Sprinting Gazelle Press Reviews
54. Ahram Online, Egypt, 23 February 2012
53. MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project), Washington DC, USA, 25 January 2012
52. Global Arts Central, March 2010
The opening song, As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow, is a song that dates back almost 150 years, to the time of the Ottoman Empire – and sung by women to their husbands before they went into battle. Kelani performs it as a tribute to Nazareth’s struggling ecumenical tradition. It serves as an incredibly powerful opening to an album. Her voice is the only sound, save for a hauntingly ominous droning in the background. The lyrics, performed in Arabic, strike particular resonance: “Will anyone help us, they cried? Will anyone relieve our pain? Will anyone share our burden? So heavy it slides off our backs.”
Originally this pain was felt by the women who had to say goodbye to their loved ones. Now it is a pain felt by the Palestinian people, something As Nazarene… captures perfectly.
The Cameleer Tormented My Heart reminds Kelani of the refugee camps of Lebanon. In sound it reminds me of an Irish folk song, with its repetitive rhythmic pattern. The Cameleer whips itself into a frenzy and has less of the sorrow that accompanied the opener. A song written for parting loved ones, Kelani invokes the same passion one would imagine it having when performed for the first time.
Kelani’s homage to Tawfiq Zayyad, the writer and resistance poet, in Galilean Lullaby is reminiscent of an early twentieth century ballad. Lines such as, “Do tell our loved ones who’ve moved away, that for anyone, hardship never lasts forever”, are set against melancholic lounge music – that adds a sense of romanticism to the song.
There is a definite change of pace in A Baker’s Dozen, entitled due to its 13 beat sections. The album’s producer referred to the unusual pattern as similar to a Lancashire baker’s dozen. The lyrics are similarly powerful, and the mood similarly tense to the rest of the album, despite the faster, funkier beat. The song builds to an anthemic crescendo, with drums, double bass and violin leading to an abrupt and climactic ending.
Kelani wrote the music to Mawwaal in 1992 for a BBC documentary on the massacre of Lebanese refugees a decade earlier. The words come from the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is mentioned earlier. The English subtitles call it ‘Variations on Loss’ and this captures the style of the song perfectly: a heartbroken ballad in the western tradition. Indeed this song is the most western sounding on the album.
Although recorded in England, Sprinting Gazelle perfectly captures the compassion and sadness that Reem Kelani feels for her people in the Middle East. It is a beautiful and touching record. Many of the lyrics may be borrowed from Arabic folklore, but their meaning, and the passion with which they are performed, make them hugely relevant and noticeably affecting. William Mathieson
51. Instrumental Musician, February 2010
The opening track demonstrates the complexity of the vocal style from this region, and Kelani recreates these with ease. Vocal trills and leaps as well as sustained notes that stand alone against a drone accompaniment are the highlight of the opening.
The orchestration is increased for The Cameleer Tormented My Heart. Though the instrumentation and arrangement are refined, the track retains an attractive raw quality that has a compelling groove. Many tracks feature the authentic instruments such as the yarghul (similar to a clarinet but with two pipes), nay (end-blown flute), and daf (open drum with metallic ringlets). It is interesting to hear them in ensembles that sometimes include piano, saxophone, and string quartet.
Several tracks demonstrate the mix of Western musics. Galilean Lullaby finds the folk elements along with instrumentation and moods found in jazz and acoustic rock ensembles. Above this, the vocal presents the lyric with microtonal slides and goes between melismatic decorations, melody, and recitation. During Il Hamdillah, Kelani sings sections in portamento leaps that would be the envy of a Moog synthesizer.
The album is an enjoyable presentation that boasts the complex arrangements this music is capable of in a way that remains focused and entertaining throughout.
50. Ramadan Nights, Nablus, Palestine, 10 September 2009
Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2009
Kelani's voice shines through from all directions when you listen to this album. Despite living in the Diaspora, this daughter of Palestine, her father hailing from Ya'abad and her mother from Nazareth, Kelani remains authentic in her arrangements of Palestinian traditional music as well as in her settings of Palestinian resistance poetry. In so doing, she preserves her roots whilst simultaneously introducing the Palestinian musical narrative to Western listeners. Siham Abu-Ghazaleh
49. The No-Nonsense Guide to World Music, New Internationalist, April 2009Music does not exist in a vacuum. It is created out of communities, knowledge and resource, it is – except in the most rare cases – designed to be listened to. But even this is not so simple. What are you singing? And in doing so, what are you representing?
In 2006, Reem Kelani, the London-based Palestinian singer and composer, recorded (and financed) a wonderfully accomplished debut album called Sprinting Gazelle (Fuse). It wasn’t her first recording: Kelani, who trained as a marine biologist before taking up music as a profession, had long been a guest presence on other people’s jazz albums. She was no ingénue and much thought went into the album’s presentation and content. The cover of Sprinting Gazelle features a gazelle (“reem” in Arabic); there is rue, the herb with which Nazareth olives – the hometown of Kelani’s mother, are always pressed; the background shows a creamy white fabric covered in cross stitch, a pattern local to Galilee.
Sprinting Gazelle’s ten songs include traditional Palestinian songs (many gathered in refugee camps) that predate 1948 and contemporary songs and lyrics from writers (including such prominent ones as Mahmoud Darwish and Salma Khadra Jayyusi) who were born before 1948 in the land that is now Israel. The album’s catalogue number is, significantly, the number 48. And yet, Kelani acknowledges, she was criticised by some within Palestine for not draping the album in the colours of the Palestinian flag or indulging in the kind of belligerent imagery – what she terms “emotional pornography” – that adorns the sleeves of so much ‘political’ music from Israel and Palestine. It’s a fraught situation: to be an artist is to be seized upon by those who want to claim (or conversely, deny) you for their own aims.
Sprinting Gazelle is an album in which the personal merges with the political, not because Kelani aligns herself with any faction (she is careful not to), but because of the third “P” word: Palestine. The album’s subtitle Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora is a political statement in so much as anything to do with the history and contemporary existence and constitution of Palestine is political. “Music defines a community, but conversely, the community makes the music,” Kelani points out. “Israelis deny there is something called Palestinian music. When you deny my existence it is a lot worse than victimising me. When you victimise me, you acknowledge that I’m there, although I might be a subspecies – like Hitler did with the Jews. He considered them as a subspecies, subhuman. But if you deny my music, you deny my existence. The good side of this is that you realise that you’re not a victim – because you don’t exist. And not feeling a victim is something quite empowering. When I say I am not a victim, I’m fearless.
“The whole point is to say that there is something called the Palestinian musical cultural narrative. When I say that I recorded Sprinting Gazelle for selfish reasons, I do not mean for fame and profit,” Kelani continues. “I needed to do it to say that I existed.”
To resist those who want to pull Sprinting Gazelle one way or another is a brave thing to do. And it is an album with resonances that stretch back into history. (Its opening song, for example, “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” was sung by women as their menfolk were conscripted into the Ottoman army.) And yet even so, the album navigates a minefield. For all its celebrations of memory and resilience, it’s also a lament for what once was – a cultural Palestinianism, in which Christian, Jewish and Muslim threads came together – and will be no more. Louise Gray ©
48. LangSource Reviews of Language and Culture Resources, USA, 2008
Editorial Board Review
Kelani's album combines Palestinian music and jazz that results in a tantalizingly harmonious celebration of centuries of shared Palestinian inter-religious culture and history. From the music and lyrics, the listener hears a rejection of self-pity and reactionary violence.
47. Earshot Jazz magazine, Seattle, USA, May 2008
Since its inception, jazz has appealed to international audiences, and musicians from around the world have used jazz to express their unique artistic visions. Palestinian vocalist Reem Kelani's music, which merges jazz with traditional Arabic and Palestinian song, is no exception. This month Kelani makes her United States premiere with a series of performances at the Seattle International Children's Festival.
Born in Manchester, England and raised in Kuwait, Kelani listened to jazz standards and Arabic movie soundtracks as a child. In her early twenties, she became fascinated with the traditional songs of Palestinian women, which she learned while recording musicians in the refugee camps and villages of the West Bank and Lebanon. This was not an easy task. First, Kelani, who is based in London, had to find Palestinian women familiar with the old repertoire. Then she had to persuade them to sing. Many of her subjects had not sung traditional music in decades because it reminded them of their past lives and painful experiences as refugees. By listening to their songs, however, Kelani reconnected with her Palestinian identity and found inspiration for her own music.
Her debut album, "Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" (2006), is a collection of traditional songs, but with a modern twist. Not surprisingly, she is accompanied by Arab musicians. Less expected is the quartet of jazz musicians that joins them. By infusing her arrangements with jazz, Kelani is able to take the traditional Palestinian folk songs, re-envision them, and make them her own. In the process, she stretches the boundaries of both jazz and Arabic music to create something new and different.
At first glance, pairing Arabic music with jazz might seem odd. Both rely heavily upon improvisation and audience participation, and both vocal techniques incorporate singing without words. When asked why, as an Arab woman, she performs jazz, Kelani simply responds: "Because I'm an Arab, I play jazz".
In addition to her activities as a musician and ethnographer, Kelani is also a seasoned radio broadcaster and has worked extensively with school children, women's groups, and community choirs. Taken together, these experiences make her a natural addition to the Seattle International Children's Festival, one of the only major cultural events for young audiences that celebrates world cultures through the performing arts. Elaine Hayes
46. The Metro, 17 October 2007
Reem Kelani is something of an expert in crossing boundaries, in music and in life. Born in Manchester to a mother from Nazareth and a father from Jenin, Kelani was raised in Kuwait – where she listened to Fred Astaire and Lebanese singer Fairouz – and, later, gathered folk songs from women in Lebanese and Palestinian refugee camps. Her debut album, Sprinting Gazelle, contains some of these songs, along with Kelani’s own settings of poems by prominent Palestinian poets, lovingly translated in the album’s booklet.
