Tuesday, May 24, 2005

palestinian echoes

Reem Kelani and her ensemble Posted by Hello

The concert given by Palestinian Reem Kelani and seven musicians in London last Thursday night was an example of synergy and ensemble playing at its best. Each of the musicians is well-established in their own particular musical spheres, and each made a significant contribution in complementing Kelani’s rendering of Palestinian songs.

The venue was St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace located in Bishopsgate in the financial heart of the City of London. The small church was badly damaged by an IRA bomb 12 years ago and has been extensively restored.

Kelani first performed at St Ethelburga’s six months ago, and the fact that she has been invited to give a return concert so soon reflects the enthusiasm with which her previous appearance was received.

In introducing the concert, the director of the centre, Simon Keyes, said that the previous Friday the great novelist, critic and painter John Berger had attended an event in his honour at the centre. Berger had “made two remarkable observations. One was he said ‘us’ and ‘them’ are the two most dangerous words in any language, and the other thing was he had just come back from Palestine and said he couldn’t wait to get back there because he had found it such a moving place to be.

“The reason for that, he said, was that more than anyone else in the world, the Palestinians have really learnt to live in the present moment. They have faced up to the most extraordinary, appalling history, but they are here, and they are living now today, and they are really beginning to move forward.”

The concert lived up to it billing as “Middle Eastern Harmonies: an Evening of Music and Laughter with Reem Kelani and Friends.” There was plenty of humour, but at the same time there was much passion and pain in Kelani’s moving delivery of traditional improvisations and settings of contemporary Palestinian poetry.

The musicians included jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and her saxophonist brother Idris, who have emerged as important forces on the British jazz scene. Zoe Rahman has her own jazz trio, and also works with many prominent musicians. Idris Rahman is co-leader of the London-based band Soothsayers which plays jazz, African and Caribbean music.

On violin was Egyptian Sami Bishai and on double bass Oil Hayhurst. Iranian Fariborz Kiani played daff and tombak. Salah Dawson Miller played frame drums, and Patrick Illingworth was on drum kit.

Kelani and the ensemble are now in the process of recording tracks for her first CD, which is due to be released in October.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 24 May 2005

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

the naomi shemer affair

"Even the Song is Stolen"
by Susannah Tarbush

When Israeli composer Naomi Shemer was on her deathbed last year, she made a startling confession to a friend: her song “Jerusalem of Gold”, sung by Israeli forces to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, was derived from the melody of a Basque lullaby.

“Jerusalem of Gold” is not the first composition to be involved in a case of musical plagiarism. For example the late former Beatle George Harrison lost a lawsuit in which he was accused of using the melody of The Chiffons’ 1964 hit “She’s So Fine” in his composition “My Sweet Lord”. But the Middle East political angle has made Shemer’s admission a particularly hot talking point.

“Jerusalem of Gold” was Shemer’s most famous composition, and after the 1967 war it became a sort of unofficial national anthem. Shemer was often asked over the years whether she had plagiarised the Basque melody, but she always angrily denied this. In 2000 in an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, she insisted that the two songs didn’t sound the same at all.

Shemer finally came clean in a letter to fellow composer Gil Aldema written just a few days before she died last June. News of her confession surfaced a few days ago, and Aldema explained to Israeli Army Radio that although Shemer had agreed that her secret should be revealed after her death, he had allowed some time to pass before doing so.

In her letter, Shemer said that in the mid-1960s she had heard a well-known Basque lullaby in the mid-1960s, sung by her singer friend Nehama Hendel.

“In the winter of 1967 when I was working on the writing of ‘Jerusalem of Gold’, the song must have creeped into me unwittingly,” she wrote. “I also didn’t know that an invisible hand dictated changes in the original to me…it turns out that someone protected me and provided me with my eight notes that grant me the rights to my version of the folk song. But all this was done, as I said, unwittingly.”

Shemer told Aldema that she regarded “the whole matter as an unfortunate work accident – so unfortunate that maybe this is what caused my illness.”

