Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Reem Kelani and friends
30 November 2004
Palestine is in the Heart
by Susannah Tarbush
The Palestinian singer Reem Kelani and her fellow musicians brought the rousing rhythms and melodies of Palestine to the heart of the City of London a few days ago when they performed at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, an oasis of calm off hectic Bishopsgate.
St Ethelburga’s has literally risen from the ashes, for in 1993 a massive IRA terrorist bomb devastated the church, which was one of the few remaining medieval buildings in the City of London.
In 1997 a Charitable Trust was set up to launch an appeal, to which a large number of organisations and individuals contributed.
Building work started in 2001 and on 12 November 2002 St Ethelburga’s was reconsecrated by the Bishop of London. On the following day, the Prince of Wales opened the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.
The church has been beautifully restored and its intimate atmosphere contributed to the magic of the evening, as did the high calibre of the performances. The musicians playing with Reem included the jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, who has recently been performing in the London Jazz Festival. There was a strong percussion section, with Iranian Fairborz Kiani on daff, and Paul Clarvis and Salah Dawson Miller on drums. Violinist Sonia Slany was playing with the group for the first time, but she immediately penetrated the spirit of the music.
The programme started with the 19th century song The Nazarene Women Cross the Pasture of Ibn Amr, followed by a song in which the women beg a cameleer to take them on his caravan.
Other songs included a lullaby from Galilee collected by the well-known Palestinian poet Tawfik Zayad, a hypnotic old folk song, a setting of the poem Yearning by Palestinian Rashid Hussein, the poem Yafa written by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout when he was leaving Yafa (Jaffa) in 1948 knowing he would never see it again, and Samih Al-Qasim’s song Love Poem translated into English by the Palestinian poet and scholar Salma Jayyusi, and a song traditionally sung when people build houses in Palestine. As an encore the group performed the Sayyid Darwish song “Visit me Once a Year”
At the end of the concert the director of the centre, Simon Keyes thanked Reem and her musicians for “bringing a little bit of Palestine to this building. That’s absolutely in keeping with everything we do here, reconciliation and peace – there’s a long way to go but the fact that so many of us from so many different backgrounds can sit down and enjoy and share with Reem this wonderful culture is a marvellous sign of what’s possible.”