2012: Presentation to the Egyptian Cultural Forum, London, 2 Nov 2012
“Today I attended an exceptional presentation about the Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish. I have long been a fan of Darwish: of his voice, of his music, of his choice of lyrics and of his boldness. But what happened today was even more exceptional from two perspectives.
On the one hand, I got to know more about Sayyid Darwish thanks to the presentation being methodical, accessible and appealing. I enjoyed what I heard in the way of stories, explanations and insights into his life. In truth, the lady behind this presentation was as exceptional.
On the other hand, I met a woman beautiful inside and out, and full of sensitivity. And what a voice she has to enchant and transport her audience to the world of their dreams.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Reem Kelani, for the beauty of your voice and the thoroughness of your research, with which you connected me further with an artist whom I have always loved. You took me back to a time when the lyrics meant something and when the melody excited and enriched one's imagination. “
Rola, 3 Nov 2012: Presentation to the Egyptian Cultural Forum, London, 2 Nov 2012
“Thank you Reem for the amazing lecture. I really enjoyed it. I feel even more MASRY (ed. Egyptian) now. “
Ramy, 3 Nov 2012: Presentation to the Egyptian Cultural Forum, London, 2 Nov 2012
“I'm not sure that "came across" Reem is quite the term. I was hit between the eyes (!) by Reem and her music at the Musicport Festival Whitby at the beginning of October.“
Angela, 12 Nov 2012: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 6 Oct 2012
“She was one of the best acts at Musicport 2012. I got the chance to speak to her - amazing, witty and strong woman. “
Audience member, 10 Oct 2012: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 6 Oct 2012
“Reem Kelani was my absolute highlight of Musicport. Totally inspirational xx“
Sue, 9 Oct 2012: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 6 Oct 2012
“You made the festival!.....Your vibrant presence has stayed with me and inspired me in the days since Musicport.“
Jackie, 7 Oct 2012: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 6 Oct 2012
“I saw you at Ealing Jazz Festival and loved your spirit. “
Michael, 6 Aug 2012: Ealing Jazz Festival, London, 28 Aug 2012
“I honestly can't thank you enough, Reem, for a truly amazing experience. I could probably write an essay on my experiences alone, from the gradual build up during the workshop, to Reem's exceptional behaviour management and ability to 'read/tune in to' others' emotions...not to mention the most amazing voice. “
School governor, 8 Jul 2012: Workshops at Birkbeck Primary school, Sidcup, Kent, 6 Jul 2012
“Thank you for the pure moments of marvel and joy you brought to us last Friday at the V&A, Reem. You are simply MAGNIFICENT, a real DIVA!!! Thank you again and good luck with your career. I'll spread the word about you. You are a TRUE ARTIST and you are so inspirational. I admire you as an artist but also as a politically engaged artist. Thank you again and hope to hear you again. “
Lysiane, 24 Jun 2012: Celebrating Sanctuary at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 22 Jun 2012
“Every school needs Reem Kelani! Energising and inspiring workshop today Reem! Surrey Sq school children loved you and they loved the music!“
Celebrating Sanctuary Tweet, 13 Jun 2012: Workshops at Surrey Square school, Walworth, London, 12-13 Jun 2012
“What I loved about your fusion was that it felt like a very Egyptian song and yet a very WW1 jazzy song. I could feel both the occupied Egyptian as well as the lousy, disillusioned British soldier. A rare combination of emotions to be done. Only by a person who knows what it means to be "a Western commoner" as well as "an occupied Easterner". I can go on for ages conceptualising your music and your vibe ya Reem. Seriously, all admiration.“
Fouad, 24 Apr 2012: Reem singing “The Preachers' Anthem“ by Sayyid Darwish in concert, The Junction, Cambridge, 1 Mar 2012
“Thank you so much for your wonderful concert last Friday 23 March in Leeds.
Your concert made me quite emotional as it brought back memories. I grew up listening to Fairuz, Sabah and other Egyptian/Lebanese singers. My all-time favourite singer is Fairuz.