Sprinting Gazelle is an impressive piece of work, a labour of love fuelled by tenderness and fury. The two extremes are ever present in Kelani’s astonishing voice, which goes from rapture to pain, or suggests both at once. To listen to track one of Sprinting Gazelle (As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow), a soaring incantation above a bass drone, is to be aware that one is in the presence of greatness. Kelani possesses a gravitas beyond the reach of the best. The sensuality is hair-raising. As she is fond of saying, she’s all for the Passion, it’s the Crucifixion she doesn’t like. Mike Butler
45. Gulf Air Magazine, October 2007
Kelani trained as a marine biologist, and there is an air of the scientist about the way in which she archives songs from around the world. “I am a researcher, whether it’s zoology or ethnomusicology. It’s a process of study and discovery.”
The fruits of these studies can be found on her acclaimed debut album Sprinting Gazelle, a collection of Palestinian and Arabic lullabies, wedding songs, love ballads and Sufi mantras, along with dramatic melodies written to lyrics by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Although meticulously researched, there is nothing scholarly or scientific about her music. The songs are passionately delivered: Kelani’s remarkable voice can be boisterous or meditative, despairing or joyous; while the instrumental backing is subtly coloured with jazz, classical chamber music and flamenco. John Lewis
44. FOLC (review no.2), Spain, September 2007
Translated from Catalan to Spanish by Brigitte Vasallo. Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
With her debut solo album, London-based Reem Kelani has placed her name amongst the great singers of the Mediterranean. The album “Sprinting Gazelle” (Fuse Records CFCD048, 2006) is a very interesting approach to traditional Palestinian music with a contemporary touch, something that has been rarely attempted in Arabic music. This is intense and emotional work that revolves around a central theme: culture, not just land, is proof of a people’s existence.
This album is the fruit of many years’ work, researching traditional songs in Palestinian refugee camps. Brigitte Vasallo
43. FOLC (review no.1), Spain, March 2007
Translated from Catalan to Spanish by Brigitte Vasallo. Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2007
British of Palestinian origin, researcher of the musical traditions of her motherland, the singer Reem Kelani has taken lyrical borrowings from her preferred poets to create Sprinting Gazelle, a work in which, in a personal and emotional way, she combines her impressive voice with the rhythms of modern jazz and traditional Arabic music and sings words of celebration and mourning. It inspires feelings of happiness and pain. We should also point out Kelani’s work on the accompanying booklet, which contains detailed and informative notes which go far beyond the usual output of record labels or of simple chronologies. As brilliant as a mediterranean sky on a clear day. Jordi Urpí
42. Global Rhythm, USA, 16 March 2007
The debut album from this Palestinian singer/percussionist, as much a researcher of Palestinian music as a performer, is breathtaking.
Featuring an ensemble of players from around the globe, and lyrics from singers and poets throughout the vast Palestinian diaspora, Kelani has created an album of “world” music in the most honest sense. One listen to the album’s opener, “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow”— a droning acappella song women sang as their men marched off to join the Ottoman army—reveals a voice of authority and vulnerability. The band’s jazz chops do nothing to take away from Kelani’s voice, or her respect from the lyricists. However, Sprinting Gazelle is at its best on tracks like “The Cameleer Tormented My Heart,” which the singer heard in Lebanese refugee camps for Palestinian women. Clapping and hand percussion lay the foundation for bobbing clarinet and violin, over which Kelani’s voice keens beautifully. Bruce Miller
41. The Listener, New Zealand, 10 – 16 March 2007
SPRINTING GAZELLE, Reem Kelani. CFCD048 (Southbound). These 10 tracks totalling 74 minutes are Palestinian. Percussion and nasal wind instruments are Arabic, Palestinian, Persian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Bedouin. They accompany Reem Kelani’s natural folk voice. The title track is sung at weddings. The ardent “The Cameleer tormented my Heart” speaks for itself. Some painful ones such as “Yafa” lament the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland to make way for Israel in 1948. The uplifting 12-minute finale, “Il-Hamdillah” with its double chorus of repetitive chants, is a field recording. The booklet has texts in English and Arabic, detailed notes, colour photos and glossary describing all instruments and performance styles. A classy, scholarly issue. Outstanding performances. Ian Dando
40. New Internationalist, – February 2007
“But for our best of 2006, no self-respecting household should be without Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle. A collection of Palestinian songs, Kelani's singing and arrangements emphasize peace and positivity for a troubled location where both qualities are often markedly lacking.”Louise Gray
39. Qantara.de, Germany, January 2007
Translated from the German by Ron Walker
Reem Kelani – "Sprinting Gazelle": "I Defend My Right to Defend My Right"
Following her widely acclaimed featured performance on Gilad Atzmon's "Exile", the British-Palestinian singer Reem Kelani has released her own debut album, establishing herself as important artist in the Palestinian musical tradition.
The music reviewer has a battery of established categories at hand with which to assess the artistic value of a piece of music. Expression, technical ability, innovation, authenticity, musical or artistic integrity, the atmosphere or mood the piece creates, and so on. But the limitations of such categories become obvious when they are applied to assessing Reem Kelani's first album, and its hidden depths are likely, ice-berg-like, to prove elusive to the application of such criteria.
"Sprinting Gazelle" is not just about music as artistic expression, it's also concerned with the (re-) vitalisation of musical traditions – in other words, with the preservation of culture. And, of course, the struggle for the preservation of culture is also a struggle for the preservation of identity. So the words of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, "I defend my right to defend my right" have been well chosen to provide a fitting epigraph for the album.
Musical riches of the Holy Land
There is, however, a danger inherent in upholding or preserving a particular (musical) tradition. For in accentuating the differences between your own and other traditions you run a strong risk of creating a superficial, one-dimensional version of your own tradition. It's a trap that Reem Kelani manages to steer well clear of, however, and in "Sprinting Gazelle" she succeeds admirably in bringing together the richly diverse facets of the musical traditions of historical Palestine into a near 75 minute recording.
The tone is set with the opening of the first track on the album, "As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow", which begins with the sound of a monotonal male-voice choir reminiscent of the liturgical chanting used in the Greek Orthodox Church. The idea for this arrangement came from Kelani’s recollections of a childhood summer visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel in Nazareth.
"I was mesmerised by the Eastern Christian chanting that I heard, which had such striking similarities with Muslim religious chanting," the singer writes in the wonderfully informative booklet which accompanies the album and provides fascinating insights into the songs and their origins.
Along with Reem Kelani's arrangements of traditional songs, around half of the songs on the album are self-penned compositions. And although each of the songs has its own distinctive and distinguishing character, the album is nevertheless an integrated marriage of contrasts, a multi-faceted, unified work of art.
So, for example, the gentle, lilting melody of "Galilean Lullaby" with its floating piano and brushed drum accompaniment and its hint of jazz ballad (in Oriental guise) is followed by the pulsing percussion of "Baker’s Dozen". Beginning with a strong percussive beat (in audacious thirteen-four time), the hypnotic bass line in a minor key is followed by a wistful violin melody, which vies with the insistent rhythmic motif of the bass clarinet. The addition of clapping hands then evokes an image of cultic ritual. Appropriately, this rendition of the song is entitled Habl el-Ghiwa, or "Pull of Seduction".
Reem Kelani's remarkable performing talents have featured in countless reviews and articles, and anyone lucky enough to have seen her live can testify to the power and intensity of a voice that holds an audience spellbound, electrified, to the very last row of the auditorium.
Kelani's debut album proves not only that she has the ability, as producer and arranger, to successfully bring her ideas to fruition, but also that she is well able to maintain her artistic independence. No label manager has been permitted to compromise her ideas, nor any slick PR man to talk her round to a more commercial marketing strategy.
Music that breathes
The grand finale to "Sprinting Gazelle" is provided by Il-Hamdillah (Giving Praise), a traditional Palestinian song whose title is repeated mantra-style by a ten-person choir. This, too, has immense suggestive power and (as the booklet informs us) is often sung in this form at Sufi Zikr devotional rituals where monks evoke events from the past.
Like the entire album, it is a captivating piece with a clarity and transparency that is only matched by the emotional depth and warmth that emanates from the music. British Guitarist Andy Summers once said that he believed that music had to breathe. And that is exactly what it does do on "Sprinting Gazelle".
More than that, Reem Kelani succeeds in preserving the musical culture of Palestine without creating any feeling that the songs are museum pieces. On the contrary, she manages to breathe new life and vitality into texts and melodies that are sometimes centuries old. On "Sprinting Gazelle", as Roger van Schaick has so aptly commented, "She doesn’t sing the music, but lives it with her whole body and soul." Lewis Gropp
38. B-Ritmos, Spain, December, 2006
Translated from Spanish © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
Reem Kelani, British of Palestinian origin, is a researcher of the musical traditions of her homeland and a quite remarkable singer. Her debut solo album “Sprinting Gazelle” is, without doubt, the record which has had the most effect on me out of all of those which have emerged from the Arab world in recent years. A combination of Jazz and traditional rhythms from the Middle East, of snappy songs and party music, of celebration and pain, songs with a strange mix of passion and reserve, of happiness and simultaneous pain. In the accompanying booklet, Reem Kelani has provided a translation of the words into English (as well as the original Arabic lyrics). In addition, there is a detailed explanation of the origins of each song, of the arrangements which she has devised, and of the poetry which inspired her or which gave her the lyrics. As with the music, her explanations are not just a series of key dates: she weaves stories in miniature about each song, about each poem, with the intention of transporting us to her world and of sharing it with us. Sprinting Gazelle is like a carpet acting as its gateway: handmade, with little stitches, utterly personal, intimate and profoundly emotional. It is one of those records which strikes you from above like a ray of light and which begs the question as to how you can live without it. Brigitte Vasallo
37. Folk Devils, Global roots and electronic music, December, 2006
The performance by Reem Kelani at Whitby’s own Musicport in 2006 is one that will be talked about and remembered for a good long while. It had everything: drama, emotion, education, humour, power, musicianship, surprises, and above all a level of musical and personal integrity that shone throughout the whole set. How often do you see not only members of the audience but also the mc, the lovely Jo Freya, brought to tears by the sheer intensity of a performance? On top of all that Reem and her partner Chris are just lovely people.
