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Review; REEM KELANI Arabic Arts Festival.

Byline: by Catherine Jones

RATHER like the BBC, Reem Kelani's remit seems to be to educate, inform - and of course to entertain.

The indefatigable Palestinian doesn't simply perform the songs she sings.

She also takes time to act as an enthused teacher explaining the historical, religious - though rarely political - background to each.

These are less tub-thumping protest songs and more the lyrical tales of love or loss.

Manchester-born (but Kuwaitraised) Kelani has researched her subject well over 20 years, talking to people in both Palestine and Palestinian refugee camps.

But as her two-hour set showed, her net spreads wide to embrace the music of Egypt, Spain, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Nubian people and even Bulgaria.

In a crowded Bluecoat performance space, non-Arabic members of the audience outnumbered the Arabic.

But then that was mirrored on stage where Kelani's excellent jazzstyle ensemble included a double bass player called Oli, a bald-headed drummer from Lancashire and a sax/flautist with floppy hair.

And there was a jazz inflection to Kelani's performance, born from growing up with her father's jazz records.

Songs were delivered with intense passion with the singer telling the story with her arms, urging on her musicians, stamping her feet and clapping her hands.

It's a performance that needs real stamina.

She also cajoled the audience into joining in when they felt like it, declaring the evening less of a gig and more of a workshop.

There were flamenco overtones to an energetic, insistent short song written by Egyptian composer Sayid Darwish - described by Kelani as the Arabic equivalent of English rural folk song champion Percy Grainger.

It was one of the highlights of a set which also touched on Bollywood, blues, "Palestinian bebop" and a Persian song in mind-bending 17/8 time, all delivered with an infectious sense of fun.

If there was one weakness it was that the songs all started to become as blurry in my head as the saxophone was in my ear.

But the evening of Middle Eastern travel came to a satisfyingly raucous conclusion back in Palestine with a touch of Arabic yodelling and an infectious encore number paying homage to Lebanese legend Fairuz.

RATING:

9/10 Palestinian passion
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 24, 2008
Words:365
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