Location: Rich Mix Arts Centre, Shoreditch.
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.