You have now joined the ranks of my favourite singers!
Thank you again for a brilliant and inspiring concert.“
Frances, 23 Mar 2012: Headingley LitFest, Leeds, 23 Mar 2012
“Beyond words. Fantastic.“
William, 23 Mar 2012: Headingley LitFest, Leeds, 23 Mar 2012
“Stunning performance in Headingley last night....transported me back to Palestine...thank you soooo much x“
Lewis, 24 Mar 2012: Headingley LitFest, Leeds, 23 Mar 2012
“Reem Kelani, live, was simply stunning tonight. She sang the poems of poets including Mahmoud Darwish. Powerful, emotional, earthed, fearless and feisty. She had the audience up on its feet - and on stage with her, at the Howard Assembly Rooms. An elder Iraqi man got up on stage with her and sang to us - turns out he had never got up on stage before and the last time he sang was 30 years ago, back in Iraq...all those hidden stories, just waiting to be sung...“
Rommi, 24 Mar 2012: Opera North, Leeds, 23 Mar 2012
“It was a fantastic evening which I couldn't be more pleased with. Reem's performance and insight made a very special and inspiring evening.“
Stewart, 2 Apr 2012: Firth Hall, Sheffield University, 13 Mar 2012
“If you ever get a chance to see Reem Kelani, do so. Still buzzing from 'Songs for the Egyptian Revolution' concert last night.“
James, 14 Mar 2012: Firth Hall, Sheffield University, 13 Mar 2012
“Just back from an amazing performance by Reem Kelani. If that was her with a throat infection I'd hate to see her on form. Inspirational.“
Fay, 13 Mar 2012: Firth Hall, Sheffield University, 13 Mar 2012
“The Palestinian folk singer & musicologist Reem Kelani led a rousing workshop. I've rarely had so much fun with singing in my life.“
Vicky, 11 Mar 2012: Women of Palestine, Manchester, 10 Mar 2012
“Reem: Your workshop was wonderful and your performance breath taking. Everyone in the choir was blown over by it and you are now their role model for stage presence, connection with the audience and giving 120% when you are up there on stage. You have such a gift for connecting with people, sharing stories and cultural bridge building. It was very special to sing with you at the end - like you, this gave me a sense of ;' this is what it's all about' - our connection deepened through music. THe band were excellent - really complimented your beautiful singing and gave added colour and depth. What a talented bunch!
I know you had a tough time in Egypt and must have been exhausted after the workshop and gig here, but I hope it has left you feeling strengthened too about your work. Lots of people have told me how impressed they were by the evening and others were very sorry not to be there. “
Rowena, 8 Mar 2012: The Junction, Cambridge, 1 Mar 2012
“It was a fantastic gig and already likely to be our best of the year. There was a really good atmosphere and a lovely connection between the artist and the audience. I felt ten years younger walking home than I had walking there! Thankyou so much, and we can't wait to see you again.“
John, 2 Mar 2012: The Junction, Cambridge, 1 Mar 2012
“ I was not previously a particular fan of Arabic music and didn't really know what to expect when we had finished our opening set and i took my place in the audience (I was even a little concerned in case I didn't enjoy the whole evening of it!) However from the minute Reem and her wonderful musicians took their place on the stage I was TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY! I've seen many live acts and performed in many myself but Reem is absolutely brilliant! Her charisma, vocal talent, warmth and humour and obvious love and passion for what she does were intoxicating. I was enthralled from beginning to end of her unique set which was in turn moving, dynamic, bittersweet and funny - she 'owned' the stage and it was one of my favourite ever live performances over 30 years of attending gigs!“
Sue, 12 Mar 2012: The Junction, Cambridge, 1 Mar 2012
“Much respect to your magnificent fear shattering voice and all other efforts. I was depressed and low and then I heard your song, Al Jammal, and realised that if I walk in the streets of Homs- blasting it, people would feel empowered by the mere sound waves emanating from my stereo.