So, after that little eulogy, what’s the album all about? It is, as the cover says, a collection of Palestinian songs from Palestine and the diaspora. The album comes with extensive notes, explanation and translation. Reem, who has a voice of considerable range and power, performs these songs and poems of loss and yearning, of love and lust, joy and sadness, with, amongst others, Zoe Rahman on Piano and Oli Hayhurst on double bass. The overall effect is entrancing and enriching. The initial strangeness to European ears soon falls away, the arrangements and the vocals see to that, and then the emotional depth of this album carries you away. More than that here we have a counter to the media image of Palestinians too distressingly familiar to repeat here. Apart from enjoying the music if this album has the effect of changing that image or spurring curiosity, then good. Try a bit of the marvellously titled ‘The Cameleer Tormented My Heart.
36. Ode, USA, October 2006
England-based Palestinian singer Reem Kelani put together this collection of songs from her native country and the Diaspora. Sprinting Gazelle is pretty heavy stuff, but the emotional intensity of the performances make it a very worthwhile effort. A song formerly used by women to say goodbye to their husbands as they were forced to fight in the Ottoman army outlines a drama much older than the current crisis. Luckily there are also lighter moments, such as a lullaby from Galilee. Ton Maas
35. Emel, October 2006 (The Muslim lifestyle magazine)
For dispossessed peoples, cultural expression takes on an importance equivalent to the political struggle. The survival of everyday phenomena like food, embroidery, music and dance, assume an added urgency in the face of dispersal, statelessness and now globalisation.
Manchester-born, Kuwaiti-bred, and now London-based Kelani is a child of the diaspora but this is not obvious from her music, at least not at face value. Her (surprisingly) debut album is a compilation of ten Arabic language songs with a distinctly traditional feel, sung in either classical Arabic or the Palestinian dialect. The album is the result of years of Kelani’s research into the traditional musical forms of Palestine, but it is not simply an exercise in musical archaeology (digging up old songs and preserving them). Kelani creatively develops the material and includes original work. While five are traditional folk songs, the other five are Palestinian poetry set to music by the artist.
The first track is a farewell song women used to sing to their men leaving to serve in the Ottoman army, the second is from the Bedouin tradition, the third a lullaby, and the genre-crossing continues. The title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is a wedding song learned from women in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, and ‘Il-Hamdillah’ is an energetic celebration based around a Sufi dhikr mantra.
While her passionate strong voice delivers a whole range of emotions, the album is overwhelmingly infused with longing, melancholy and nostalgia. Additionally, the jazz element she fuses into several of the songs brings it close to a Palestinian version of the Blues. They are subtle yet powerful, in particular the proud triumph of ‘Qasidah of Return’ – miles away from the explosion of supportive pop songs produced in the Arab world after the start of the second intifada in 2000.
The booklet that comes with the CD is a cultural archive in itself. It provides the lyrics in Arabic and English, a glossary of Arabic terms and a brief description of the origins and development of each song. She dedicates the album to her mother from Nazareth who taught her to sing, a poignant reminder of the importance of women in the survival and continuation of culture. Reem Kelani’s collection gives us a Palestinian narrative beyond the cold news reports and takes us into a world of love, loss, celebration and worship. Alyaa Ebbiary
34. Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Wednesday, 6 September 2006 Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
Kelani’s Palestinian Voice
As I was bidding Palestinian singer Reem Kelani farewell on the phone after her recent visit to Amman, I told her about what I read in my youth of the advice the great novelist Maxim Gorky gave a young Russian singer. Gorky apparently affirmed to the singer: ‘When you sing, let every listener know you are Russian just by them listening to your voice. Russia’s greatness, her geography, her history and her pride all flow through your voice.’
Kelani asked: ‘Did you end up wailing and beating yourself up after listening to my CD?’
‘I did cry’ I answered, ‘I felt I missed my homeland, my family and my people who are scattered all over the world, yet they remain steadfast despite their daily strife.’
Reem Kelani is a talented Palestinian artist, and a different one at that. She possesses a voice that is expansive, powerful, enchanting, and with a range that allows her to express her feelings with ease.
Kelani knows for whom she sings, about what she sings, why she sings, and to whom she addresses her message. And her humanist outlook allows anyone to relate to her music. She does so by relying on the lyrics, the music and her own arrangements. She does not beg for the listeners’ sympathy by crying her music; neither does she try to tempt pseudo-intellectuals by over-westernising her singing style under the guise of modernism, something which normally leads to the abandonment of our music’s eastern soul.
In the sleeve notes of her debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ (Fuse Records, CFCD0048) Kelani opens with a dedication to her late mother and to ‘all the Big Mamas’ who taught her to ‘sing and to belong’. You can instantly detect the sense of continuity and belonging that this London-based artist clearly feels.
I met up with Kelani and her husband at El Farouki Coffee House in Shmeisani, Amman. We talked at length about music, oral singing traditions, songs performed by Palestinian men and women, the dispersion of the Palestinians across various continents and the difficulty of making them aware of the works of their creative countrymen and women.
Together, we recalled the names of great Palestinian musicians. They included talented individuals who left behind invaluable work that remains under-valued to this day such as Salvador ‘Arneita, Yousef Khasho, al-Khammash, Riyadh al-Bandak and Wasif Jawhariyyeh. Of the living musicians, we remembered Husain Nazek, founder of al-‘Aashiqin troupe whose songs are still sung by Palestinians everywhere, especially their seminal collection of songs about the siege of Beirut in 1982. And we recalled Cairo-based conductor Salim Sahhab as well as singing troupes that are spread across Palestine, within the Green Line and in the Diaspora.
The opening track on the CD is Kelani’s re-arrangement of ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, the song that previously inspired the late, great Tawfiq Zayyad. With a voice oozing with longing and lament, Kelani’s rendition of this traditional song embodies the tragedy of the meadow of Ibn-‘Aamer, which was sold by a disloyal feudal landowner to the Zionists, resulting in the dispossession of the meadow’s indigenous Palestinian farmers.
Kelani draws from her collective oral tradition as one would water from a well, and she has solid knowledge of traditional Palestinian instruments, men’s dabkeh line dances, women’s wedding songs and other traditional rituals reminiscent of harvest seasons and moonlit summer nights, rituals that are now extinct and largely unknown to the younger generations. And like me, Kelani is fascinated with the ancient and typically Palestinian yarghul, a double clarinet made of dried cane and known for its husky and haunting sound. It soon becomes apparent that Kelani was reared on traditional singing which she’d probably inherited from her mother and which renders her voice pregnant with Palestine the land, the tradition, the tragedy and the history.
Kelani performs the second track ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ in an innovative way. This traditional song strikes a personal chord with me. I have often sung its verses which I learnt as a child from my grandmother who would teach me traditional songs.
Behind the seemingly simple lyrics of this song lies a love story, that of the cameleer embarking on a long journey to far-off lands and his beloved who wishes to go with him. The cameleer’s journey is ‘too long’ and his load is ‘too heavy’, and he neither wishes for his woman to suffer on the journey nor does he wish for her to hold him back. It is as if the Palestinian woman’s lot is to wait, to tend to the family, to build, to relate stories and to sing passionately as she awaits her long-lost lover.
Kelani also adds some of her own lyrics to this song, indicating continuity of the Palestinian experience, the collective tragedy and the series of catastrophes. She then swiftly moves to a somewhat happier track ‘Galilean Lullaby’ which lightens the mood following the austere and sad opening two tracks. In this song, Kelani celebrates the cameleer’s burden and addresses him with vocal ornamentations which switch from the sadness of separation to the promise of reunion, as this Ulysses-like enforced journey is bound to end, once the cameleer returns to his homeland.
This album also contains lyrics which do not rely exclusively on the traditional reservoir, as Kelani demonstrates by setting to music contemporary Palestinian poetry as well. In this respect, her choice comprises ‘Qasidah of Return’ by the great Salma Khadra Jayyusi and ‘Yearning’ by Rashid Husain, founder of modern poetry within the Green Line of ‘1948 Palestine’.
Another of Kelani’s choices is ‘Yafa!’ a poem in classical Arabic by Jaffa-born poet and mythologist Mahmoud Salim al-Hout. Kelani sings this poem as a recitation, utilising her broad vocal range in combination with the power of the piano. And she does so in a fashion that is positively heart-wrenching as she wails her way through al-Hout’s simple yet sublime poetry, protesting against the injustice of expelling Palestinians from their homeland. Kelani closes this song with a melismatic phrasing of the divine ‘Allah’, as if to show that there is always someone greater and more powerful than those responsible for denying Palestinians their own Jaffa.
One of the happiest and most beautiful tunes is ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ which is based on the traditional Palestinian song ‘Habl el-Ghiwa’. Palestinians can be joyous, after all; they can dance and they can even become ecstatic, and this is what Reem Kelani does.
She neither takes traditional tunes as they stand, nor does she westernise them. Instead, she grants them a new life, and this is respect for tradition and authenticity in its purest form. And Kelani succeeds because she has informed herself well. When she improvises on the ‘ataaba stanza in A Baker’s Dozen, Kelani moves the listener with verses on the flight of the Palestinians from their native land.
The title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is based on another traditional Palestinian song in which the yarghul is used. In this instance, it is played by an Armenian musician who spent two months acquainting himself with the instrument. No doubt that what made things easier for him is that the same circular breathing technique which is used to play the yarghul, is also used to play his native and equally haunting Armenian duduk.
And finally I ask: how will this CD reach Palestine? Indeed, how will any book, painting or work of art by a creative Palestinian, man or woman, reach their own people? As an independent artist without the backing of a major record company, Kelani had to raise the substantial funding needed to produce this CD largely on her own. So where are all those arts institutions, and where is their support? Where are all those millions being squandered left, right and centre?
Is this how we are supposed to disseminate our culture that ought to be uniting and arming our different generations? Is this how we fight for our collective cultural identity in a world which, big and wide as it is, remains closed to the Palestinians?
Rashad Abou-Shawar, Palestinian novelist, writer and critic
33. Ad-Dustour, Jordan, Friday, 1 September 2006 Translated from Arabic © The Miktab Ltd, 2006
When I first heard Reem Kelani’s voice on the phone, I thought that someone was calling me from Haifa or Nazareth in the Galilee, since I consider myself an expert in Palestinian dialects. When I met her afterwards, she said I was not that far off the mark, since her mother hailed from the Zu’bi family in Nazareth.
