Tag Archives: Reem Kelani

Musicport Festival 2019 Announces Day Tickets on Sale & New Additions to Line-up

World music and folk event Musicport Festival has released Tier 3 and day tickets together with new additions to the line-up: comedian John Hegley, Manic Chord Theatre, Jo Freya, Annie Whitehead & Jennifer Maidman and Talaro (Gambia /Czech Republic). The festival will take place at Whitby Pavilion in Whitby, UK, October 18th-20th, 2019 (Plus On Tour to villages October 21st -25th).

Friday Night

Misty in Roots; LO’JO; Warsaw Village Band; Jasdeep Singh Degun; Peace Artistes: Talaro; Mambo Jambo; Napoleon IIIrd; Manic Chord Theatre.

Saturday full day

Orchestra les Mangalepa; Catrin Finch and Sekou Keita; Lemn Sissay; Banco de Gaia; Amira Medunjanin; Reem Kelani; Orchestra that Fell to Earth; Sarah Jane Morris; Jim Moray Trio; Varldens Band; The Lake Poets; Riccardo Tesi; Martin Stephenson; John Hegley; Anne Niepold; Reg Meuross/Twelve Silk Handkerchiefs; The Hut People; Katie Spencer; Jo Freya Annie Whitehead & Jennifer Maidman; Jay Johnson.

Sunday full day

Aziza Brahim; Peatbog Faeries; Moussu T et Lei Jovents; Belinda 0’Hooley; Holy Moly and the Crackers; The Little Unsaid; Me and My Friends; Rafiki Jazz; Commoners Choir; Harry Gallagher; Rebecca Riley; Joe Solo; Joshua Burnell; Don’t Feed the Peacocks; Rosie Brown; Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage: The Far Side.

Plans are being made to involve 20 schools in workshops and events in the lead up to the event and the village tour is beginning to take shape with 8 concerts in villages surrounding Whitby with acts including Andy Irvine (Eire), Poor Nameless Boy (Canada) and Moussu T E Lei Jovents (France) performing in small venues on a pay what you feel basis for local residents.

More details at www.musicportfestival.com


Artist Profiles: Reem Kelani

Reem Kelani – Photo by Phillip Ryalls


Reem Kelani was born in Manchester, in the UK and brought up in Kuwait. Reem’s father comes from Ya’bad near Jenin and her mother from Nazareth in Galilee. Reem enjoyed early exposure to all sorts of music. She learned the piano and listened to the Jazz standards her father used to sing at home. She studied the Quran as a child and used to hear the calls to prayer about her in Kuwait. Life in the Diaspora also meant that she was exposed to the music of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran East Africa, the Levant and Egypt. It was while at a family wedding in the Galilee that Reem as a child was first taken by Palestinian music.

Reem has been recording and collating folk songs from women in her maternal home of Nazareth, in the refugee camps of Palestine and Lebanon and elsewhere in the Diaspora.

Now considered as one of the foremost researchers and performers of Palestinian music Reem Kelani recorded Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora. Some of the songs on the CD are Reem’s research and arrangement of traditional (and some very old) Palestinian songs; the others are her own musical settings of popular and resistance poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, Salma Khadra, Jayyusi Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.

Reem’s band includes a Jazz rhythm section comprising Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on tenor saxophone clarinet and bass clarinet, Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Patrick Illingworth on drums. Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai and Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani complete the line-up.

Other artists on Sprinting Gazelle D include: Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan (playing the ancient and haunting Palestinian double-clarinet the yarghul); film-composer Dirk Campbell (who lends his string arrangements and nay playing); Salah Dawson Miller (on Arabic percussion); Paul Clarvis (on drums and frame drums) and Sonia Slany with her Solid Strings Quartet.

Reem Kelani sees her project as a means of demonstrating the fact of the Palestinians’ existence now and in the past. She views her musical journey as both historical and political personal and collective. She seeks to point out suffering and to highlight celebration. Her journey is a musical one through the written and oral history of a people who are proud of their collective sense of poetry stories music and existence. This is manifested in the detailed accompanying booklet which includes introductory notes for each song lyrics in Arabic and English and a comprehensive glossary of musical and cultural terms.

Leon Rosselson of Fuse Records offered his advice and his record label. This gave Reem the opportunity to produce the CD herself thus maintaining her musical and cultural integrity and her independence. Raising the necessary funds for the project was by no means easy but with the help of friends, family and supporters the CD was finally made. It took two years in the process and is the culmination of more than 2 years of effort and hope.


Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora (2006)

Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle (2016)


Delightful Reem Kelani Live at the Tabernacle in London

Reem Kelani – Live at the Tabernacle (Fuse Records, 2016)

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.

Buy Live at the Tabernacle in North America

Buy Live at the Tabernacle in Europe


Concert for Gaza in Sheffield City Centre

Reem Kelani
Reem Kelani

Concert for Gaza in Sheffield City Centre (UK) on March 23rd.

This is an amazing space isn’t it?”, said Reem Kelani, as she stood next to the Steinway grand piano surveying the simple splendor of Sheffield’s Upper Chapel. Whether it was the setting, the warmth of her Sheffield welcome or something in the water of Dubai, from where Reem had just returned after attending a panel debate on the occasion of the visiting Tate Gallery exhibition of British Orientalist paintings. Whatever the cause, there was definitely something magical about the evening………

Built in 1700, by Timothy Jollie’s non conformist congregation, Upper Chapel has a style similar to Wrens’, St James’ church in Piccadilly. With no altar, the large church organ forms the dominating centrepiece and a backdrop to a tall wooden pulpit whose ascent by the spiral staircase would keep any preacher fit. Once the spiritual home for one sixth of Sheffield’s population, who crammed into the wooden pews and the U-shaped gallery above to hear the latest sermon or social discourse belted out from the pulpit’s lofty heights.

Tonight with similar anticipation, it was the stage for a concert for Gaza, where the depths and breadths of human emotion would unfold..Our host for the evening was Hilary Nelson, from Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who called for a moment’s silence, to reflect and think about the people of Gaza. Those who remain, those who were displaced, injured or killed. After which Sheffield’s Socialist Choir, with their motto “Sing for a Change” took to the stage and opened the night of music with their version of Michael Heart’s Song for Gaza. ( A song that has gone around the world electronically and set to images by a number of You Tubers.)

The choir continued their set with one of their special commissions, this time from Ali Burns, “We Are All Under The Stars” where spoken and sung text work hand in hand. The spoken text came form the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ironically published by the United Nations in December 1948 and reading like a tick list of violations most notably against Palestinian human rights in the Middle East but also social injustices worldwide.

Focus was beginning to sharpen as to what humanity is becoming…

The Choir were in fine voice moving to a South African song, Senzenina, sung in Xhosa with a soloist whose voice was just mesmerizing, ” What have we done? Our crime is being Black ” a lament against pass laws of the the apartheid regime. Following on with a reminder of our galleried church setting, “Wicked Men”, a song in the West Gallery singing tradition, where choirs critical of powers to be, sung out…. before the tradition was stamped out in the 1850’s. Their set finished with a street song, set to the melody of Bye Bye Love, an invitation to boycott Israeli goods, as happened during protests against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Don’t buy dates
Don’t buy Jaffa fruit,
Don’t buy Israeli wine
there’s a boycott going on.

The audience joined in, smiling and with lifted spirits at the “misappropriation” of the Everly Brothers classic. Inspiring the audience five years ago at a similar fund raising event, were Sheffield residents Bill and Alfie Horrocks. Hilary was determined to track them down and invite them to perform tonight. Her homework paid off and Alfie flew in from Latvia, taking a train up to Sheffield to join his father, especially for the concert tonight.

I don’t understand all the politics, all the great forces“, said Alfie quietly “but I do understand the idea of singing for change, you guys really touched me“. A round of applause from the audience and Alfie launched into a heartfelt rendition of Dylan’s, “The Times They Are a Changing” followed by Willie Nelson’s “Oxygen”.

Still wearing his warm overcoat from the plane journey, Alfie stood saying “It gives me great pleasure to welcome my Dad on stage“. As he pulled a piece of white paper from his overcoat pocket he said, “He sent me this two weeks ago, the lyrics to his song, I sung it five years ago and didn’t fully get it, now I do“.

As the neighboring cathedral bells started to chime, the two unassuming men stood at a microphone each, Alfie with his head bowed modestly, this time singing slightly discordantly but fully complementary to his father’s deeper voice. “There used to be an orchard here, till the soldiers built a gun tower.” ….the lyrics came to him in rapid flow after reading a Chris McGreal article in the Guardian newspaper reporting the IDF’s shooting of a ten year old Palestinian girl in Gaza five years ago.