Sara, Syria, 30 Jan 2012: Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora, February 2006
“This is what I call GREAT radio!“
Gil, Davis, CA, USA, Jan 2012: Songs for Tahrir, BBC Radio 4, January 2012
“My head's been full of Egyptian songs and revolutionary chants this week since hearing Reem Kelani's fabulous Radio 4 documentary on the influence of Sayyid Darwish's 1919 political songs on the music of 2011's revolution, and the similarities and differences in mood between the overthrow of the British occupation back then and that of Mubarak.
After telling everyone I could think of to rush and listen while it's on the iplayer, I've just listened again and made furious notes on the names of singers and activists to look up. This programme seemed to be aimed directly at me“.
Ruth, Cheltenham, 20 Jan 2012: Songs for Tahrir, BBC Radio 4, January 2012
“Songs for Tahrir is the best thing I've heard on radio in yonks. Brilliant work.“
Matthew, UK, Jan 2012: Songs for Tahrir, BBC Radio 4, January 2012
“It's a year since the Arab Spring reached Tahrir square in Cairo (and I blipped some of the books and papers that connect me to Egypt). I've read some pieces written for the anniversary, but nothing I've read so far has the immediacy and sense of hope for the future (even though there is much still to be achieved) of Reem Kelani's programme Songs for Tahrir, recorded when she met Egyptian musicians and political activists in Cairo, and broadcast on Radio 4 on Wednesday. Definitely worth listening to if you have half an hour to spare. As I write this I'm listening to Reem Kelani's CD of Palestinian songs Sprinting Gazelle that I bought several years ago and hadn't listened to for a while, so I was glad of the reminder of that too.“
Chaiselongue, UK, Jan 2012: Songs for Tahrir, BBC Radio 4, January 2012
“A musical theatre course led to a workshop with Palestinian activist/folk-jazz singer Reem Kelani. "She started singing screaming - well, singing powerfully - in my face and I didn't know what to do," recalls Leonie. "But by the end of the play I was dancing around screaming my lungs off. We've been in close contact since. She changed everything for me, that lady.“
Leonie Evans, speaking about a workshop with Reem at the Miskin Theatre, Dartford, June 2005: Extract of interview with Leah Pritchard, Venue Publishing, Bristol, 1 Jan 2012
“Thanks. An awe-inspiring show from Reem.“
Mark, 20 Dec 2011: Sounds of Freedom, The New Red Lion Theatre, London, 16 Dec 2011
“Thank you for your amazing talk at Goldsmiths yesterday. I have learnt so much. You have so much love and strength and that's so inspiring. xxx“
Piala, 26 Oct 2011: Goldsmiths College, London, 25 Oct 2011
“Just a message to say how much I enjoyed the concert last night - and I have a CD to listen too!
Thanks for all you do for getting the message over about the injustice to Palestinians!“
Jeremy, 2 Oct 2011: Tottenham Palestine Literature Festival, London, 1 Oct 2011
“Even more amazing than I remembered!!“
Tina, 24 Sept 2011: Square Chapel, Halifax, 24 Sept 2011
“I cannot explain enough how special tonight was, thanks to you.“.
Fouad, 24 Sept 2011: Square Chapel, Halifax, 24 Sept 2011
“I've been to Reem Kelani's concert in Halifax. She is one of the best Palestinian singers.“.
Wesam, Oct 2011: Square Chapel, Halifax, 24 Sept 2011
“I got introduced to your music from the BBC extra interview, beautiful music and voice, i'll get the album as soon as i can find it, any plans for a concert in Beirut?“ (sic).