I knew I was before an interesting project, but Kelani’s work made me laugh and cry at the same time. Daughter of the well-known physician Yousef Kelani, she spent close to twenty years researching the oral and musical traditions of her people, culminating in her self-financed and self-produced debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’.
Kelani has been touring the world with her songs and travelling to Palestine, to refugee camps and to diasporic communities, collating this repertoire from older women. Through this work, she has been able to delve into the bittersweet collective memory of her people.
The album boasts traditional songs such as ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ and ‘Habl el Ghiwa’ renamed ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ here. Traditional lyrics are also applied to Kelani’s music as in the parting song ‘Galilean Lullaby’. Her music can also be heard on settings of resistance poems like ‘Mawwaal’ by Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Yafa’ by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and ‘Qasida of Return’ by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
This magnificent work comes in a well-presented CD package accompanied by a detailed booklet comprising song introductions, lyrics in Arabic and English and a glossary.
I was beset by mixed emotions when I heard Kelani’s distinguished and moving voice; I felt sad for what has passed and happy for what is hopefully yet to come. I was reminded of my days as a child sitting on my mother’s lap as she sang me ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, the haunting opening track on this album. I admit to crying whilst listening to this song, but Kelani comforts me by saying that it is no shame for a man to cry, especially in frank and sensitive situations. She too admits to crying when she sings this song as she recalls those whom she coins the Big Mamas: “Each and every one of them has a story to tell and a dream of returning to her ancestral homeland” explains Kelani. “This Palestinian sense of resilience is what keeps me going and what continues to drive me in the pursuit of our traditional songs.”
Kelani turns her attention to the traditional Palestinian costume that is normally donned by older women. “The embroidered chest panels on those dresses are a source of tradition as well as motherhood”, she says, pointing to her handbag woven in the striped majdalawi fabric (from the city of Majdal, renamed Ashkelon by Israel). “People come up to me and ask if I bought this bag from a posh boutique in London”, she adds with a smile, tenderly holding her bag, “but they look surprised when I tell them that it was woven on a traditional loom by artisan women from Gaza”. It is not surprising to learn that those women are refugees still dreaming of their return, even at this late stage of their lives.
Reem Kelani’s project is a huge undertaking, of a scope that even a dedicated research centre might find daunting. It might have taken her years to produce, but it is a sure way of reaching wider audiences and informing them of a just cause which still awaits resolution. Fawzi Bassoumi, Jordanian-Palestinian journalist & writer
32. Elsewhere.co.nz, New Zealand, August 2006
Subtitled "Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora", this sometimes astonishing album is breathtaking in its scope -- from a lullaby to a moving song of mourning, to tracks with jazzy saxophone or melancholy piano, and lengthy explorations of melody and emotions. And singer Kelani possesses a keening, hypnotic voice as she weaves around the microtones.
There is pain here obviously (have a handkerchief on hand for Yafa sung over spare piano) but there is a celebratory spirit (the uplifting title track which she learned from some women in a refugee camp in South Lebanon -- and where might they be today?), and the whole thing -- which feels far too brief at 75 moving minutes -- ends with an uplifting, optimistic and chant-like glimpse of a peaceful future ("Thank God, my heart's patience is rewarded.…..Praise God that sorrow is no more").
This is an extraordinary album, full of poetic lyrics (in translation in the handsome booklet), heart-grabbing emotion and thrilling music.
Nominations for World Music album of the year start here. Graham Reid
31. The Singer, Aug – Sept 2006
Reem Kelani’s album Sprinting Gazelle is a collection of ‘Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’. Kelani has made it her mission to collect as many Palestinian songs as possible both for her ‘personal and collective survival’. Here she gives us 10, and each is more passionate and poignant than the last. All songs are preceded in the sleeve notes by their history and relevant information about the writers.
Most of the lyrics are almost too unbearably moving to read, such as ‘Galilean Lullaby’ where ‘Our loved ones have left home / Gone away without saying goodbye / When I went by their place one morning to salute the mulberry tree / No-one was there to invite me in! /All I found was a crying bird / Regret stopped me short and pinned my feet to the thorny ground…O cameleer of the caravan, if you come across them / Let them know that I still cry for them / Tell them my loving eyes haven’t yet closed in sleep…’ In ‘Qasidah of Return’ by contemporary Palestinian poet and literary historian Salma Khadra Jayyusi, she addresses ‘the “renegades” within the Palestinian and Arab self, namely those whom she sees as responsible for the destruction of so much in the Arab world’: ‘Oh! Our faraway land is beyond your vision / In her lies our buried secret, our young maidens’ dreams / In her lie the graves of my mother and father, the graves of our love and our smiles…We fashioned our songs for her out of prayer / We love her burning sands and merciless wind / And her woes…and her woes…We love our orphaned existence within her; we accept her even in death / And we’ll head towards her / The more we are exiled, the more we’ll head towards her / Whenever the pride of life is humiliated before our eyes’.
Kelani’s vocals can only be described as searing in their intensity and passion and lead us to a greater understanding of the philosophy of this part of the world. Antonia Couling
30. The Journal of Music in Ireland, July 2006
Palestinian notes for a new Ireland: Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle
Rather than argue over the merits and demerits of various Irish singers and groups, or wonder if a choice has to be made between Ryanair and slow air, let’s take a detour into someone else’ songs of longing. Will the Sprinting Gazelle have anything to say to the Celtic Tiger? Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora by Reem Kelani is less a collection of favourite songs than a personal engagement with, and reimagination of, a people’s experience and musical culture. It is significant for a number of reasons.
This is not the place to enter into discussion of the rights and wrongs of modern Palestinian history. Manchester-born singer Reem Kelani probably has strong views on the subject, but her purpose on this CD is not to accuse, to name enemies or to articulate political demands. In our media, we are used to seeing Palestinians as either victims of Israeli political / military oppression or as enraged or irrational terrorists bringing death and destruction to Israeli civilians. In either case, there is necessarily a thinning of human experience. Reem Kelani’s journey into Palestinian music and poetry restores a frequently caricatured people to humanity.
The first song, ‘As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow’, is traditional, but here it is sung in a style that pays tribute to the chanting that Kelani heard in a Greek Orthodox church in Nazareth during a childhood visit. The second track, ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’, pays tribute to Bedouin tradition. The third is a lullaby. Beginning with another departure (‘Our loved ones have left home, / gone away without saying goodbye/…’), it concludes on a note of tender longing as it dissolves into a repeated chorus (‘Do tell our loved ones who have moved away,/That for anyone hardship never lasts forever../Never lasts forever../Never lasts forever…’). Variations on loss, the sub-title Kelani has put to Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Mawwaal’, could describe the next few songs. The second last song, to a poem by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, strikes a note of subdued anger and resolution. The last track, interweaving two songs, is about praise, building, growth against the odds.
For those who live in exile, song itself can be a kind of home. Reem Kelani is clearly attuned to the whole range of poetic and musical expression within Palestinian culture, be it in Nazareth, in the Lebanese refugee camps or elsewhere. She has the range and the power of voice to fully communicate that material. What is also significant is that her relationship with the material is honest. Kelani does not offer us a simalcrum of the music of her parents or grandparents. She engages deeply with her heritage, but does not hide the fact that, as a product of exile, her musical culture is a mixed one. (Incidentally, she thus demonstrates in another context that Irish debate around traditional / modern or purist / innovator polarities is misguided.) The accompaniment to the lullaby referred to earlier is provided by piano, clarinet, double bass, riqq (a kind of tambourine) and drums. ‘Yafa!’, a poem written in traditional qasidah form by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout, sets the voice of Reem Kelani against the distinctive piano improvisations of Zoe Rahman.
Whether you listen to it for the yearning intensity of the singing, for the dignity and history it offers Palestine in exile, or for the dialogue with our own history and culture which it can stimulate, Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle will prove rewarding. Barra Ó Séaghdha
29. Rootsworld, USA, 14 July 2006
Elegant and poetic, Reem Kelani's debut CD speaks to the woe and joy of Palestinian life. She has a voice of such power and passion that if it were one degree more intense, it would burst.
The CD is a graceful mix of the traditional and the avant-garde. It is experimental without being grating to the ear. Her diverse settings of traditional Palestinian songs and the work of twentieth century Palestinian poets show her to be an innovator with a sensitive ear. The instrumentation is much more than mere accompaniment - it becomes part of the story. Western instruments such as violin, clarinet and piano interact with yarghul, nay, and a battery of Middle Eastern percussion. In "The Cameleer Tormented My Heart," camel bells and acoustic bass give way to scratchy fiddle, drony bass clarinet, and swishing percussion to create a desert landscape under Kelani's expansive vocals.
"A Baker's Dozen"
One of the most organic pieces is the thirteen-beat "A Baker's Dozen." The violin and bass clarinet play repeated parallel lines over hand claps. Zoe Rahman's sweeping piano work provides a rich backdrop to several tracks. On the seven-minute-plus "Yafa!," in which piano is the only accompaniment, Kelani uses the Arabic practice of qasidah, a highly ornamented improvisational technique. Rahman follows Kelani's mournful vocals with tender warmth and raging passion, at times suggesting a Keith Jarrett influence with her rolling arpeggios and left hand ostinati.
The only barely perceptible misstep is "Galilean Lullaby." Its predictable harmonic and melodic material accompanied by a tinkly new-age piano make it a little too precious in the presence of the magnificent work surrounding it. Inexplicably, they reprise this weak link in the bonus track. Again, it's a minor lapse in an otherwise sublime work. Peggy Latkovich
28. World Music Central, USA, 2 July 2006
Reem Kelani’s Vocals, a Force of Nature
The opening notes from “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” are a shock to the system as if Kelani was intent on blowing the listener off the face of the earth with a voice from the heavens. It seems almost impossible that this is the Palestinian singer’s debut album, as Kelani’s depth of soul vocals stir the very air and prickle the hairs on your arm. Setting traditional Palestinian folk songs and verse from poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout to her own compositions, Kelani has poured the Palestinian soul of loss, longing and lullaby into some hauntingly spare compositions, topped off with her strong vocals.