A few days after the news of the confession broke, Haaretz newspaper quoted the famous Basque singer Paco Ibanez as saying he had sung sang the Basque melody in question at a performance in Israel in 1962, and perhaps Shemer had heard it then.

Ibanez said his mother used to sing the melody to him when he was small. He recorded it in his volume “Songs I heard from my mother”. As soon as he heard Shemer’s song in summer 1967 he recognised it as his song “Joseph’s Hair.”

He said he was sad to hear of Shemer’s guilt feelings over basing her song on the Basque folk melody and not admitting it. “It is a shame. She had no reason to feel guilty.”

Many Haaretz readers e-mailed messages to the newspaper on the Shemer case. Some of the messages were supportive, and pointed out that classical composers have often used melodies from folk songs. Several noted that the Israeli national anthem Hatikva is based on a melody from Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau”. Others observed that singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez have borrowed folk melodies.

But there were also some more critical comments, with “Arik” from Toronto writing: “Even the songs are stolen…just like everything else …the land you live on….the water…everything.” Others noted that Shemer had become a patron of the settler cause after 1967 and that her song had become the anthem of the settlers.

One Basque wrote he felt ashamed for the use of the Basque lullaby as a war hymn, and he criticised Shemer for stealing Basque folklore for war purposes. Another reader said part of Shemer’s estate should be seized and given to the Basques.

Saudi Gazette, 10 May 2005

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

new issue of Banipal

Banipal: cover picture by the Iraqi Kurdish artist Sadradeen Posted by Hello

Overcoming language barrier
by Susannah Tarbush

One of the pleasures of reading Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature, is the opportunity it offers of discovering authors who have through translation overcome the language barrier.

In the spring issue of the magazine, which has just been published, one such author is Algerian writer, journalist and musician Aziz Chouaki who has lived in France since the political upheavals in Algeria in the 1990s.

Banipal carries an excerpt from Chouaki’s novel “The Star of Algiers”, written in French and translated into English by Ros Schwarz and Lulu Norman. The novel was published in English by Graywolf Press, USA earlier this year. To judge by the extract, Chouaki is a fresh, original voice.

While Chouaki is new to English translation, some of the names in the latest issue of Banipal are long-established. From Tayeb Salih, the Sudanese writer, we have the story “If She Comes”, set in an office, translated by Shakir Mustafa.

The Saudi writer, poet and novelist Ali al-Domaini is represented through an extract from his novel “The Grey Cloud: Parts of the Biography of Sahl al-Jabali”. The novel was published in Arabic in Beirut in 1998, and the extract, which is set in a prison, has been translated by Issa Boullata.

Al-Domaini has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since last year. Last week, at a ceremony in New York attended by many prominent American and international authors, PEN conferred a 2005 ‘PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award’ on the Saudi author.

Issa Boullata is a writer as well as a translator, and Banipal includes his short story “A Forgotten Gentleman”, which is set in Canada.

There are in all seven short stories in the issue. The story “Wind”, by Tunisian Ali Mosbah, who lives in Berlin, gives a powerful metaphorical account of the effects of winds on the inhabitants of an area of Tunisia.

The poets featured in the issue include Palestinian medical doctor Fady Joudah, who won the $1,000 first prize in the River City writing awards in 2004. Joudah lives in Houston and is an active member of Medicins sans Frontieres. There are also love poems by the Lebanese poet Inaya Jaber.

One of Banipal’s regular sections is Literary Influences, in which a writer tells of the books he or she has read since childhood, and the influences on their work. In this issue the writer is the Syrian Rafik Shami, who lives in Germany. His parents originally came from the village of Malula where the ancient language Aramaic is spoken.

In its section on literary events, Banipal has a report on the awarding of the 2004 Prince Claus Awards, with the principal prize going to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish’s eloquent acceptance speech is published in full.

