Reem Kelani & Beating Wing Orchestra

Manchester Academy, Manchester International Festival, 10 July 2007

World music, like blues, used to be predicated on the appeal of the other. For full enjoyment, the music had to come from somewhere remote and exotic. The bluesman or griot from up the road was viewed with suspicion. Globalisation has changed all that. The Beating Wing Orchestra consists of musicians-in-exile from Manchester’s wide immigrant population. Their union disproves the idea that multi-culturalism is a threat. Communities can best unite, is the Beating Wing lesson, not by inter-faith dialogue, but by inter-musical dialogue.
The achievement of Reem Kelani’s stunning work, Paradise In Strangers - commissioned by Manchester International Festival - is to penetrate superficial differences to reveal deeper human truths. The first section introduced variously ethnically diverse singers in succession, each with a song of exile. Haili Heaton brought the highly stylised refinements of Chinese opera, whereas Alan Mardan might have been chanting across a mountain-range in Kurdistan. Emmanuela Macholi Yogolelo, from the Congo, transcended language with the tragic force of her singing. If pain is a universal, so is love, and Haili and Azhar Nasir made an attractive cross-cultural Romeo and Juliet in the third section, Question-And-Answer on Love.
This is not watered down fusion, but the antidote to watered down fusion. The entire company participated with gusto in the ‘Gulf clapping’ of Dhow Boat Speaks. The mood by now had irreversibly shifted from sadness to celebration. Kelani mischievously sprang the biggest surprise with the final section - an adaption in 6/8 time of a Manchester broadside ballad. It was the first full outing for her own incomparable voice, and surely represented a reconciliation with her birthplace: Reem Kelani is the world’s most prominent Manchester-born Palestinian singer. This impression was confirmed when the singers began chanting in unison, ‘sing hey, sing ho, sing hey down gai-ly, Manchester’s improving dai-ly.’ Exile has its bright moments too.


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