Labour2Palestine co-director Martin Linton (L) and Labour MP Andy Slaughter
The Palestine Night benefit held by Labour2Palestine last Tuesday took place at the legendary 100 Club at 100 Oxford Street, one of the oldest jazz venues in London. The venue proved a most congenial setting for an evening which featured music from Palestinian and other performers, Palestinian food, and sales of CDs and literature. The basement club was packed out and the benefit, which included a collection among audience members, succeeded in raising £2,725.
Labour2Palestine's mission is to increase understand of Palestine in the Labour Party by organising visits there. "Come to the West Bank for one of our visits and help to awaken the sleeping consciousness of the British public, and even many parts of the Labour Party, to what is going on in Palestine," said co-director of Labour2Palestine and compere of the evening Martin Linton, a former Labour MP and Guardian journalist. The audience included 30 to 40 delegates who had been on Labour2Palestine visits and several of the 15 who are to leave on Thursday on the next trip.
Linton recounted how the benefit came to be held at the 100 Club. When activist Elizabeth Dudley was walking to work one morning, a bull terrier sank its teeth into her leg. She needed to go to hospital for stitches and was advised by the doctor to rest for a week. But Elizabeth was due to go the West Bank two days later with a Labour2Palestine delegation, and she insisted on ignoring the doctor's advice and going ahead with her visit.
On Elizabeth's return from Palestine the dog's owner Jeff Horton contacted her and explained that he also owned the 100 Club. He asked whether she would like a free hire of the Club to make amends for his dog's bite. Elizabeth leapt at the chance, and donated her free hire to Labour2Palestine.
(Read here an interview with Jeff Horton in which he talks of his strenuous efforts to keep the iconic venue from closure, with the help of major music artists).
Elizabeth was one of the organisers of the Palestine Night, along with Martin Linton, Sara Apps and Paul Hughes-Smith. Sara Apps, co-director of Labour2Palestine, is a Scottish Londoner and human rights campaigner who works for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and co-founded Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. (Sara also happens to be married to Martin Linton.) Paul Hughes-Smith, who worked for a long time in production at BBC TV and has been involved in encouraging the appreciation in the UK of Palestinian, Yemeni and other Arab music, is a dedicated activist on Palestine. He was instrumental in organising the music content of the benefit.
Linton gave a vote of thanks to all those who made the evening possible, including those performers who gave their services free. He also bade farewell to Palestinian Raed Jabari who, as the first Shaath scholar, had spent three months in the UK as the guest of Labour2Palestine and was about to return to Hebron. The money raised during the benefit evening will partly go towards funding another Palestinian for a three-month visit to London, probably later this year.
During his time in the UK Jabari worked in the office of Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, and Shadow Justice Minister. He also spoke at 25 Labour Party meetings up and down the country.
In his address to the audience Slaughter said nobody has been as effective as Martin Linton, acting from the grassroots, in bringing the issue of Palestine to the attention of a wider group of people within the Labour movement and beyond. "One thing you can say about Martin is he's action not words: he's a person who just gets on with the job. I'm sorry he isn't in the House of Commons still, but our loss is certainly Palestine's gain."
Slaughter thanked Jabari for his stint working in his office, and said as a fluent English speaker who studied at Manchester University he "probably knows rather more what goes on here than I do. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to work int he heart of parliament and to find out how we do things here." Jabari had also been a very good ambassador for Palestine: "There's nothing better than hearing from the horse's mouth exactly what is going on from people who know and experience it every day." Slaughter presented Jabari with a pair of House of Commons gold-plated cufflinks, one reading 'Ayes' and the other 'Noes': "Aye for Palestine and No for occupation" quipped Slaughter. In reply Jabari said he had learnt a lot from his time working in Slaughter's office.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North
In an address later in the evening Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn praised Martin, Sara and their team for all they are doing "to ensure there is "a really strong lobby in support of Palestine and Palestinian rights, and to make people in this country understand what it's like to live three and four generations under occupation with the inability to travel, lead a normal life, and all the things we take for granted."