Wael, 17 June 2011: BBC World Service (Arabic) X-tra, 10 June 2011
“It was great to have you (on the show), the episode was the most energetic and entertaining so far....keep up the great spirit and the hard work." “
Sami, 11 June 2011: BBC World Service (Arabic) X-tra, 10 June 2011
“Hi i saw you perform at the rich mix and was so incredibly inspired..the palestine cause rang from your heart entwined with the beauty of your composition. I feel it was an honour to have been there. “
Sultana, 9 Sept 2011: Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London, 4 June 2011
“Just to say thanks for a great evening - a rich, stunning and magical performance by Reem that never faltered, with echoes of Janis Joplin, Marlene Dietrich, Um Khaltoum and 'Cabaret', but creating a unique and original sound. The teamwork was fantastic. The merging of Arabic music and jazz, with strains from so many other sources (even the Indian thuck-a-thuck,thuck..) was seamless.
The opening number was a shock, a superb evocation of a decadent Egyptian nightclub of the 1920s, with a seamless and beautiful jazz accompaniment that continued throughout the evening - what virtuoso displays of superb musicianship orchestrated by Reem. You kept us guessing and enraptured as to what would happen next with your incredible voice - and we were never disappointed. To carry through such strong emotion and passion, with a strong political content but with such evident love and warmth for the characters from whom the music was derived was thrilling to experience.
What a pity this was not filmed, but please make sure the next concerts are to preserve them for posterity. “
Rosamine & Abe, 6 June 2011: Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London, 4 June 2011
“We loved your performance at Rich Mix last night. You were great - keep it up. I liked your introduction to each piece and admired the research you have done in Arabic music. We are looking forward to your next album. Shukraan. “
Saleh, 5 June 2011: Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London, 4 June 2011
“Could not have had a better introduction to Arabic music“
Clarisa, June 2011: Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London, 4 June 2011
“Blown away by performance of Reem Kelani at the Amnesty birthday party today.“
Tracy, May 2011: Amnesty International's 50th anniversary, St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, 28 May 2011
“A beam of light shines down
straight on everyone's head;
A gold "Ah" is then sung out,
one after another, circling us as we sit.
Circling up and weaving with beams of light
from a fine net wrapping us in, where
the air vibrates and our soul resonates. Me disappeared into sacred wholeness.
Naughty sand whirls in the wind,
as Reem's voice penetrates in. I really want to dance. And I do dance,
my body remaining where it is.“ (sic)
QIU Yun, May 2011: The Conservatory of Music, Shanghai, 23 May 2011
“I have just watched you perform with Catriona Watt on BBC Alba, completely blown away by it, absolutely mesmerizing. Thank you.“
Joanne, Mar 2011: A’ Gharaids, BBC Alba, 12 Mar 2011
“It was a wonderful workshop, i really appreciated Reem's power, integrity and generosity.“
Alinah, Oct 2010: Access to Music, Brighton, 11 Oct 2010
“I saw you perform at SOAS in London - and felt like I was witnessing a Janis Joplin in natural grace and utter passion on stage, but ah the beauty of the songs that came, the beauty of palestine, and some damn trippy jazzy musicians as well.......I still get chills when I listen to your song "il-Hamdillah" and use it often to inspire me.“
Tanya, May 2011: Brunei gallery, SOAS, London, 7 Oct 2010
“I was so touched by your performance, it just made me feel that everything is possible, achievable. I can tell it's been the first time I feel so touched by an artist. I thank you so much for giving us this beautiful energy, full of positivity and courage, but also joy and happiness.“
Zaira, Oct 2010: Brunei gallery, SOAS, London, 7 Oct 2010
“Thanks for yesterday's wonderful performance. Truly uplifting.“
Najm, Oct 2010: Brunei gallery, SOAS, London, 7 Oct 2010
“That was a wonderful gig at St. Eths on saturday night. I'd forgotten what a profoundly political act making something beautiful can be. Like Coltrane's Alabama.“
Ted, Dec 2009: St Ethelburga's, 78 Bishopsgate, London, 12 Dec 2009
“I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Tabernacle last night. Thank you - what a thoroughly brilliant evening and a great privilege to share that superb performance.“
Richard, Dec 2009: From Palestine to Portugal, the Tabernacle, London, 7 Dec 2009
“Goose bumps on my skin! What a great performance.“
June, Dec 2009: From Palestine to Portugal, the Tabernacle, London, 7 Dec 2009
“The beautiful energy that we need today, when it looks fusion from the outside but with the real traditional attitude from the inside.“
Tarek Malki, Sept 2011: Turkcell Kuruçesme Arena, Istanbul, 30 June 2009
“I was there and it was 1 of the most wonderful shows i have ever seen.Thanx. one love!“
Birak Daginik Kalsin, Sept 2011: Turkcell Kuruçesme Arena, Istanbul, 30 June 2009
“To be honest, I did not know what I was in for, but after spending 2 hours with Reem, I left a room as a different person! I had learned many new songs, got a little insight in the fun and beauty of the Middle East (instead of worrying news readings) but most of all, I had witnessed a beautiful lady full of life.