The song “The Cameleer Tormented My Heart” opens with the lonely sounds of Oli Hayhust’s double bass and cowbells, so when Kelani adds her vocals the listener is utterly entranced. Kelani’s soothing vocals on “Galilean Lullaby” are set off by Zoe Rahman’s piano work, Idris Rahman on clarinet, Hayhurst on double bass, Reem Kelani on riqq and Patrick Illingworth on drums. The CD just gets better and better with tracks like “Yearning” and “Yafa!” with their Middle Eastern roots and some lazy touches of jazz throughout.
For a debut CD, Reem Kelani’s music rains down pleasure, but it’s her voice that must surely be a force of nature. T J Nelson
27. Dominion Post, New Zealand, June 2006 *****
We are so used to the ideas of division and conflict, in regards to the Middle East. In contrast, artists like Reem Kelani present us with living traditions that defy the mainstream view of a hopeless situation. After hearing this record I was astounded to find it was a debut recording. Kelani, born in the UK to Palestinian parents, spent many years researching first-hand the music of Palestine, and it shows. Exquisitely packaged, rich in documentation, texts in Arabic and English. But what’s crucial is the music. These are tough, emotionally charged performances accompanied by traditional and western instrumentation, touching on jazz and classical idioms. Kelani’s voice turns despair, longing and resistance into exceptional art. Think Marta Sebestyen, and then factor in the more heightened expressionism of Muslim singing. These songs don’t let you drift, they aren’t exactly pretty, and you are compelled to find out more. You’ll discover that the mihbash is a Bedouin coffee grinder that doubles as a percussion instrument. And that Kelani’s arrangement of a 150-year-old song from the Ottoman Empire incorporates the chanting style of the Orthodox Christian Church. It’s a treasure trove of cultural history and in spite of its unflinching outlook, there’s an attitude of hope: “hardship never lasts forever”. John Kennedy
26. Institute for Middle East Understanding, June 2006
Reem Kelani: Telling the Palestinian narrative through song
The debut CD of Palestinian singer Reem Kelani - “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora” - is a major contribution from this remarkable singer, musical researcher and broadcaster towards reviving and spreading Palestinian culture.
In the weeks since “Sprinting Gazelle” was released in the UK it has been acclaimed by critics and journalists, and has received excellent reviews in nearly every serious British newspaper. Critics have praised the quality, range and emotional depth of Kelani’s voice.
Kelani says she is “overwhelmed” by the avalanche of positive media coverage. The CD has also been featured on radio stations in countries including Britain, Germany, Australia and the US.
The widespread praise for the CD is all the more remarkable given that Kelani made it independently. But through remaining independent she has been free of pressures to make musical and cultural compromises.
Preparing and recording the CD took Kelani and her husband Chris Somes-Charlton two years. Now they are busy marketing the CD in record stores through the distribution company Proper Music, and through Kelani’s website at www.reemkelani.com.
The ten tracks take the listener on a 74-minute odyssey through the Palestinian experience, from the nineteenth century to today. The CD is accompanied by an informative 32-page booklet with English translations of the Arabic lyrics. Kelani and her husband carried out the translations of the songs into English with Salma Khadra Jayyusi as literary consultant and British poet Alan Brownjohn as poetry consultant.
The cover of Reem Kelani's debut CD. Some tracks are Kelani’s arrangements of traditional songs. Others are her compositions for poems by such major Palestinian poets as Mahmoud Darwish, Rashid Husain, Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.
The dramatic first track “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow” features Kelani singing to the accompaniment of a vocal drone. According to Nazarene folklore, women sang this song when they said goodbye to men leaving to serve in the Ottoman Army. The track is followed by another furaaqiyaat (song of parting), “The Cameleer Tormented my Heart.”
Some tracks are sombre in mood, including the Darwish poem “Mawwal: Variations on Loss” and “Yearning” by Husain. Others are more cheerful, such as the spirited traditional song “Habl el-Ghiwa”.
Asked about the CD’s narrative thread, Kelani says that after she chose the songs “I realised that they are all either by poets that are pre-48 Palestine or areas that are pre-48 Palestine.” She describes the narrative as “totally non-compromising”, as shown by a song like “Qasidah of Return”, with words by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. The final track is a medley of the songs, “Il-Hamdillah and “Intu Banatu, Ihna Banana”. These two songs celebrate the Palestinian’s collective identity, “something that the last 58 years couldn’t impoverish.”
Kelani says that from women in refugee camps she “got the message that I now use in my life as a Diaspora Palestinian – personally, collectively and artistically – that we are not victims. You get on with life, you acknowledge your pain and you’re strong and you celebrate and you sing and dance. This is resistance in its purest form.”
Reem’s group of musicians consists of the award-winning jazz pianist Zoe Rahman; Idris Rahman on tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Oli Hayhurst on double bass; Patrick Illingworth on drums, and the Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai, and Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani.
Kelani sees no contradiction in being a jazz singer who is a performer of Palestinian music. “Both disciplines are based on improvisation, both come from suffering and emancipation.”
The CD’s cover portrays a gazelle on a background of canvas which represents Palestinian embroidered costume and at the same time the earth and sense of belonging. The delicate plant with yellow flowers that adorns the cover is feijan - a herb found in the Nazareth area.
The accompanying booklet’s value in providing the lyrics and background to the songs was illustrated recently when a BBC Radio 3 programme featured several tracks from “Sprinting Gazelle”. The presenter explained that the words of the evocative “Yafa!” were written by the Palestinian poet, mythologist and translator Mahmoud Salim al-Hout (1917-88) after he lost all his manuscripts while fleeing Jaffa.
Kelani was born in Manchester, northern England, to doctor Yusuf Kelani, from the village of Ya’bad near Jenin, and Yusra Sharif Ali Zu’bi from Nazareth. Reem dedicates the CD to her mother, who died in Amman in 2004, “and to all the ‘Big Mamas’ who taught me to sing and to belong.”
Kelani grew up in Kuwait where she was surrounded by many different kinds of music. The songs her father sang kindled her devotion to jazz, and at the age of 13 she fell in love with Palestinian music when she saw women singing at a family wedding in a village near Nazareth.
Kelani is a marine biologist by university education, and came to London in 1989 on a British Council scholarship to do an MSc in aquatic resource management. But before long she decided to pursue her musical ambitions.
Kelani has attracted a large following of fans who appreciate her unique blend of Palestinian music and jazz, her superb voice and her charismatic and warm stage presence. She has performed at concerts in the UK, US, Canada, Middle East and Europe. Her broadcasting work has included presenting two series of BBC Radio Four’s ‘Distant Chords’ in which she interviewed musicians in exile in Britain.
Kelani has found it difficult to identify suitable musicians in London, and none of the musicians on her CD is Palestinian. Another challenge was finding a recording label. The political folk singer and songwriter Leon Rosselson offered his Fuse Records label as a cover label.
The release of Kelani’s CD comes at a particularly difficult time for the Palestinian people. Kelani says: “unless people listen to, and acknowledge, the Palestinian narrative in its own right, no peace treaty, accord or settlement will work. The Palestinian narrative has always been robbed of its independence and authenticity.”Susannah Tarbush
25. IslamOnline.net, Egypt, 7 June 2006
(Translated from Arabic)
Traditional songs set to Jazz
Reem Kelani is a Palestinian singer who was described by the British press as “Palestine’s unofficial cultural ambassadress in the UK”. Her music has been credited as “asserting the existence of Palestinian identity in this world”. All these reviews confirm this Palestinian-European artist’s success over the past decade in introducing the traditional musical heritage of the Palestinians to the ears and souls of her European audience.
Reem Kelani released her debut album ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ in 2006. It is the fruit of her research into traditional Palestinian song and her attempt to develop it. The album contains 10 tracks, five of which are Kelani’s own arrangements of traditional Palestinian songs, mainly from the Galilee. The other five are her musical settings of the works of Palestinian poets such as: Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and Mahmoud Darwish.
Innovative and infused with arrangements of traditional Palestinian songs
The first thing to attract the listener to this album is its rare and unique blend of songs and lyrics which are intrinsically Palestinian with Western Jazz. This, I believe, is the real contribution which Kelani has made with this album. She does not rely on a large number of musical instruments, but her band is comprised of musicians from different cultural and musical backgrounds, such as Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on clarinet, Samy Bishai on violin, Patrick Illingworth on drums and Fariborz Kiani on percussion. In addition, two Arabic instruments are featured: yarghul and nay, played by Tigran Aleksanyan and Dirk Campbell respectively.
Despite a single and continuous narrative, this album is musically highly varied.
Contrast & contradiction
The songs on the album express different and sometimes contradictory emotions of happiness, sadness, anger and hope. These emotions are often profound, as in the song ‘Il-Hamdillah.’ There are also continuous reminders of exile; you can feel the longing, homesickness and yearning for a return to the homeland in a song like ‘Yafa’. You can sense the feelings of the Palestinian refugees in the camps of Lebanon in the title track ‘Sprinting Gazelle’, which Reem learnt from a Palestinian woman in ‘Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp.
This album has already received considerable attention from the British press. The Observer described Kelani’s voice as one “of amazing power and intensity”, while the Financial Times said the album was ‘impossible to ignore’. Michael Church in the Independent on Sunday rightly described the album as “full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope.” Amro Husain
24. The Oxford Times, 1 June 2006
Reem Kelani, who has been performing both in Europe and the Middle East for many years, had worked out the exact content of the album Sprinting Gazelle (Fuse Records, CFCD048) long before the opportunity came to actually make the recording, and it is a credit to her determination that these songs are now available. From the very first track, in which Kelani sings almost unaccompanied, the exceptional quality of her voice and the vigour of her performance comes through as powerfully as it did on stage. All we miss are her wonderfully dramatic gestures.
