Reem Kelani, the Palestinian singer, musicologist and broadcaster was born in England, brought up in Kuwait and now lives in London. Working in the Diaspora, Reem has introduced countless non-Arab musicians to Arabic and Palestinian music.
Reem's reputation as an artist for whom her independence is an article of faith, musically, spiritually and politically, extends across the Arab and the non Arab worlds.
She has led major tours with her band to the UAE (2000), Greece (2000 & 2006), Belgium (2006 & 2008), Syria (2007 & 2009), Turkey (2005 & 2008), Ireland (2010), China (2010 & 2011), Seattle (2008 & 2013) and Germany (2006 & 2016).
Reem has also performed solo and with local musicians in major concerts in Kuwait (1988 & 1989), Los Angeles (1992 & 1993), Palestine (1993 & 2000), Lebanon (1998), and Canada (1993, 1994, 1999 & 2013).
* As a soloist in Sir Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater, before a packed Royal Albert Hall, and alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic choir, (2015);
* As a soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, an on-stage band and a choir of 250 in Norway (2014);
* Joint concerts with the exceptional Turkish collective Kardes Türküler (2009 and 2014);
* Reem co-composed Cry Palestine, a 60 minute work, alongside Harvey Brough and Justin Butcher. The piece received its premiere in December 2013, in which Reem performed as the soloist alongside Vox Holloway choir;
* From a leading Palestinian family, with a pedigree Muslim lineage, Reem was given the honour by Greenbelt Festival of leading the entire congregation in song at its Sunday service (2009);
* Joint concert with the late Turkish Roma clarinet virtuoso Selim Sesler (2008);
* "From Palestine to Portugal" with Portuguese Fado singer Liana (2008), a unique mixing of Arabic and Portuguese voices, of Fado and Arabic music, and of the verse of Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, and Portuguese Nobel laureate, Jose Saramago;
* Duo Jazz project with the outstanding Jazz pianist Bruno Heinen (from 2007);
* Reem composed "Paradise in Strangers" for and led the Beating Wing Orchestra, an ensemble of locally based refugee musicians, in a performance at Manchester International Festival (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
b) Arab-British Culture and Society Award, 2017;
b) Asian Women's Awards (Arts & Culture), 2017;
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) Arab-British Culture and Society Award, 2013 – a special commendation for Reem’s “notable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab people”;
c) 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;
d) Arab-British Culture and Society Award, 2008 – a special commendation for Reem’s “notable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab people”;
e) Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Fund, 2007;
f) Glastonbury Unsigned Bands finalist, 2005.
Discographya) “Why Do I Love Her?“, 2019.
Label: Fuse Records
An EP of live recordings, they include: a love song from Kuwait, a traditional Palestinian song from the Galilee, a song describing Reem's anguished love for Palestine and an American blues number.
“Reem Kelani is a powerhouse of a performer, with a voice conveying a rare depth of passion and emotion."” Richard Marcus, Qantara.de, Deutsche Welle
b) “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle“, 2016.
Label: Fuse Records
The album comprises a live recording of Reem's concert at the Tabernacle, London W11, on 22 November 2012
“Kelani is more than a musician: she’s a teacher, a scholar and a broadcaster. She is also a force of nature, reminiscent in some ways of the Argentinian great Mercedes Sosa.” Mahir Ali, The Australian
c) “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.
d) “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's next album "This Land is Your Land" will be a celebration of diversity and difference, comprising songs from the communities within and around which Reem grew up in Kuwait. Progress on the project has been interrupted by illness and the Coronavirus pandemic, but Reem hopes to complete it in 2021.
Reem has also done a huge amount of work in the past decade on the great Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892 - 1923). She has already incorporated much of her findings and ideas in the arrangement and performance of his songs in her concerts and workshops. Her original intention was to produce an album and accompanying book, but such a major project has proved to be beyond the resources of an independent artist.
“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
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, Dr Kazem Behbehani.
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