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. Gabriel in Nazareth.
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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. 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. 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.
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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. Reem Kelani, British of Palestinian origin, is a researcher of the musical traditions of her homeland and a quite remarkable singer.
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.
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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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Alyaa Ebbiary. 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. 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.
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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. You can instantly detect the sense of continuity and belonging that this London-based artist clearly feels.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Kelani sings this poem as a recitation, utilising her broad vocal range in combination with the power of the piano. 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. 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?branhargely.tk
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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?