Banipal is at: www.banipal.co.uk

visions of Palestine

Behind the Wall
by Susannah Tarbush

At the Visions of Palestine evening in the Royal Geographic Society last Tuesday, journalist Lauren Booth – half sister of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie – spoke with passion about her recent first-ever visit to the West Bank and Gaza.

The bouncy journalist, who writes, inter alia, for the Mail on Sunday, New Statesman, and Observer, read from the diary she kept on her trip – expressing for example her amazement at the size of Israeli settlements, and her dismay at the sight of the town of Kalkilya surrounded by the so-called security wall and barbed wire, making the Palestinians like foreigners in their own land.

She found Nablus “stunning”, and fell in love with Ramallah, “the Beverly Hills of the occupied territories” where she felt “a lot safer than in the streets of Haringey” (a borough of London known for its guns and street crime). Throughout her trip she was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Palestinians.

Visions of Palestine was organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and raised funds for four charities. It was chaired by the journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who is a columnist in the Independent, a frequent commentator on radio and TV, and the author of several books.

The 20-year-old Palestinian singer Shadia Mansour, dressed in a traditional embroidered Palestinian dress, added a musical flavour to the evening with her unaccompanied singing.

Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, whose work has been published in literary magazines in the Arab world, read one of her short stories. She has twice been awarded the Young Writer’s Award – Palestine by the A M Qattan Foundation.

British photographer Tom Craig displayed on a screen some of the photographs he took in Gaza while accompanying the actor Daniel Day-Lewis as part of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project. Day-Lewis’s article on Gaza and Craig’s photographs were published in the Sunday Times colour magazine a few weeks ago.

During their visit Day-Lewis and Craig saw the work MSF is doing to help traumatised children. Craig’s photographs are full of scenes of rubble and shattered buildings, and of children who have suffered physical and emotional damage. And yet the spirit of the people, especially the children, shines through.

Gaza was a main focus of the evening. The distinguished Gaza-born artist Laila Shawa, who has lived and worked in London for some years, presented some of her striking images based on the children and graffiti of Gaza.

Dr Eyad El-Sarraj, the Palestinian psychiatrist who is founder and medical director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, gave a humanitarian discourse on how a solution to the conflict can be achieved once Israel starts to see Palestinians as equal human beings and treats them as such.

Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner showed extracts from two films. One was his latest documentary, “The Concrete Curtain”, in which he looks at the impact of Israel’s separation barrier on Palestinian life in Jerusalem.

The other film was Tama Goldschmidt’s “Qalandiya Checkpoint Report” which conveys the frightening crush of Palestinian women and children struggling to get through the turnstile which is the entrance to their refugee camp while Israeli soldiers look on.

At the end of the evening a visibly moved Yasmin Alibhai Brown told the Palestinians: “I am absolutely humbled by your struggle and what you go through. I salute your courage and your spirit.”

Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005

Arab blogging catches on

Blogging Their Way
by Susannah Tarbush

If anyone wanted proof of the increasing attention being paid in the West to the views of Arab bloggers, they need only have listened to last Sunday’s edition of the BBC radio current affairs series Broadcasting House.

In his report from Cairo on the political situation in Egypt, the BBC correspondent chose to interview not a mainstream analyst or politician, but a prominent blogger known only as “Big Pharaoh”.

Big Pharaoh is just one of a growing band of Arab bloggers whose blogs are widely followed and commented on by other bloggers and the media. Blogging in the Arab world has come a long way since Iraqi “Salam Pax” became the first internationally known Arab blogger after starting his blog in September 2002.

Word of Salam Pax’s blog spread quickly around the internet, and he gained a huge readership. He was eventually invited to be a columnist for the London-based Guardian newspaper, and Atlantic Books and Guardian Books jointly published the book of his blog.

Now Salam Pax makes regular film contributions to BBC TV’s Newsnight, and in February he won the innovation award from Britain’s Royal Television Society.

