Gig review: BEMIS Celebrates Burns: Reem Kelani, Old Fruitmarket

The Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Burns but not as you know it, Jim, as BEMIS, the umbrella body for Scotland’s ethnic minority voluntary sector, joined with Celtic Connections for a “supper” in which the haggis came in pakoras and the performers were powerful exponents of music from a beleaguered Middle East, all of it reflecting the Ayrshire bard’s humanity, egalitarianism and internationalism.

BEMIS Celebrates Burns: Reem Kelani | Rating **** | Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Glasgow’s multi­cultural eight-piece E Karika Djal – “Moving Wheel”, formed through a community initiative – opened with a ­beat-y blend of Slovakian Roma music and Scottish folk, with a nod to Burns in a slightly Pogues-ish rendition of Tibby Dunbar. In contrast, the virtuosic Maya Youssef produced spellbinding chimes and darting arpeggios on the kanun or Syrian zither (including a well-received Auld Lang Syne), while the duo of Pakistani singer Sara Kazmi and Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes spliced British and Pakistani folk, perhaps most effectively with Hayes’s interlacing of a pipe march on breathy flute with Kazmi’s microtonal Punjabi intoning.

Palestinian singer Reem Kelani was an ebullient, commanding presence, accompanied by a sterling quartet of piano, saxophone/clarinet, double bass and drums. Her repertoire – apart from a brief, blues-steeped reprise of Burns’s Slave’s Lament – was frequently drawn from refugee camps. A Gallilean lullaby, for instance, with its all-too-resonant references to departed loved ones and abandoned homes, worked its way from incantatory cadences to impassioned outpouring, while her closing Il-Hamdillah, with its whooping opening, was a hypnotic statement of resilience in the face of displacement.