Reem made a total unknown group sing total unknown songs with such talent and gusto that I was grateful I spent my afternoon with her. “
Suzanne, Mar 2009: Peredur Centre for the Arts, East Grinstead, 28 Feb 2009
“I saw her last night and thought she was so charismatic, big-hearted, talented and enthralling. So did the rest of my friends. Wonderful. Really.“
Giovanna, Sept 2008: Barbican / LSO St Lukes, London, 25 Sept 2008
“Fascinating and moving performance.“
Sheila, Sept 2008: Barbican / LSO St Lukes, London, 25 Sept 2008
“The performance was fantastic and I just wanted to hear more of her music.“
Amrita, Aug 2008: 1958 Remembered, Inn on the Green, London, 31 July 2008
“Thank you for such a fantastic show - a fabulous night and the Bluecoat's first standing ovation!.“
Richard, performance programmer, July 2008: Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, the Bluecoat, Liverpool, 23 July 2008
“I had the honour one year of playing Didgeridoo on stage with Reem at Drumcamp.
What a truly magnificent Lady she is.. Love her to bits !“
Gary, Songsticks, Oct 2011: Drum Camp, Suffolk, 10 - 13 July 2008
“Thank you so much, Reem. I only attended 3 of your magical workshops but I learned so much. I've never improvised before and your approach gave me the confidence not to care if it all went wrong! Best wishes. Go on forever.“
Tracey, July 2008: Drum Camp, Suffolk, 10 - 13 July 2008
“You've helped free my soul since 2005! Thank you.“
Karen, July 2008: Drum Camp, Suffolk, 10 - 13 July 2008
“A perfect introduction to the joy of singing.“
Carinya, July 2008: Drum Camp, Suffolk, 10 - 13 July 2008
“You must forever consider me a walking talking breathing babbling effusive reference under any circumstances whatsoever!“
Brian, Festival director, July 2008: International Children's Festival, Seattle, 10 - 17 May 2008
“To a new venue on Brick Lane last night to see the wonderful Palestinian singer, music scholar and teacher Reem Kelani. In an intimate setting and with a sympathetic band, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I can remember, and one of those that opens up new musical horizons. “
Henry, April 2008: Vibe Bar, Brick Lane, London, 10 April 2008
“ I have no first hand experience of Palestine, though your songs, stories and presence made me feel that I was suddenly intimately acquainted with a country I know little about. It was as though you sang a physical and emotional landscape, made a situation that one is used viewing in the two dimensions of world news, blossom into a gloriously tangible third dimension.“
Tony, April 2008: Vibe Bar, Brick Lane, London, 10 April 2008
“Your performance at the Cottier Theatre......was a memorable and deeply moving event. You captured the very essence of what it means to be a Palestinian: the heartaches and disappointments, but most of all the abiding resilience of the people.
We salute you, Reem!