A stunned audience kept an honorable silence at the end if their performance, only beginning to applaud as they turned to walk back to their seats. “Thank you for singing that“, came cries from the pews. Many of the audience were visibly moved. Lachrymosa! It was the story not of a single event but a requiem for the death of humanity.

It was only recently that Baaba Maal talked on the radio about his role as a musician in Senegal alongside griots who have huge importance and recognition in villages as conveyers of the news, popular opinion and social concern through their songs and music. Alfie and Bill, from Dinnington via Latvia, had done just this. A skill, that is often overshadowed by the world of television, internet and radio.

How would Reem follow such emotion, “I feel embarrassed to sing love songs from Egypt“, she admitted.

Fortunately, we had a break and Dr Mona El-Farra, from Northern Gaza, was there to make an address before the second half of our musical night commenced, to explain that, “we resist the occupation with singing, we fight against injustice by singing. Now is not the time for me to tell stories, you know them, just one story is enough to show that human rights have been violated”. She continued, graciously and emphasized the importance of refusing to be a victim, “its a long term struggle we need all our energy until the nightmare is over“.

Dr Mona has family living in exile in Sheffield and said, “I am going home to Gaza with a real message. That Gaza is not a charity case but a case of solidarity, until justice prevails there’s truckloads of reaction, what’s happening here and I am talking about the Sheffield people is ongoing support“. You can read more on her blog ( details below) “From Gaza with Love”. Dr Mona concluded as she has started, “We encourage a more positive attitude, to be more joyful, by being joyful we resist”.

Fire in Her Soul

Cue Hilary to introduce Reem Kelani as the “The voice, one of the best ambassadors for Palestine. Enjoy her wonderful music and ingenious arrangements”.

Accompanied by Bruno Heinen on the grand piano, which initially doubled up as a percussion instrument as he joined in a complex rhythm of hand clapping from Reem who opened with a traditional Palestinian wedding song. “This is a song from pre-1948 and you see there were plenty of Palestinians around, why else would there be so many wedding songs”, said Reem even though she was quite out of breath after a wedding celebration turned into a physical workout of voice, hand percussion and foot stomps.

Reem researches her heritage meticulously in order to help preserve the Palestinian traditions and following the Palestinian narrative, she delivered a pre 1948 poem, before launching into one of the most heartfelt and animated renditions of Galilean Lullaby, I had ever witnessed her perform. There was fire in her soul as she sang the song from her maternal homeland of Nazareth. My heart was pumping as she walked up and down the aisles singing the refrain, Hardship Never Lasts.

Spontaneous applause on its conclusion and already a few enthusiasts were out of their seats. Not so the children in the pew behind me who were puzzling over the lack of the usual Britney and Girls Aloud fare, that they have become accustomed to on the television.

Since releasing her debut CD, Sprinting Gazelle in 2006, Reem has been working on new additions to her repertoire that will hopefully come together as a new album. The first of which is inspired by the work of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish and a song of addiction, in which the metaphors for the drug and the drug user are intertwined with the loved and the lover.

We move back to Palestine, “I never sing this song the same way twice, anyone in from Turkey?. I thought I might have to add in the Turkish verse. I had the pleasure of working with the clarinetist Selim Sesler in Istanbul, the repertoire is very close to that of Palestine,” relayed Reem as she sat down with her shruti box. Alas as a non Arabic speaker I didn’t understand the lyrics but it had something to do with a woman talking to Moses, Mary and the prophet Mohammed. “If there isn’t what you want, then want what there is“, offers Reem in translation.

Joy is in abundance, the audience are in good form too, engaging with Reem all the way from the back of the chapel. We go back to Egypt and a little further south to Nubia, again drawing upon the compositions of Sayyid Darwish who in 1919 wrote the song about enslavement of the Nubians in Egypt ands states that slavery was against humanity and asks how long would the distinction between the haves and the have nots prevail. In “An Ode to the Downtrodden” Reem introduces the Tanbour, purchased from the felafel stall holder in London’s Portobello Road. “Don’t forget to give me the blues, Bruno”, says Reem ever keen to communicate with and encourage her fellow musicians. A celebratory and uplifting number finished in a flurry with Bruno once more returning the grand piano to a big percussion box whilst Reem slapped out a rhythm on the body of the Tanbour…..who needs a cajon ? “Yeah!” cries the audience completely enthralled by this time.

