Reem Kelani Revives Songs of Palestine
Reem Kelani sings a song called “Hardship Doesn’t Last Forever.” She dedicates it to the murdered Palestinians of Sabra and Shatila, and those being slaughtered in the West Bank now.
Kelani is a celebrated Palestinian singer, musician and musicologist who was born in England but brought up in Kuwait. Her father came from Yaabad, near Jenin, her mother from Nazareth. “One can’t be a Palestinian without being political,” Kelani told The Daily Star.
At 39, the singer has brought the traditions and cultural heritage of Palestine and its people their music, verse and song to the outside world.
“I began learning music in Kuwait at age four,” Kelani said. “To me, music and Palestine have always been the same, but at first I wasn’t so keen on Arabic music. Boring, monotonous, repetitive, too long that’s what I used to say. Whenever I saw (Egyptian diva) Umm Kulthoum on television, I’d run away.”
“I loved Fairuz, but otherwise it was all jazz standards,” she said. “It was only later, despite all these western musical inputs, that I realized there was something missing.”
Kelani explained that her problem was estrangement. “This is what I was suffering from. But “ghurbah” (estrangement) encompasses homesickness, loneliness, isolation and lack of belonging,” she said. “This has been a feature of my life before I was even born, from the time my parents left Palestine.”
Kelani’s repertory includes traditional songs, improvisations and settings of contemporary Palestinian poetry. She has toured North America, Europe and the Middle East. She has also worked on numerous films and TV programs and was the first “Arab/Muslim/Palestinian,” as she puts it, to have her own radio series on British radio.
“Islam is an evolution of Christianity and Judaism. But that does not mean that I accept Zionism. Judaism isn’t Zionism. There is a difference,” Kelani states. “As Palestinians we’re survivors. To me the concept of the victim is not about crying and pleading, but laughing and dancing ... This doesn’t detract from being a victim,” she said.
Kelani’s songs are all sung smiling as if laughing with defiance. They are filled with a message of cheerful fury.
For Kelani, the exile of so many Palestinians has imperiled their cultural heritage. Communities have been destroyed and their people scattered.
In an effort to preserve this musical tradition, she has spent many years touring the refugee camps and seeking out the remaining purveyors of this tradition, recording old songs which otherwise might have been lost – Albawaba.com