The energy, intimacy and spontaneity of your performance was truly delightful. “
Coreen, Mar 2008: Mehfil, Cottier Theatre, Glasgow, 29 Feb 2008
“I heard Il-Hamdillah on Live 365 Radio - it sent shivers up my spine.“
Rich, Jan 2008: Live365 Radio, Internet Radio, Jan 2008
“I wanted to write to say how much I enjoyed your concert last week at SOAS (and am still enjoying your CD). It was one of the best concerts I have been to in a long time. Thank you! “
Abigail, Jan 2007: Brunei gallery, SOAS, London, 10 Jan 2007
“Fantastic performance tonight at the Junction!
It was brill!
Hope to see you soon, both in another workshop and performing live on stage.“
Melasman-Dan, Nov 2006: The Junction, Cambridge, 1 Nov 2006
“I was one of the thousand men in tears after your festival-stopping performance at Whitby Musicport last year.“
David, Aug 2007: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 22 Oct 2006
“I saw you at the Whitby Music Port festival in October and i just wanted to say that you were amazing! Your songs were so moving and it's fantastic that you have information about each song in the album sleeve. I can't stop listening to Sprinting Gazelle. “
Soraya, Nov 2006: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 22 Oct 2006
Highlights of Whitby: “You are absolutely right about Reem Kelani. She was jaw droppingly good. “
Trilby, Oct 2006: Musicport Festival, Whitby, 22 Oct 2006
“Just heard Ms Reem's interview through Radio Monte Carlo and was ashamed of not hearing her years ago.
An energetic voice, vivacious, original and dramatic vocals. I wish you the best and I am proud of you. “
Jamil, Aug 2006: Radio Monte Carlo, 3 Aug 2006
“Reem's Magical Voice
And as the voice bursts from her
Propelled on a fist of spirit unseen
Her heart punches into mine, consumed
And as the song grows, flows, rips through me
Whips my soul into light, shines into my darkness
The fragile, cracked, destroyed thing I once had in me
Became strong like ox heart, thick, a song to live by once more
And still you sang, your heart wringing love out of your sorrow
Transforming your history of pain, years of hate poured into you in to
Life, love, Hope, above all things, Knowledge of end in sight for suffering
Never ending light and love the only constant truth in your sights
That’s what you gave me oh blessed woman of song
That’s what I knew of your gifts for the world one South Bank afternoon in June.
Your voice nourished me, fed me, loved me completely as universal love
Stayed alive in my heart all the way through the day and into that night so long
Alive, not a dried flower of summer preserved, it refused to shatter and crumble to dust,
Your suffering made whole love, full fat joy, bathed my damaged, brutalised soul
You pulled a river from my dry eyes, a thousand thousand tears of sorrow
Melted into a river of spirit to wash my feet clean once more.”
ÓEliza Johnston 2006 copyright: Celebrating Sanctuary, Southbank, London, 18 June 2006
“I've now seen Reem Kelani perform 4 times now...and at each gig she actively involved and engaged the audience. She's a passionate live performer! It's pretty hard not to fall in love with her...she's witty, charismatic and has a wonderful ability to move you with her emotive and intense vocals. “
Foxylady, June 2006: Celebrating Sanctuary, Southbank, London, 18 June 2006
"Reem Kelani has an intense voice. Her self produced album is a marvel. She's collected traditional Palestinian folk songs & performs them with fiery intensity & aching mournfulness. Not easy listening but very rewarding.“
Ben, Mar 2010: Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora, February 2006
“I played your CD and the heat of Palestine came into the house. Perhaps this was a message about accepting what is meant to be. I find many singers have rich voices but my favourite singers are Maria Callas, for the colour, intesity and passion in her voice, and likewise Fairouz. I find your singing matches both these artists. “
Philip, Mar 2006: Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora, February 2006
“The bleak grey Glasgow day was transformed this morning when I heard you singing on Women's Hour - it was beautiful and wonderfully energising. “
Jenny, Feb 2006: Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 16 Feb 2006
“I heard your voice a few days ago on the BBC. It's just wonderful, your music is perfect in my soul. I am 23 years old and live in Romania, “
