My Ramadan with Tamtam: Experiencing the Holy Month in Los Angeles

Tamtam relocated to Los Angeles as a teenager, where — after finishing her education — she pursued her dream of a music career. (Arab News)
Updated 29 May 2018

My Ramadan with Tamtam: Experiencing the Holy Month in Los Angeles

  • Singer-songwriter Tamtam recounts her experience of Ramadan in the city of angels
  • She moved to LA to pursue her dream of a music career

LOS ANGELES: Born and raised in Riyadh, singer-songwriter Tamtam relocated to Los Angeles as a teenager, where — after finishing her education — she pursued her dream of a music career. Her greatest musical inspiration was Michael Jackson, whom she describes as a storyteller with a voice she found emotive and moving. Her own music could be classified as pop, but lyrically Tamtam tries to ensure her songs carry a message of some kind, rather than following generic trends.

Read on to experience Ramadan in the city in her own words...

When I was growing up in Riyadh, Ramadan was my favorite time of year. I would look forward to family and friends getting together and, most importantly, I always felt that the city was so at peace during the Holy Month.

One of my favorite moments during Ramadan is breaking the fast. I love the combination of the taste of laban, dates and Arabic coffee. Perfect. But then my least favorite part, when I’m in Saudi anyway, is how I feel after iftar, because I always feel so tired and full after eating so much food. Every time I have iftar at home in Saudi, I tell myself that, this time, I will listen to my body; but it’s kind of hard to do that when your brain is telling you that you haven’t eaten all day and you see rice, chicken, lamb, perfectly baked or fried sambousak, mulukhiyah, bamia, jareesh... You get the point.

Ramadan in Los Angeles is very different, but I always make sure to have dates in the house for when I break my fast. I’ll head down to the Jordanian supermarket in Westwood to get laban and other foods that remind me of home, like zaatar, Turkish coffee, Arabic coffee… I may have a little coffee addiction.

What I miss most when I’m in LA is having a community of people who are fasting with me. Mostly, I miss my family and breaking the fast together. Of course, while I’m here, I’m also working, so that’s a really great way for me to not focus on the hunger, and concentrate on mind over matter.

When I record music during Ramdan, I always schedule my studio sessions after sunset so that I have time to break my fast. Although I miss my family and the feeling of community, I honestly love Ramadan in LA because I feel like I am doing Ramadan correctly. I work all day while I’m fasting, and the point of Ramadan is to be able to feel the discomfort that comes with hunger as you are going about your everyday life. When I’m in Saudi, I feel like I’ll sleep longer and I don’t feel the hunger as much as I do when I’m in LA. I always listen to my body when I am breaking my fast here, because I’m not going to have a feast on my own, so I end up doing the cleansing part of Ramadan correctly. Instead of overeating and feeling sleepy, I feel more energized as the days go by.

I don’t usually go to a masjid in LA. I pray at home instead. Although there are differences between fasting in Saudi and fasting in LA, the most important thing they have in common is learning to be more patient with yourself, your body, your life, and other human beings; being thankful for the lives that we are living because, at the end of the day, it’s the little things in life that make the biggest differences. I am grateful to be able to learn this lesson more and more every year.

Fact Box:
Age: 25
Profession: Singer-songwriter
Earliest fajr this year: 04:18
Latest maghrib this year: 20:06
Fasting tip: Reading the Qur’an really helps me whenever I’m super-hungry. It makes me forget about the hunger. If you’re having a particularly difficult day, go to the movies. The time will fly.
Favorite restaurant for iftar: Mantee Café in Studio City, which serves Lebanese and Armenian cuisine.
Best Ramadan dish: Jareesh and mulukhiyah

Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

Updated 16 August 2018

Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

LONDON: What is it about the work of the famed Lebanese poet, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran that touches the hearts of so many people across the world today, decades on from his death in 1931? An exhibition of art inspired by his writings held this month at Sotheby’s in London provided an opportunity to consider that question
“Kahlil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was organized by the peace building movement, Caravan, and co-curated by Janet Rady and Marion Fromlet Baecker. It featured work by 38 artists from across the Middle East. The vision for the exhibition grew out of a recent book on Gibran titled “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran” by the Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan’s founding president.
Chandler is committed to breaking down cultural, racial and religious barriers. Through the Caravan initiative he has hosted numerous exhibitions using art to build bridges between the Middle East and the West. He sees the message contained in Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet” as profoundly relevant today.
Speaking to Arab News at the packed-out event, he said: “All the artists in this exhibition are trying to express how they have been inspired, challenged and encouraged by Gibran’s themes of peace, love and harmony for all of humanity. The thread running through all the work is the unique role that Gibran plays in reminding us that we are one family.
“The idea of the Caravan movement is that we are all journeying together, regardless of background, tradition or religion,” he continued. “The arts have a unique role in peace-building between the Middle East and the West.”
Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, who was raised in Lebanon, said she first read “The Prophet” at school, but made a point of re-reading it several times before starting work on her contribution to the piece, “On Giving.”
Her painting shows a throng of people gazing upwards at a transcendent figure — the Prophet — who seems to shimmer above the multitude in hues of gold.
“To me, Gibran’s Prophet represents an enlightened mystic,” she explained. “He was so ahead of his time and such a spiritual person.”
For Chalabi, Gibran’s work continues to resonate. “The wisdom of Gibran is very much needed today,” she said. “He could explain his ideas in a simple way to people. In his day he was misunderstood and branded a heretic by those who missed the essence of what he was saying and took his teachings at a very superficial level.”
Chalabi was clearly pleased to have been invited to submit work to Caravan’s exhibition.
“I believe in what Rev. Chandler is trying to do,” she said. “We have to bridge the differences in the world and try to understand each other’s religions, cultures and perspectives.”
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al-Khalifa showed a striking painting of a woman, titled
“Blind Faith.” The starkly expressive figure looks perplexed and stares out from the painting with an abstract and tense expression.
Al-Khalifa said: “There are a lot of emotions I wanted to convey through this work. I was exploring the concept of faith and how sometimes people have to abandon some of the ideas that give them their own sense of identity and take a leap of faith. I consider the question ‘How much of you are you prepared to surrender for your faith?’ Faith is surrender with cause but without proof. Sometimes people have to face ambivalence, fear and anxiety on this journey.”
Al-Khalifa also stressed how relevant Gibran outlook remains today.
“I love how Gibran explored many aspects of many themes. His thought process is very fresh and modern — even today,” she said. “It is not rigid, but very hopeful and expresses love and acceptance.
“I really believe that all people are united as human beings. But we try so hard to separate from each other, even though in reality we all have the same concerns and loves and hates. We should come together,” she continued.
Lebanese artist Christine Saleh Jamil echoed Al-Khalifa’s sentiments. “Gibran means so much to me. Reading his book ‘The Prophet’ taught me a lot about life, how to live peacefully and accept things in a harmonious way,” she said. “His message is very important today.”
Jamil created “The Wanderer,” a captivating image of Gibran as a child, for the exhibition. Her work, she said, was based on a photograph and inspired by Chandler’s book, which, she said, “took me back to my childhood in Beirut.”
“That’s why I chose to represent Gibran as a child and in this image you see his face set among birch trees, as he loved nature,” she explained.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, Rami Mortada — a special guest at the event — spoke to Arab News about Gibran’s legacy.
“The interest shown here tonight and the big turnout is an indication of how the message he stands for is relevant, badly needed and timely in our world today,” Mortada said. “It is a message of harmony and peace, of removing barriers between nations and cultures, and of interfaith dialogue. This is what Gibran encapsulated. If I had to sum up his work up in one word, I would say (it is) inspirational.”
Another ambassador, Dr. Alisher Shaykhov from Uzbekistan, stressed that Gibran’s work is of truly global significance.
“Gibran’s fame extends far beyond the Middle East. He is a person who has succeeded in transferring the spirit of the Islamic people in a harmonious way,” he observed. “One of his most important messages is that of the unifying elements, rather than the differences, between religions. He has a gift of being able to express the feelings of the people. The artists here, imbued with his spirit, have transferred his message through their artworks in their own personal way.”
Art enthusiast Mira Takla said she had attended a number of ‘Caravan’ art events and always found their message very persuasive.
“As far as I am concerned these events do more for interracial understanding and comprehension and tolerance of different cultures than many other such initiatives,” she said.
Another guest. Anthony Wynn, gave a good example of Gibran’s cross-cultural appeal, pointing out that he had often heard Gibran quoted at weddings in the UK — particularly a verse from “On Marriage” from “The Prophet”:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love/Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls/Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup/Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf/Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone/Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”