Reem Kelani at the Tabernacle

On 22 November 2012, Reem Kelani performed in concert at the Tabernacle as part of the third annual Nour Festival. Her band on that occasion comprised Bruno Heinen on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass, and Antonio Fusco on drums and percussion. There was also a special guest appearance by the acclaimed Palestinian ‘oud player Tamer Abu Ghazaleh.

The sell-out audience gave a standing ovation. With great foresight, the concert was recorded and four years later the CD “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle” was released.

Aser el-Saqqa is the curator of the music programme of Nour 2016. Aser had the brilliant idea of asking Reem to return to the Tabernacle, to celebrate the launch of her new CD and as a special performance to herald the Nour 2016 festival programme.

So it was that, on the evening of Wednesday, 12 October, I found myself once again at the Tabernacle. There was a great buzz of anticipation in the air. The online TV company al-Araby was there, interviewing Reem and other key figures, and filming the concert. The merchandise stall was doing brisk trade with Reem’s CDs and also had on display the Nour Festival programme, which was hot off the press and eagerly seized upon by all present.

At 7.45pm, Aser el-Saqqa took up the microphone to welcome to the stage Reem and her trio – the familiar figures of Antonio Fusco, Bruno Heinen, and Ryan Trebilcock. They were greeted with thunderous applause, which echoed around the unique setting that is the Tabernacle auditorium.

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Reem Kelani performing at Nour Festival 2016 © Jose Ramón Caamaño

However, this was to be no mere reprise of the 2012 concert. Indeed, at the outset Reem announced that she would perform new songs, including some she had written herself. As the evening unfolded, we were led on a musical journey that took us from Palestine, Syria and Jordan to Kuwait, and from Nubia in northern Sudan to Egypt.

Reem’s introductions to each song were fascinating, and overall formed a compelling mosaic history of the music of the MENA region over the past century. The repertoire ranged from Reem’s original song Al-Shahbaa’ (Aleppo) to the traditional Palestinian song Ya Ghzayyel (O Little Gazelle); from Abdul-Aziz al-Basri’s Ana al-Baareha (Last Night) to Ya Tali’een el-Jabal (Going up the Mountain); from the traditional Jordanian song Hayyid ‘An el-Jayshi! (Stay Away from the Army!) to another original song by Reem, Lima Uhibbuha? (Why Do I Love Her?). The concert closed with a spirited rendition of Mama Don’t Allow, which brought the house down.

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Reem Kelani performing at Nour Festival 2016 © Jose Ramón Caamaño

As I noted above, this concert was partly to celebrate the CD “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle”. It is more than fortuitous that this evening’s concert was also recorded. Who knows what the future has in store? Perhaps we will all have occasion to assemble once again – this time to celebrate the release of “Reem Kelani Live at the Tabernacle – 2016”.

There could have been no more fitting opening to the Nour Festival of Arts 2016. It sets up everything perfectly for seventeen days of festivities across Kensington and Chelsea, starting on 21 October.

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