Marius, Feb 2006: Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 16 Feb 2006
“Heard you for 1st time on Radio 4 this morning..... 'Yafa' struck me deep in my soul. Your voice and the song moved me deeply and in a way that no music has before. Thank you so much.“
Hugh, Feb 2006: Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 16 Feb 2006
“I was so pleased to hear you this morning on Woman's Hour. Only yesterday I had ordered your new CD via the Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I had the opportunity to take part in your music workshop at Exeter a little while ago. As someone who doesn't think she can sing, it was exhilarating to find myself so uplifted by the whole experience. “
Hazel, Feb 2006: Exeter, Nov 2005
“I was in your workshop at Doris and I want to tell you what an inspiring, energetic, passionate and ballsy woman you are.“
Jo, Sept 2006: Tribe of Doris, Blackdown Hills, Devon-Somerset border, 24 - 29 Aug 2005
“All I can say is that you are the most inspiring person I've ever met, so thankyou..“
Leonie, Sept 2006: North West Kent College, Dartford, Kent, 3 June 2005
“I was in the band for "Iman" at the Miskin theatre (I played guitar). I wanted to say hi and thankyou for
the unforgettable lessons you taught me.“
Andy, Sept 2006: North West Kent College, Dartford, Kent, 3 June 2005
“I have been to literally hundreds of concerts, but this is my very first e-mail. I am 46 1/4. But seriously, I was blown away by your voice. You are truly a force of nature.“
Alan, July 2006: Visions of Palestine, Royal Geographical Society, London, 6 July 2004
“I was fortunate to hear Reem perform and attend one of her workshops. She has a wonderful presence and a powerful voice, sung from the heart which cannot fail to bring tears. The universal music of humanity. “
Natasha, July 2004: Bristol, June 2004
“I had the privilege to work with Reem and my class of year 5 children over the last 12 months. She was truly inspirational to both the children and myself. Her voice is stunning and her enthusiasm is contagious. The children and I both loved her and the experience.“
David, July 2004: Multi-Cultural World Music Project in Norfolk schools, September 2003 - April 2004
“Thanks for such a wonderful lunchtime programme. 'Distant Chords' has been a very moving musical journey. As a Jewish musician working in the west of England, I have felt a sense of connection with these other diasporic traditions. …
Jon, Mar 2003: Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4, 2001 - 2003
“I found this programme very moving and beautiful. Reem Kelani provides insights and associations which strike a chord for anyone living in exile, and I'm sure is equally evocative to native listeners. …
Hanna, Feb 2003: Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4, 2001 - 2003
“Reem has a superb way of interacting with people, and the enthusiasm and directness of the people on the programme was just superb... You cannot appreciate how important these programmes are in the current climate of anxiety… These programmes are essential to strengthen the bridge of humanity that exists between various communities in the UK.“
Omer, Feb 2003: Distant Chords, BBC Radio 4, 2001 - 2003
“I wanted to let you know how impressed I was by your show.
You have a wonderful voice and it was a joy to hear.
I do not speak Arabic but it didn't matter - the expression and feeling that showed in your songs were all that was needed. You were at one with your audience, particularly with the Palestinians, and from what I could see as an outsider, it was very much appreciated.
I felt privileged to be there, the whole day was lovely for me, and your concert crowned the day.
I'd like to be able to encourage you to continue to give as much as you did then, as you were a blessing to many, if not everyone who was there.“
Ruth, July 2001: Kibble Palace, Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, 9 June 2001
“Believe me, Reem, so many people are still talking about you and your wonderful performances in Beirut and Saida and they would so love you to come back.…
Anni, Dec 1998: Concerts in Beirut & Sidon, May - June 1998
“I still remember your wonderful night in Nazareth. I still remember you talking about "'Ala Dal'oona", and I loved your voice but also your presence. It was very powerful and proud.…“
Areen, Dec 2006: Tour of Palestine, March - April 1993