Arabs, particularly members of the techno-savvy younger generation, have become enthusiastic users of services such as Blogger and Live Journal through which a blog can be set up free of charge. The blogger can disclose as much or as little about their identity as they wish, which increases the sense of freedom in expressing their views in their online diaries. But at the same time the use of pseudonyms can create suspicions about who is “really behind” a particular blog.

The number of Iraqi blogs has mushroomed over the past two years, and they play a unique role in giving readers an insight into what life is like in different parts of the country, at a time when it has become very difficult for Western journalists to get around.

There are sizeable blogger communities in a number of other countries, such as Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt. Sites such as Jordan Planet and Bahrain blogs have links to numerous blogs.

The importance of blogging in encouraging freedom of expression has led Reporters sans Frontieres (English name Reporters Without Borders) to organise the Freedom Blog Awards in partnership with Deutsche Welle.

Sixty blogs have been chosen divided into six geographical categories, and internet users can vote by the closing date of 1 June, with the results announced two weeks later.

One category is devoted to Iranian blogs, and no fewer than 21 of the 60 blogs up for voting are in Farsi. In the Middle Eastern and African category, there are eight Arab blogs - three of them in Arabic, three in English and two in French. There are two blogs from Bahrain, two from Egypt and one each from Morocco, the UAE, Tunisia and Iraq.

Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005

Sunday, May 01, 2005

waiting for mordechai

© Jenny Morgan

pro-Vanunu demonstrator with gag Posted by Hello

Waiting for Mordechai
by Susannah Tarbush

The tense and drama-filled days surrounding the release of Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from prison last April are the focus of “Waiting for Mordechai”, the latest film by London-based filmmaker Jenny Morgan.

Morgan filmed, directed and produced “Waiting for Mordechai”, which follows a group of international campaigners who arrived in Israel a few days before Vanunu’s release from Ashkelon prison on 21 April. She brings humanity, integrity and the eye of an artist to her 30-minute film.

The campaigners fought during Vanunu’s 18 years in prison (11 ½ of them in solitary confinement) for his release, and for a nuclear-free Middle East. In London, they held a weekly vigil outside the Israeli Embassy from 1992, and organised various fund-raising events.

“Waiting for Mordechai” had its first screening at London International Film School in Covent Garden in early February, and was shown on 21 March at a meeting in the House of Lords organised by the Campaign to Free Vanunu. It will be screened in West London on 12 April at a meeting organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The campaigners were harassed by security personnel when they landed in Israel. Among 11 people delayed at the airport were British actress Susannah York and Liberal Democrat MP Colin Breed.

On the day of Vanunu’s release, the campaigners joined the crowd outside the prison. Many in the crowd were extremely hostile to Vanunu. Some hoped he would be killed, and posters of him were set alight.
Vanunu’s release was not the end of his ordeal. The film records Vanunu’s brother, Meir, learning shortly before his release that he was to be subject to tough restrictions, including bans on leaving Israel and speaking to the media.

Now Vanunu is facing trial, accused of violating some of the restrictions. The first court hearing will be held on 6 April.
An international delegation is travelling to Israel on 16 April to mark the first anniversary of Vanunu’s release, and to support him over his trial. The coordinator of the British Campaign, Ernest Rodker, told Saudi Gazette that the delegation will try to go to Dimona nuclear reactor where Vanunu worked, and where he secretly took photographs. “It is very difficult to get permission, but we hope to get to Dimona if we can,” he said.

The final scenes of the film (shot by Adeline O’Keeffe) show Vanunu after his release in the guest house at St George’s Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem where he has lived ever since (he had converted to Christianity before his arrest). He was recently elected rector of Glasgow University, Scotland.

At the end of the film Vanunu says:. “The Israel government continue to pursue me, don’t want to let me go free after 18 years. I don’t have any more secrets, so the Israeli government should realise this case is over, dead – they should let me go.”

The film is available on DVD and video, and clips can be downloaded, from the London-based distributor Journeyman Pictures at: http://www.journeyman.tv/

Saudi Gazette
5 April 2005

©Jenny Morgan

anti-Vanunu demonstrator burns poster Posted by Hello