reem kelani: biography
For more than a decade, Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster Reem Kelani has been working with some of the best British Jazz musicians, introducing them to and training them in Arabic music. She has toured extensively with her band, in the UK and internationally.
Reem has also brought musicians together, extending her UK based line-up on international tours to include musicians from Syria, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, the US & Canada.
Reem’s profile in the Arab and non Arab world continues to grow, all the more to her credit as an unsigned artist who has preserved her independence, musically, spiritually and politically.
Following her acclaimed British Council tour in Syria in 2007, Reem's “Anglo-Syrian” band performed at Jableh Festival, Lattakia in July 2009, in south-east Turkey in October 2009, at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November 2010, and at World Music Shanghai in May 2011.
a) Exceptional Turkish collective Kardes Türküler in 2009 and again in 2014;
b) Turkish Roma clarinet virtuoso Selim Sesler in 2008;
c) “From Palestine to Portugal” with Portuguese Fado singer Liana in 2008. A first of its kind, the project combined the poetry of Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish and Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago;
d) Duo Jazz project with the exceptional Jazz pianist Bruno Heinen - ongoing.
a) Reem co-composed Cry Palestine, a 60 minute work, alongside Harvey Brough and Justin Butcher, and the piece received its premiere in December 2013, in which Reem performed as the soloist alongside Vox Holloway choir;
b) Reem’s acclaimed composition “Paradise in Strangers” with the Beating Wing Orchestra, an ensemble of locally based refugee musicians was commissioned by Manchester International Festival in 2007.
“If anyone can do it, that person is Reem Kelani. She has a genius for finding the universal in the particular. Her album, Sprinting Gazelle, introduced jazz musicians to Middle Eastern modes and was pure and profound. The 'f' word ('fusion') doesn't even apply.” Mike Butler, The Metro
a) The Arts Council of England 2013. Reem was awarded funding for her work on Classical Egyptian Music, encompassing specialist training in Cairo and a programme of workshops in schools and with community groups across the UK;
b) BBC Alba’s A’Gharaids series, featuring a special collaboration by Reem Kelani and Gaelic singer Catriona Watt, nominated for the Scottish Traditional Music Awards 2009;
c) Arab-British Culture and Society Award Nomination 2008 – a special commendation for Reem’s “notable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab people”;
d) Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Fund Nomination, 2007;
e) Glastonbury Unsigned Bands finalist 2005.
Albumsa) “Celebrating Subversion - The Anti-Capitalist Roadshow“, 2012.
Label: Fuse Records
The ACR is a collective of singers and songwriters including Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Reem Kelani, Sandra Kerr, Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson, Janet Russell, Peggy Seeger, Jim Woodland plus one (there is only one) socialist magician, Ian Saville. Reem contributed two songs to this joint album: the first, Babour Zammar, a popular Tunisian anthem, and Song of the Olive Tree in which she sings in a duo with the song's author, Leon Rosselson.
b) “Sprinting Gazelle - Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora”
Label: Fuse Records
Best of 2006: Financial Times, Time Out & New Internationalist
More than 50 first class reviews from across the world.
“A lovely stillness pervades this album, whose illuminating English-Arabic liner notes are a work of art in themselves.” Michael Church, BBC Music Magazine
Reem is currently working on several album projects:
a) Her magnum opus. A tribute to the great Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892 - 1923). She has been working on this project for the past decade, conducting field trips to Egypt, Syria and Turkey as part of her research. Some of the new songs already form part of Reem’s live repertoire;
b) A live album based on a recording of her memorable concert at the Tabernacle, London W11, in November 2012 as part of the Nour Festival. This album is due for release in mid 2014;
c) An EP comprising a small number of songs based on the poetry of the Palestinian poet Ibrahim Touqan.
“I thought, there she is, Reem Kelani, pouring every milligram of her being into this performance, her audience rapt, transported before her, and there's this precious, non-violent force transmuting a mouthful of air into articulate energy, an energy that evokes sympathetic vibrations through whole communities, giving hope and strength, lifting human spirits from out of their dark times.” Brian Robinson, Musicweaver
“Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was a new name in my world, but the woman was so endearing I'll never forget her.” Gary Bannister, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, Seattle
“What I found here was more than just mere singing. I saw the amazing presence of this singer, her towering stance and appearance on stage, her interaction with the band and with the audience.” Rashed Issa, as-Safir, Syria & Lebanon
“When she told me earlier that she did not see any difference between jazz and Arabic music, it sounded a stretch; here, for a moment, the two spin together so fast they sound like one.” David Honigmann, Financial Times
Born in Manchester, England, and brought up in Kuwait, Reem qualified as a biologist in 1986 at Kuwait University. Upon her graduation and before switching to a full-time career in music, she worked for two years as an assistant marine researcher for Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR) and two years in research management for the Vice Rector of Research at Kuwait University. Reem is also a literary translator: she assisted her father Dr. Yousef Kelani in the English-Arabic translation of Manfred Ullman’s seminal book ‘Islamic Medicine’ in 1980 and she currently works with the likes of literary editor and historian Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi. The sleeve notes of Reem’s Sprinting Gazelle CD are another example of her translation work.
the grove dictionary of music and musicians
For the chapter entitled Palestinian Music, including Reem's biography, go directly to the Grove Dictionary website: www.grovemusic.com. Please note that the Grove uses the phonetic [transliterated] spelling of Reem's name: Kilani, Riim Yusuf