Corbyn has visited Gaza, the West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps many times. "Every time I go I feel more depressed, and every time I come back I feel more angry, and ever more determined to do more and more and more until justice arrives for the Palestinian people." Through taking people out to Palestine, Labour2Palestine has helped them understand what life is like there: the Wall, the checkpoints, the theft of water, the imprisonment of children, the imprisonment of elected parliamentarians from Palestine, and the sheer misery of so many people's lives.
"It has opened things up a lot and also, despite the best efforts of the Home Office, Martin also managed to bring a lot of guests here and they in turn have been able to engage with people throughout this country".
Corbyn added: "We are turning opinion round very very fast on the issue of Palestine and of justice. If we want peace in the Middle East it will only be achieved when there is real justice, a real place in the sun, a real place in the world, real recognition, for the Palestinian people and their heroic struggle."
The music content of the evening began with a performance multicultural collective RAAST which performs music from the Middle East and elsewhere. By the time I arrived at the 100 Club RAAST was coming to the end of its performance. The collective received an enthusiastic response from the audience crowding the venue.
A major attraction of Palestine Night was the renowned Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani , rightly introduced by Linton as "incomparable". Kelani performed a captivating set of songs with the classically-trained young jazz pianist Bruno Heinen. Kelani and Heinen have worked together for a number of years, and have developed a remarkably fruitful musical rapport.
Their performance started in a dramatic fashion with Bruno playing an introductory turbulent, clashing series of chords and notes. Reem then intoned: On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. Two trainee Muslim clergymen celebrated Armistice Day thinking that Woodrow Wilson would keep his promise and grant Egypt independence. Of course that was never to be." These two Muslim clergymen, are intoxicated, torn between their faith and their love of life, between East and West."
She broke into a rousing, jazzy and inventive rendition of The Preachers' Anthem, her arrangement of the song written in the voice of the two Muslim clergymen by the great Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1823) and lyricist Badi' Khairi. Kelani's forthcoming album, on which she has been working for some nine years, is devoted to the compositions of Darwish. Her arrangement of The Preachers' Anthem was punctuated by playful vocal effects, the lyrics switching between Arabic and English and ending with a snatch of the First World War song "It's a long way to Tipperary!" Speaking about the challenges of arranging the song, Kelani said she has listened at the British Library's National Sound Archive to recordings of infantry jazz bands, which influenced Darwish's music and her arrangement.
Reem Kelani flags up her musical message
The benefit evening marked Kelani's first-ever performance in England of the strikingly beautiful and haunting Munyati, a song with music by Sayyid Darwish (she and Heinen had previously performed it at Seattle Conservatory of Music). The writer of the lyrics is unknown. Kelani said: "I'm seemingly taking you back to Egypt but also to Muslim Spain where this particular style of singing developed, called muwashshah". The time signature was 14/4. There was laughter when Kelani described the song: "It's Muslim Spain meeting Baroque meeting Jazz musician meeting a Palestinian crazy woman."
This was followed by The Doormen's Anthem, with music by Sayyid Darwish and lyrics by Amin Sidqi. This song on a Nubian theme is an example of Darwish's writing of many songs about marginalised people.
Ghayati has lyrics by Ibrahim Touqan. Noting that the song was written almost 100 years ago, Kelani saw it as a riposte to Golda's Meir's assertion that there is no such thing as Palestinians or their identity. She and Heinen rounded off the set with Darwish's The Porters' Anthem with lyrics by Khairi. The audience clapped along, and exploded into applause, calls and whistles at the end, while Kelani was presented with a bouquet.
Heinen is gaining increased recognition as one of Britain's most talented young jazz musicians. Both his parents performed with the late German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Heinen's new CD Tierkreis (meaning Zodiac), a reinterpretation of Stockhausen's work of that title, has garnered some excellent reviews (hear some samples here).
To round off the evening there was a session of jazz standards and reggae by the Bruno Heinen Quartet, with Heinen appearing alongside Gary Williams on drums, Larry Bartley on double bass and Michael Winawer on guitar. The music was just right for late evening in a jazz club and people began to dance the rest of the night away.
report and pictures by Susannah Tarbush
Michael Winawer, Larry Bartley and Gary Williams