In the ten tracks there is a mix of traditional Palestinian songs that Kelani has learnt and poetry that she has put to music, using traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, plus, on many tracks, the impeccable bass playing of Oli Hayhurst. The result is a journey through a musical landscape filled with eastern rhythms, melodies and vocal inflections, all of which is given a whole extra dimension by the sheer power and beauty of Kelani's voice. The album also includes full and informative notes on the origins of the songs and their English translations. The music is imbued with the dry heat of the Middle East and the power of love, longing and loss. If you want to be shaken out of your daily existence play this with an open mind on a damp British day or any day. Paul Medley
23. MazzMusikaS, Belgium, June 2006
For many years Reem Kelani has continued her search for the traditions as she knew them from her family (her mother hails from Nazareth), a quest that took shape following her visit in 1996 to the Palestinian camps in Lebanon (one immediately thinks of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut). Her own past touches on many cultures: she studied western music, she has seen the world with her own eyes and absorbed a lot of influences, but her heart is in Palestine. Now finally Leon Rosselson, the English rebel and fighter for human rights par excellence (www.leonrosselson.co.uk), gave her the opportunity on his Fuse Records to digest the fruits of her Odyssey, in the best possible circumstances.
Knowing this, it will not surprise anyone that Sprinting Gazelle (“reem’’ means “white antelope, gazelle’’ in Arabic), although actually a debut album, is a fully grown statement, the “Exegi monumentum’’ of a mature and experienced artist at the top of her trade. Sprinting Gazelle offers, in ten big chunks of music, a brilliantly executed insight into the rich song treasure of the Palestinian people (and of cultures like that of the Bedouin, who have existed and still do exist in Palestine).
Kelani sings magnificently, which puts her near the dazzling level of the Lebanese top singer Fayruz whom she admires so much. But she’s also surrounded by a superior cast of musicians, which makes the music, true to form and as authentic as possible, in line with international standards, without losing itself in mindless cross-over. The meticulous interventions of sax and piano (Idris and Zoe Rahman) do not go against the tradition. That is, in large measure, unembellished (women’s) a capella singing. The respectful arrangements actually give the songs more depth and content. The notes that accompany the song lyrics (which are provided in English and Arabic), with explanatory vocabulary, give the opportunity to form a good idea of what it‘s all about. Reem Kelani reveals a lot of herself in these notes, which enhances the feeling of familiarity. And she thus becomes the face of a people. Political slogans are not her thing: she talks about the people she represents.
You can guess that this isn’t an “easy’’ record, and it’s certainly not a “joyous’’ one, as these songs mostly deal with the immense sadness and anger caused by uprooting, separation and alienation, but it is precisely because of that that they’ve acquired a timeless quality. That also goes for the popular lyrics (the result of the moulding and purifying by many hands) and the quality of the poetry by prominent Palestinian writers, in line with the great Arab tradition (everything that lies between the somewhat lighter material of the Lebanese Druz Farid El Atrache to the incomparable Egyptian Diva, the queen of Arab classical song Um Kalthoum).
The central songs Mawwaal: Variations on Loss (poetry by Mahmoud Darwish) and Yearning (Khawaatir wa-Asdaa’) (poetry by Rashid Husain) are of such an ethereal magnificence that it is not possible to listen to them without being left behind totally crushed: when at the end of Maawwaal the men’s choir comes in, the hairs on your neck stand up. The interaction of voice and violin (Samy Bishai) on Yearning thrills you from beginning to end: seldom has longing been expressed so movingly. That’s the kind of experiences Sprinting Gazelle offers. There are somewhat lighter pieces but the Leitmotiv is unmistakeably the sentence taken from the poem Mawwaal by Darwish: “I defend my right to defend my right’’, if necessary with my back against the wall. And of course it’s right to do so. Do yourself a favour and invite some lonely people home to listen to this gem of a record. Or go see Reem Kelani. She will be performing at the Botanique on Saturday June 10th (info www.association-belgo-palestinienne.be). We’ll be there. Antoine Légat
22. New Internationalist, June 2006 *****
Born in Manchester, raised in Kuwait and, musically, a citizen of the world, Reem Kelani is a singer who brings a new sensibility and drama to the sounds of her ancestral Palestine. Sprinting Gazelle is the long-awaited album from a musician who, often a guest on other people’s jazz-based projects is overdue decent media exposure.
The ten songs on Sprinting Gazelle are a mixture of traditional Palestinian songs – many gathered from refugee camps – and Kelani’s own arrangements for lyrics and protest songs by such prominent writers as Mahmoud Darwish and Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Once past some of the titles – ‘The Cameleer Tormented my Heart’ does have a certain pungency about it – you’re in the heart of something remarkable.
Buoyed up by a small band led by piano and clarinet duo Zoe and Idris Rahman, Kelani’s power over both her traditional, often a capella, songs and personal settings is emotive. It’s difficult to see how the personal and political in this material can be separated.
On songs like ‘Yafa!’ she has voice and drama to rival the mighty Diamanda Galas. The softly jazzy ‘Galilean Lullaby’ is a beautifully set song, and a lament as much as it is a comfort to the singer. The cavalier percussion and string glissandi that make ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ so exciting also lead us into a song in which the singer awaits her beloved, as well as mourns the loss of her home.
Overall, Sprinting Gazelle is more interested in celebration; much of it is powered by handclaps and little drumbeats. It is a powerful music that dances its own path. Louise Gray
21. BBC Music Magazine, June 2006 *****
SPRINTING GAZELLE is full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope. Through Palestinian songs, collected in Nazareth and in the Diaspora, singer Reem Kelani seeks to preserve her heritage with the aid of local musicians plus a jazz combo. Her timbre is exceptionally firm, making her occasional forays into melisma all the more effective: she can sound irresistibly seductive, but her default mode is a sacramental seriousness. A lovely stillness pervades this album, whose illuminating English-Arabic liner notes are a work of art in themselves. Michael Church
20. Straight No Chaser, Spring/Summer 2006
Music that asserts its right to exist and demands to be heard
London-based Palestinian singer Kelani returned to her Motherland and learnt songs from the old women in the refugee camps. Performing them back in the UK with a mix of Middle Eastern and local musicians (including pianist Zoe Rahman) she has developed something extraordinary, her dark, intense voice cutting to the very heart of these songs of hope, despair and loss as the musicians play simply but ingeniously around her. No recording could hope to capture the humour and force of personality which Kelani brings to a live performance. But her debut CD is a triumph in its own right, defiantly in the tradition, yet imbued with a spirit of daring and improvisation. This is no musical wallpaper, it requires the listener’s full attention, but brings sweet and enduring rewards. Jamie Renton
19. The Handstand, Ireland, April 2006
Reem Kelani was born in Manchester in the UK to Palestinian parents, and brought up in Kuwait. Although she is a vastly experienced singer, musicologist, broadcaster and pedagogue, and featured on two spectacular tracks of Gilad Atzmon's Exile album, this is her debut CD.
Five of the ten listed tracks on Sprinting Gazelle are traditional Palestinian songs which Kelani learned from older women in the Galilee and in the refugee camps in Lebanon and which she has arranged for this album imaginatively and colourfully, with a certain jazz inflection (her band is constructed around a Jazz rhythm section of piano, double-bass and drums). The other five tracks are original compositions with words by the likes of Salma Jayyusi, Mahmoud Salim Al-Hout, and the "Arab poet laureate" Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish also provides the epigraph to the album: "I defend my right to defend my right."
Anybody who has attended one of Reem Kelani's electrifying live performances will know that she shuns political rhetoric, preferring to allow the music to speak for itself - of exile, yearning, injustice, and sumud (steadfastness). Nonetheless, the very fact that she is Palestinian seems to have proved embarrassing for some politically craven radio hosts in the UK, who have presented her as "a Kuwaiti singer." A particularly imbecilic review on the BBC website, by one Jon Lusk, fails to mention her provenance, while claiming that "the mood is mostly pretty bleak and melancholic, given the origin of the material", a connection he demurely fails to explain.
"Don't listen to it all at once!" advises Lusk. For my part, I listened to it three times in succession with an increasing sense of exhilaration. Of course much of the material is melancholic, but much is not, and some is downright euphoric - particularly the final listed track Il-Hamdillah (Giving Praise). This closed Kelani's Dublin concert in 2005, and brought the entire audience to the floor in one of the clumsiest but most enthusiastic displays of dabkeh dancing ever seen...
Kelani's multinational cast of backing musicians includes Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on clarinets and sax, Samy Bishai on violin (almost unbearably haunting in No. 6, Yearning), Patrick Illingworth on drums, Fariborz Kiani on percussion, Oli Hayhurst on bass, with Tigran Aleksanyan and Dirk Campbell on, respectively, yarghul (a Palestinian double clarinet) and nay (an end-blown flute; two are involved, one Iranian and one Arabic).
Kelani provides scholarly liner notes and a comprehensive glossary for this handsomely-produced album, and all texts are included in Arabic with English translations. Sprinting Gazelle is a labour of love; I believe it's a masterpiece. Raymond Deane
18. Amazon.com, Australia, April 2006
The Blues By any other Name
Think Blues of the finest nuance and transpose its disposition first to Palestine and the contingent necessity for many of its natives to relocate. This music is party to the powerful response to a tragedy. That said, ‘Sprinting Gazelle’, by Reem Kelani, is one of the most exhilarating musical experiences I've encountered. So brilliantly performed, it's impossible to believe that this is a debut effort. The rating system is inadequate to do it justice. Her singing is up there with Alim Qasimov, Dimi Mint Abba, and Aster Aweke. Emotionally, her collection is more diverse than any issued by the aforementioned luminaries. For this, she is superbly abetted by musicians and production of uncanny majesty. Even were she never to produce more recorded work, her position on the top deck of cherished CDs is assured. It's not all diasporic dislocation and woe. The liturgical droning of, ‘Women Crossed the Meadow' immediately transported me. ‘Sprinting Gazelle', whom Reem,'the white antelope' identifies with, is an upbeat, wedding celebration, saucy and throbbing. ‘Yearning’s' words are penned by Rashid Husain and ushered in by the pentatonic sadness of Zoe Rahman's piano. Kelani provides the musical settings for her chosen, exiled poets. Here, when the sky cries rain, an expression familiar to neighbouring Aboriginal mourners in Central Australia, the violin talks in tandem with Kelani's voice. Rahman's Steinway is again prominent on,'Yafa', a song of uncompromising pain. The singer's burden is soothed by the profoundest sonic waters of the keyboard. 'Il- Hamdillah', rounds off the work: a medley of two songs, one, the promise of building and healing is constructed on a zikr mantra, familiar to many branches of Sufism. No song could be more appropriate for perpetuating Palestinian traditions in this brave and thrilling cycle. R. J Moss, Alice Springs
17. Spin the Globe, USA, April 2006
Palestine often evokes thoughts of political strife more than fantastic music, but anyone seeking respite from geopolitics would be well served to grab this album. Subtitled "Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora" the album begins with a bold vocal statement on the opening track "As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow" featuring Kelani's solo voice over a vocal drone (a tribute to her fascination with Eastern Orthodox Christian chanting).
The UK-born Palestinian singer, who grew up in Kuwait, is considered one of the foremost researchers and performers of Palestinian music. Jazz undertones, such as Idris Rahman's clarinet on "Galilean Lullaby," soften a style of singing that can sound harsh to uninitiated Western ears. That's not a criticism; just an acknowledgement of the region's sharply emotional, sometimes intricately adorned vocal style. In truth, Kelani has a voice of awesome strength and grace. She explores Palestinian music much as Eliseo Parra has done with Iberian music. And her gorgeous debut album will give any listener a richer appreciation of Palestinian culture. Highly recommended. Scott Allan Stevens
16. fRoots, April 2006
It’s been a long time coming, but Reem Kelani’s debut CD finally sees the light of day thanks to Leon Rosselson’s Fuse label. This is a celebration of the musical culture of the Palestinian people, a culture that the bigots would rather deny or forget. But it’s no mere exercise in cultural excavation; Kelani’s dark, intense voice cuts like a razor through the traditional songs and musical settings of Palestinian poetry, and she’s backed by a small ensemble that features both Middle Eastern musicians (violinist Samy Bishai, percussionist Fariborz Kiani) and jazz players (Zoe Rahman on piano, her sax- and clarinet-playing brother Idris and his Soothsayers band-mate Patirck Illingworth on drums). There are a number of songs that have been thoroughly road-tested at her live shows over the years, including the haunting, a cappella As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow and the swirling A Baker’s Dozen. On the wonderfully desolate Yearning, Kelani sounds as though she’s exorcising some very serious personal demons, whilst piano and violin weave and swell around her. Mawwaal sounds like Palestinian blues, allowing her jazz singer tendencies to come to the fore. This isn’t easy listening, there’s a lot of it and with its well-researched, informative booklet (including a glossary), it demands to be sat down with and properly listened to. A veritable banquet in a world of musical fast food. Jamie Renton
15. The Times, 31 March 2006
Desert songs - the rise of Arab music
Last month marked the return here of Kazem al-Sahir, the Arab world’s most celebrated and charismatic singer, an exiled Iraqi who has captivated millions across the Middle East and who has begun to build a reputation far beyond the suffering country where he was born, studied and first recorded. Iraq has become a metaphor for misjudgement, mismanagement and hate. But to the Arabs al-Sahir’s voice tells of something very different — of love, longing, nostalgia and pride in an ancient civilisation and gentler culture. His face and voice dominate television across the Middle East. His CDs have sold more than 30 million copies. His lyrics are known by millions more. But his fame has spread beyond those speaking Arabic. He received the Unicef award in England for the song Tathakkar (Memory), and in 1999 he performed it before members of the US Congress and UN diplomats. Two years ago he was the overall winner of the World Music awards. Last week, performing for the Melkonian Foundation for children, he sang several old favourites but added others that summed up the tragedy of Iraq, including a haunting, unaccompanied ballad for a country “where we used to be one and where we are now all separate”. The largely Arab audience, waving flags and cheering, was clearly moved.
More surprising is the almost rapturous welcome that British critics have given to another Arab woman singer, Reem Kelani. A Palestinian, brought up in Kuwait and living in Britain, she has so far had little exposure on television or the publicity of a mass audience. But she has just released Sprinting Gazelle, a haunting and powerful CD of traditional Palestinian songs painstakingly collected over 20 years. Kelani makes no compromises: her bittersweet themes are matched by a haunting, nostalgic delivery with an implicit message on the Palestinian plight. She dwells on themes central to the tragedy — the loss of a community, loss of land, bitterness of exile and happiness of long-lost days. Yet her music, which mingles joyfulness and vibrancy with darker emotions, has transcended the barriers of language. Older Arabs recognise songs not heard for 60 years; young British schoolchildren, in musical workshops across the country, are moved by universal themes, even in a different language and from a different world. The sprinting gazelle, in a song she found in a refugee camp, is as much a symbol of flight as it is of life that bounds beyond political tragedy. Michael Binyon
14. The Independent on Sunday, 26 March 2006 ****
This CD is full of rage and sadness, nostalgia and hope, as befits the situation it is designed to reflect. In these Palestinian songs, Reem Kelani celebrates her musical heritage with the aid of both local musicians and a Western jazz combo. Her timbre is exceptionally firm, which makes her occasional bursts of melisma, over an accompanying drone, all the more effective: she can sound irresistibly seductive, but her default mode is a sacramental seriousness. A lovely album, with bilingual liner notes which illuminate both the lyrics and the provenance of the melodies. Michael Church
13. Palestine News, Spring 2006
Reem Kelani is well known in the UK both as a solo artist and for her performances with Gilad Atzmon in the past. She has carried the flag of Palestinian music almost single-handedly here for the last few years. Although born in the UK, her family is from Galilee and she was exposed to many kinds of music from an early age. Her CD, ‘Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora’ (Fuse Records CFCD048 distributed by Proper Music – www.properdistribution.com) is a mixture of traditional songs, the result of extensive research into her Palestinian heritage, and settings of popular and resistance poetry.
Reem is passionate in live performances, evolving the pain and longing of a dispossessed people. Often such passion does not translate well to the cold conditions of a studio recording, so she has wisely chosen a varied menu with changes in tempo, dynamics and musical colour but that still expresses that essential fervour of a live performance.
In most Arab music, as with these CDs, poetry is the predominant force and inspiration that is in turn served by the music. Whether it is a poem by Mahmoud Darwish (Track 5 Mawwaal – Variations on Loss) or a song collected from women in a Lebanese refugee camp (the title track, Sprinting Gazelle), the words are crucial, and are helpfully printed in full in both Arabic and English in the CD booklet. The richness of the musical arrangements is due mostly to the variety of musicians and styles supporting Reem: from the jazz world of piano, bass and drums (Zoe Rahman, Oli Hayhurst and Patrick Illingworth) to more exotic sounds and rhythms from the Diaspora, such as the Palestinian yarghul (played by Armenian Tigran Aleksanyan), Iranian tombak (Fariborz Kiani) or the violin of Samy Bishai.
The recording deals deftly with all these complex textures as well as the full power of Reem’s voice. ‘Sprinting Gazelle’ is both a celebration of the Palestinian spirit and a debut album for a truly original musical talent. Paul Hughes-Smith
12. HMV Choice, February 2006
Haunting songs of Palestinian pride and resistance
Subtitled 'Palestinian Songs From The Motherland And The Diaspora', the British-born Kelani travelled to the West Bank and the refugee camps of the Lebanon to research the traditional folk music of her people. Back home she collated and reworked the ancient songs, added her own compositions using the words of prominent Palestinian poets and turned the material into this haunting, self-produced album.
The accompaniment mixes traditional Arabic instrumentation with a jazz rhythm section, piano, strings, sax and clarinet to hypnotic effect. Yet it's Kelani's striking voice that commands centre stage. She sings entirely in Arabic but translations are included in the superb 32-page booklet and much of the poetry, with its message of cultural pride and resistance in the face of great suffering, is highly moving.
The result is a compelling portrait of Palestinian national identity that cannot be separated from its politics, but nevertheless constitutes a powerful musical experience in its own right. Nigel Williamson
11. Musician – the Journal of the Musicians’ Union, Spring 2006
Born in Manchester, Reem reflects her parentage throughout this fascinating 10-track album, which features a tasteful combination of traditional Palestinian songs and musical settings of popular poetry. Presented in a comprehensive CD package with introductions, translations and a glossary, vocalist Reem soars about the stirring foundations laid by such masters as Idris Rahman (clarinet/sax), bassist Oli Hayhurst, drummer Paul Clarvis and Solid Strings’ Sonia Slany. The listener, seduced by her powerful, keening voice and the delightful range of emotional material, is drawn into a world of passion, eartbreak, humour and hardship. Thoroughly absorbing throughout. Keith Ames
10. Subba-Cultcha, Sunday, 5 March 2006
Traditional songs of yearning and loss explored through jazz
Reem Kelani was born in the UK, but raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents. Intimately familiar with the music of her native culture, she grew up to become an unofficial cultural ambassador for the art and poetry of Palestine.
Many of the songs she recreates here are ancient, collected from women of her mother's home in Galilee, in the refugee camps of Lebanon and from all over the Diaspora. One 19th century song (As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow) dates from Ottoman rule in Palestine; others hark back to Bedouin tradition. Some are her own compositions, written around the work of Palestinian poets such as Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.
There's no doubt that Reem Keleni is serious about her music, which she delivers with a passion and emotional depth which rivals Andalusian flamenco. This is no easy-listening crossover album; it's profound, often harrowing, and very beautiful. But instead of adopting a narrow academic attitude to the music and poetry, she explores it through a subtly experimental jazz instrumentation which includes piano and saxophone as well as traditional instruments such as the Arab clarinet, the yarghul.
This is a CD which will repay repeated listening, but perhaps its most immediate impact comes from the keening Yafa!, where Reem Kelani's vocal evocation of exile mixes with Zoe Rahman's jazz-inflected piano improvisations.
Both intimately personal art and profoundly political statement, Sprinting Gazelle is a powerful evocation of national identity and individual loss. Clare O'Brien
9. The Observer, Sunday, 26 February 2006
Kelani has a voice of amazing power and intensity, but it’s always controlled, and there’s a moving vulnerability there too. The subject matter of Sprinting Gazelle also fascinates – it’s important that we hear songs learned from Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, for instance.
It particularly helps that Kelani herself writes so lucidly about the process by which she came to record the album in the liner notes of what is a handsomely packaged CD.
Caspar Llewellyn Smith, Editor, Observer Music Monthly
8. The Daily Telegraph, Saturday, 25 February 2006
When a self-produced album by an unknown Palestinian singer gets as much attention and better reviews than the Arctic Monkeys in mainstream publications such as Time Out and London's Evening Standard, you know something significant is afoot. Reem Kelani's achievement is all the more impressive for the fact that her music is challenging stuff. Born in Manchester of Palestinian parents, raised in Kuwait, but now based in west London, Kelani collects folk songs from old Palestinian women and performs them in an unflinchingly austere manner with subtle jazz-inflected arrangements.
While the tunes are trickily ornamented, the tone of Kelani's singing is grave and unadorned, with a conviction that suggests she would happily have performed the whole album unaccompanied. Violin and bass clarinet cohere in driving bagpipe-like drones, while Zoe Rahman's piano has a deliciously sombre quasi-classical feel. Combined with the often cantor-like quality of Kelani's voice, it creates poignant echoes of Jewish klezmer music at its most reflective. While the sufferings of the Palestinian people loom large over this powerful album, its very existence feels like a sign of hope. Mark Hudson
7. The Financial Times, Saturday, 25 February 2006
Kelani was born in Manchester but soaked up the music of the Arabian peninsular growing up in Kuwait. Sprinting Gazelle collects traditional songs from the Palestinian diaspora as well as setting poems to music. Some arrangements are classically Middle Eastern, others use a jazz backing. Kelani herself is a forceful, compelling singer, heavy with anger and defiance: Sprinting Gazelle adds up to a strident musical manifesto for Palestinian nationalism. Not easy listening, but impossible to ignore.
6. Metro, Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Music from the Outer Reaches
Born in Britain to Palestinian parents, singer Reem Kelani travelled to her homeland to archive the songs and lullabies still sung by the women in refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Several tracks on Sprinting Gazelle are rooted deep in history: the opening song, As Nazarene Women Crossed The Meadow, was originally sung by women as their men went off to fight in the Ottoman army. Waves of grief radiate from the newer material, too, which includes new arrangements of resistance poetry: the music to Mawwaal, a poem written by Mahmoud Darwish in 1967, was composed to mark the anniversary of the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. Kelani’s music is by turns joyous and desperate, with every sinewy note and impassioned lyric imbued with a rare sense of urgency. Claire Allfree
5. The Musical Intifadah, The Netherlands, 18 February 2006
Reem Kelani’s debut CD, “Sprinting Gazelle”, presents to the world a work of art that seems to travel beyond the regular definitions of musical genres. While it undeniably possesses the necessary entertainment value that is needed in music, keeping its listener spellbound as the songs treat his or her ears to a rich variety of sounds and melodies, it also seems to take him or her on an educational journey through the cosmopolitan richness of Palestinian culture.
At times, you imagine yourself present at a traditional Palestinian wedding or other festivity, while at other times the choice of instruments and melodic lines involved reminds you, that this music encompasses more than only its Palestinian folkloric heritage. However, since historically, Palestine has always hosted a variety of cultures, this mixture is far from estranging, but feels balanced and in tune with historical reality.
Reem’s voice, deservedly, plays the leading role in this masterpiece of musical art. Whoever listens to it, will acknowledge beyond the shadow of a doubt that this lady is a true vocalist, in possession of the qualities that are needed to rank her among the top professionals in her field. The unique colour of her voice enables listeners to easily identify with the emotions that she is attempting to convey, in such a harmonious fashion that it feels completely natural. At the same time, her vocal technique has a unique and personal touch that defies comparison to other well-known singers in the Arabic genre.
It is obvious, that the music was recorded and mixed with dedication, and attention to detail, while retaining its directness, and its purity. The piano, enchantingly played by Zoe Rahman, sometimes is reminiscent of the work of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, at other times touching upon the style of Ziad el Rahbani. Percussion has been applied with the utmost subtlety, avoiding to allow it to override the details of the melodic workmanship of the other artists in the recording. The acoustic bass is clearly present, yet equally subtle, serving as a solid foundation for the rest of the music.
Surprisingly, the Ud (Arabic lute) is absent, which could be considered a downside, but is rarely missed. Had it been present, it might have caused unnecessary competition with the piano, and undermined the “jazzy” transparency of the music. The saxophone, which is played quite skilfully by Idris Rahman, seems at times to act as the second voice in the songs, as if answering questions raised by Reem’s vocals, and providing a lovely counterbalance for them. This role is also assumed by Samy Bishai’s violin in the song “Yearning”, who does a beautiful, sometimes daring job at challenging and pulling at Reem’s melodic line, adding to the tension and variation of the track.
This CD, “Sprinting Gazelle”, which in my view is to be considered a landmark musical work of art in the history of Palestinian music, is clearly not aimed at the mainstream ear. One should not expect it to draw people to the dance floor, or to cause them to clap their hands to the rhythm. However, for those who appreciate the finer and more subtle types of Arabic, classical, jazz or world music, this CD is a veritable treat, and a beautiful invitation to Palestinian culture. By releasing this unique collection of songs, Reem has certainly earned the praise of her people, for representing them in such a stylish and dignified fashion. Tariq Shadid
4. The Financial Times, Wednesday, 15 February 2006
“Many of this winter's most exciting albums are made by exiles: Maurice El-Medioni's Algerian/Cuban fusion on Descarga Oriental; Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle, a set of Palestinian songs set to haunting, melancholy piano. And Ambrose Campbell, who came to England out of a sense of loyalty to a mother country he had never seen, has made his own contribution.”
3. Time Out, Tuesday, 7 February 2006
You may have heard British-born Palestinian folk singer Kelani as a featured vocalist on Gilad Atzmon’s BBC award-winning album “Exile”, or heard some of her Radio 4 documentaries about the music of displaced communities around the world. This, her first album as a leader, is split between pre-1948 Palestinian folk songs culled from refugee camps and new music set to classic Arabic Palestinian poetry.
It’s a compelling collection of children’s songs (‘Galilean Lullaby’), rambunctious wedding tunes (‘Sprinting Gazelle’), flamenco-tinted dance stompers (‘A Baker’s Dozen’), bonkers trance anthems (‘The Cameleer Tormented My Heart’) and piano-led ballads (‘Yearning’, ‘Mawwaal’, ‘Yafa’), that avoids being dry or ethnological.
The jazz-inflected accompaniment (from the likes of pianist Zoe Rahman, bassist Oli Hayhurst and percussionist Paul Clarvis) is never intrusive, the ECM-ish production is exquisite, Kelani’s voice is an awesome instrument and her own compositions and arrangements swerve between delicate, joyous, trancey, austere, boisterous and beautiful.
Furthermore, without ever pleading victim status or resorting to militancy, it presents a female vision of Palestinian culture that we rarely hear – and one that Hamas certainly won’t be promoting. John Lewis
Time Out No 1 Critics’ Choice Recent Albums, Tuesday, 14 February 2006
2. Evening Standard, Friday, 3 February 2006
Born to Palestinian parents in Britain, raised in Kuwait and a frequent visitor to Palestine, Kelani has collected some marvellous songs that are gentle as well as defiant. You can hear the pain in her voice on the farewell song that opens this album. Galilean Lullaby sings of loss and emigration, while the Qasidah of Return is powerfully dramatic. Much bleaker is her setting of Mawwaal (Variations on Loss), a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, composed for a BBC documentary about the Sabra & Shatila massacres. Kelani has assembled a good band and guests to make a rich and moving tapestry. Simon Broughton
1. Saudi Gazette, Tuesday, 31 January 2006
When the Palestinian singer and music researcher Reem Kelani, on a visit from London, told women in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon her name they immediately burst into the traditional song “Sprinting Gazelle”. This was a tribute to the name Reem, which means gazelle (or more specifically, according to the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary, white antelope or addax).
The spontaneous performance of the song by women of three generations epitomises the irrepressibility and deep-rootedness of Palestinian musical culture. The women also demonstrated for Kelani the circle dance that accompanies the song at weddings
Kelani has over the years done vital work in recording, arranging and singing the songs she has collected, as well as composing her own songs. The song she heard in Ein el-Hilweh is now the title track of her debut CD “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and Diaspora”, newly released on the British label Fuse Records. The infectiously danceable title track includes musician Tigran Aleksyan on the double-reeded yarghul that is played at Palestinian weddings.
The CD opens with Kelani’s haunting rendition of “As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow”, unaccompanied but for a background vocal drone. According to local Nazarene folklore, women would sing this song while saying goodbye to men folk leaving to serve in the Ottoman Army.
In the CD’s sleeve notes, Kelani recalls how an elderly man from Shefa ‘Amer near Nazareth approached her after a performance she gave in Dubai “and said that he had not heard this song for at least 60 years.”
Some of the ten tracks are based on traditional songs, such as “The Cameleer Tormented my Heart”, “Galilean Lullaby” and “A Baker’s Dozen”. Other tracks feature Kelani’s compositions for Palestinian poetry: “Mawwal – Variations on Loss” based on poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, “Yearning” by Rashid Husain, “Yafa!” by Mahmoud Salim al-Hout and “Qasidah of Return” by Dr Salma Khadra Jayyusi. The CD concludes with the rousing “Il-Hamdillah – Giving Praise”.
Running through the tracks is a sense of longing and pain, mingled with joyfulness and vibrancy. Kelani’s remarkable voice enters deep into the soul of the music with emotions ranging from tenderness to passion and fury.
Kelani is supported by a terrific line-up of musicians. Her core band, with which she often appears in performance, includes jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, whose piano improvisations (taqasim) add a magical dimension to tracks such as the evocative “Yafa!”
Woodwind whiz Idris Rahman plays clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. On the percussion side, Iranian Fariborz Kiani plays daf, tombak and naghghareh, and Parick Illingworth plays drums. Oli Hayhurst is on double bass and Samy Bishai plays violin.
The sleeve notes are in the form of a 16-page booklet rich in information on each track and with the lyrics in both English and Arabic. The literary consultant is Palestinian scholar Dr Salma Khadra Jayyusi and the poetry consultant the well-known British poet Alan Brownjohn. The cover and sleeve notes were designed by Nada Irani, and the Persian-style calligraphy was done by Iranian calligrapher and musician Bahman Panahi. Susannah Tarbush