A quick time check “I have so much I want to share”, “I felt embarrassed to sing love songs but Mona says we need them too”, then she caught everyone by surprise with a jazz number sung in English. I hadn’t heard this before. A love song to the divine, to the motherland or your lover. Make your choice. Her voice sounded so different, I don’t think I was the only one holding my breath in anticipation of what would come next, waiting until the last note from the piano faded, before applauding.

Another new addition to the repertoire and appropriate for the period of Lent, The Vinegar Cup which, which reminds us that many Palestinians are also Christians. Written by a Muslim and Marxist, Mu’in Bseiso, where else but Palestine remarks Reem who turns to compliment her pianist once more, “Go crazy, we’re almost there, all yours Bruno”.

Leaving the stage momentarily to sit in the front pew and enjoy Bruno’s freestyle playing before joining in with vocals. The pair received a standing ovation. Bruno revealed later, how much he enjoyed the Steinway acknowledging it as, “one of the best pianos I’ve played”.

But there was still a bit more to come, welcoming back on stage the Sheffield Socialist choir Reem announced, “I always like to finish with a song that people sing whilst building houses, passing the bricks and praising God. Construction not destruction. Think of them rebuilding all the houses in Gaza“.

For this night only, with the choir providing backing vocals, “Il-Hamdillah”, took on a life of its own, intoxicating and trancey as Reem sang over the top in the women’s style of Imhaaha, a form of yodeling whilst Bruno offered improvisations from the upper range of the piano’s keyboard. Then the farewell, Zourouni, originally a sacred song about visiting the grave for the prophet Mohammed once a year that has subsequently been incorporated into a secular song, simply inviting people to keep in touch.

Another standing ovation as the Choir, Reem, Bruno, Hilary and Mona took bow after bow. What ever the magic was, whether it was the building, the passion of those on stage, the feedback from the audience or indeed the waters of Dubai, it seemed as if, to coin a church organ phrase, that all the stops were pulled out and everyone was singing from their soul at the top of their ability.

Such joy in support of such tragedy, simply amazing.

Buy the Reem Kelani CD:


Reem Kelani, at Seattle International Children’s Festival in May 2008

Reem Kelani
Reem Kelani
Reem Kelani, the Palestinian singer and musician, will be appearing with her band at the forthcoming Seattle International Children’s Festival in May.

Born in England and raised in Kuwait, Reem Kelani is one of the foremost scholars and performers of Palestinian music. With her engaging stage presence, angelic voice, sparkling wit, and a band that features some of the finest traditional and jazz players in London, Reem charts the cultural terrain of Arabic music. Her powerful concerts feature traditional songs learned on visits to Palestinian refugee camps, and her own compositions, that have brought audiences around the world to their feet.

The 2008 Seattle International Children’s Festival (SICF) will take place May 12-17 at Seattle Center and May 19 at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in Tacoma. The annual performing arts festival for all ages presents an international lineup of circus, music, theatre, puppetry, dance and multimedia shows designed to educate and entertain students, their teachers, families, teens and adults alike.

Eighteen companies representing seventeen countries, including France, Colombia, Japan, Israel and Guinea are scheduled to perform. “This year’s Festival has a focus on powerful, pan-generational women artists in a variety of arts disciplines,” says Executive Director Andrea Wagner. “From a Colombian grandmother (Petrona Martínez) singing folk songs originally sung by women waiting to give birth, to a circus strong woman (Circa), powerful Guinean drummers (Amazones) representing an art form traditionally dominated by men, one of the foremost scholars and performers of Palestinian music (Reem Kelani), fiery flamenco (Savannah Fuentes), an actress who activates a magical interactive universe (TPO), to a little clay princess learning to find her own voice (Puppentheater Halle), these performances will inspire audiences of all ages and sexes.

Of course, we’re not leaving out the men – Jo Taira, Japan’s youngest winner of the prestigious National Puppet Contest, and the story of a young Ethiopian hero and his family’s journey to their new home in Israel (Nephesh Theatre), are joining in the act as well.”

Public tickets go on sale April 1st on line at seattleinternational.org or 206.325.6500.


Reem Kelani’s Vocals, a Force of Nature

Reem Kelani – Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora

Reem Kelani

Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora (Fuse Records, 2006)

The opening notes from “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow,” Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle, 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 Rhaman’s piano work, Idris Rahman on clarinet, Hayhurst on double bass, Reem Kelanie 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.<
Buy the CD: