Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 13 March 2020

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
  • The Iraqi-Egyptian musician on ‘creating music you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages’

LONDON: 1980 to 1988. 1990 to 1991. 2003 to today. These are the dates that are seared into the mind of Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi — the dates of the wars that changed her life completely and displaced or killed thousands in the country where she was born.

Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. By that time, they were orphans.

After the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, the family had moved from war-ravaged Baghdad to Cairo to get medical treatment for Al-Khalidi’s mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, she died soon after their arrival.




Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. (Supplied)

The family stayed in Egypt for several years before returning to Baghdad in 1997. But any hopes they had of living normal, peaceful lives were soon shattered.

“The situation in Iraq became unbearable. I had already witnessed many horrible things during the two wars. Early in 2001, there were public executions of women who were suspected of being prostitutes — though it later came to light there was a political rather than religious agenda behind these charges. I witnessed the execution of a woman right outside my building in Baghdad,” Al-Khalidi tells Arab News.

After the death of their father in 2001, Al-Khalidi knew she and her sister had to get out of Iraq somehow. After a tense, often frightening crossing into Jordan, the two young women finally ended up in a refugee camp in Sweden. It was there that Al-Khalidi began to rebuild her life, finding solace in music.




Al-Khalidi poses with her music teacher Josefin (left) and her late mother (right). (Supplied)

In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music” (a catch-all term that basically covers anything that isn’t of Western origin) —including Arabic music.

“I discovered that singing in Arabic — my mother tongue — really moves me,” she recalls. “It taps deep emotions and feelings.”

Al-Khalidi eventually settled in Malmo. And it was there that she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. 

“Our name comes from the Arabic expression ‘tarab,’ which means ‘ecstasy through music’ played by wandering musicians or troubadours” she explains.




Al-Khalidi settled in Malmo, where she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. (Supplied)

Tarabband’s sound is a mix of haunting melodies and the kind of rhythms that make you want to leap out of your chair and dance, as Arab News witnessed at the band’s performance during this month’s Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival in London. But beneath the celebratory vibe, Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. “In Tarabband, we are always trying to get a balance in creating music which you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages,” she says.

Her songs, she told The Guardian in 2016, are based on “my nightmares and my PTSD, my relationships and loyalty issues — the fact I can’t have light relationships.”

Her intense focus on her music and her commitment to acting as a voice for displaced people and refugees has, she admits, taken its toll.




In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. (Supplied)

“Last year I collapsed. I woke up one morning and many realizations came to me all at once: I am now forty, I have no family, I am constantly touring and my priorities in life go mainly to my music projects,” she says. “But this is what I choose to do. And there is also huge joy in it. It is very energy consuming. I am the only female in the band, which is challenging — and, of course, there are cultural differences there to deal with as well. But the whole band has a strong and solid humanitarian and artistic culture.”

She is striving for balance in her life, she says, but she recognizes that her true calling is music — and telling the stories of others who don’t have a voice. She is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war and feels strongly that politicians should take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.




The singer is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war. (Supplied)

“I have witnessed the impact on civilians — the destruction of a nation, a culture, dreams and hopes, the education and healthcare systems, infrastructure…” she says. “Their actions have resulted in continuous misery for those who have been attacked.”

She hopes that perhaps she can have the same impact on others that other musicians, particularly US folk singer and activist Joan Baez, had on her.

“I discovered (Baez) when I was 17. Her way of telling stories through songs and between songs really touched me,” says Al-Khalidi. “When I first got her tape I didn’t know who she was, but she was singing in a (bomb) shelter in Vietnam. You could hear the bombs in the background.




Tarabband recently performed at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. (Supplied)

“Somehow I felt she was singing for me because I was witnessing terror myself,” Al-Khalidi continues.  “Then — at the age of 32 — I met her backstage at a concert in Sweden. When I talked to her, I knew I was on the right path.”

Al-Khalidi was particularly moved by the rapturous reception Tarabband received after their recent performance at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. “Before we went, I was expecting misery and sadness,” she says. “But what I experienced was about 500 young girls who are stronger and happier than you. The moment you sing and play there are sparks coming out of their eyes.”

Al-Khalidi knows she was lucky: Her own experience as a refugee ended relatively happily, and she is full of praise for Sweden — the country that opened its doors to her and her sister in their time of need.




Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. (Supplied)

“I was given a very warm reception and ended up living with a well-known Swedish opera singer (Marianne Mörck). I lived with her for six years and I still call her ‘mamma.’”

But although her experience has been overwhelmingly positive — there have still been incidents that remind her of the abuse and intolerance many refugees face daily.

“Outside the bubble of my music and the people who know me I am just a random person on the street. I have dark hair and the family name Al-Khalidi,” she says. “I have been physically threatened by a Nazi type on a train.” And even people close to her have surprised her with their attitude to refugees in general, she says.




It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music.” (Supplied)

“I would say there is still this perception from some people in Europe that refugees are trying to invade Europe with their culture and religion,” she continues. “I am not religious, but I am a hard-working, responsible woman. I’m honest. I show up on time. I am loyal to society. I pay taxes and live an honorable life. My black hair does not define me as a human being. My actions, hard work, engagement and morals are what define me.”

As, too, does her ongoing willingness to express the hopes and fears of those who often do not have a platform to express them themselves.

“I have seen death and bombs, but my experience is nothing to the mental and physical experiences of many other people around the world,” she says. “Telling their stories is my duty and calling. The memories and trauma I have experienced, I can’t delete. But I can make some peace with my past by writing music and singing about it and by sharing stories of other people, especially with the Western world.”


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
Updated 18 April 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images

DUBAI: Dubai-based beauty mogul Huda Kattan took to Instagram on Saturday to reveal she has taken part in a food drive campaign launched by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The 100 Million Meals mission was launched to provide food parcels to disadvantaged communities across 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa in an effort to combat hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Kattan announced that she has donated one million meals to those less fortunate via her cosmetics company Huda Beauty.

“It’s hard to believe that in today’s world, in 2021, we’re still dealing with issues of malnutrition and that every ten seconds a child dies because of hunger. This initiative is so incredible and it’s just a reminder of how each and every single one of us has the power to make a change,” said Kattan in a video posted to her Instagram account.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

“I’m so proud to live in a country that prioritizes world hunger,” she said, urging her 2.2 million followers to donate to the charitable initiative.

The 100 Million Meals campaign is an expansion of the 10 Million Meals campaign, which was launched in 2020 to help those worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a week of its launch, the initiative has raised over $21,200, equivalent to providing more than 78 million meals, as massive donations continue to pour in from individuals and companies inside and outside the UAE.

Kattan is an avid humanitarian and often steps up to help those who need it most.

In June, her cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty, donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a civil and human rights organization that provides legal assistance to low-income African Americans, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests that swept through the US last year. 

Before that, the US-Iraqi beauty mogul pledged to donate $100,000 — to be split between 100 different freelance makeup artists providing them with $1000 each — in a bid to help people in the industry stay afloat financially during the pandemic.


Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
Updated 18 April 2021

Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek

DUBAI: There’s a new fashion week in the region to look forward to. Middle East Fashion Week has announced its inaugural edition in a statement today. The six-day event is scheduled to take place at Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm from May 14-19. 

Unlike the traditional fashion week format we’ve all become accustomed to, Middle East Fashion Week is adopting a unique schedule, with a three-day sustainable fashion forum featuring high-profile international speakers, followed by three days of in-person fashion shows from international and regional designers, a gala dinner and a slew of other VIP events.

CEO of Middle East Fashion Council Simon J Lo Gatto, said in a statement: “Middle Eastern Fashion Week has been created as a platform to allow designers to come together with a unique opportunity to showcase in Dubai and to reach audiences not only across the GCC, but also the larger Indian subcontinent and Europe.”

He added: “Our goal is for the Middle East Fashion Week to become a biannual Fashion Week that acts as a reference point for designers from all corners of the world. Since inception in 2020, MEFC has positioned itself as the world’s first fashion council with sustainability as its core value and long-term objective. The platform was born from an inspiration to tackle climate change and pollution brought on as a direct result of the industry we love.”

The participating designers have yet to be revealed.


Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.
Baked feta pasta.
Updated 18 April 2021

Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.

DUBAI: If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve drooled over one of countless images of baked feta pasta — a dish that went viral this year for that holy grail combination of anyone-can-do-it easiness and blissful deliciousness.

The dish, which consists of feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and pasta, has been blasted all over the For You pages of millennials and Gen Z’ers on TikTok, and as of April 18,  #bakedfetapasta has more than 111.4 million views on the social media platform.

For those looking to whip up the dish for iftar, we asked Iraqi-Canadian chef Faisal Hasoon to share a simple baked feta pasta recipe with an Arab twist. 

The chef incorporates a fresh Middle Eastern flavor by way of roasted red peppers, sliced kalamata olives, a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkling of zest.  

Baked Feta Pasta

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

Olive oil 3tbsp

6 cloves garlic (minced)

60g kalamata olives (sliced thin)

250g roasted red peppers (diced)

6 fresh basil leaves (chiffonade)

350g pasta (rigatoni) 

200g feta cheese (Greek, sheep or goat)

1 lemon (zest and juice)

Chilli pepper oil 1tbsp

Dried chilli flakes 1tsp

Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

Step 1: In a medium sized pot bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta as per the instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, drain the remainder and set aside.

Step 2: Starting with a cold pan, cook garlic on low heat in olive oil. Allow it to simmer just before turning golden brown. Be sure not to overcook it as it will become bitter.  Add red chilli flakes and roasted red peppers, let it simmer for a few minutes then add sliced olives. Maintaining low heat and turning with a spatula frequently.

Step 3: Place the whole block of feta into the center of the pan and into the oven at 375 Celsius for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. 

Step 4: Place the pasta into the pan and mix well until all ingredients are well incorporated, adding reserved pasta water as needed.

Step 5: Finish with the zest and juice of one lemon, fresh cracked black pepper and thinly sliced basil. For an extra kick, drizzle over chilli oil and enjoy!

 

 


Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
Updated 17 April 2021

Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied

CHICAGO: Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, “Voices of the Lost,” written by acclaimed Lebanese author Hoda Barakat and newly translated into English by Marilyn Booth, is a dark, profound novel that follows the lives of six men and women who confess their untold truths to their loved ones through letters. None of the letters reaches their intended recipients, however, and their devastating admissions are left to strangers who are then inspired to disclose their own secrets. And through their confessions, a series of letters emerges on life, love and devastating loss.

In an unknown part of the world, where war, poverty and destruction have caused life to veer in unpredictable directions, strangers struggle with the events of the past, both those they were responsible for and those they were victims of, which forced them into lives they neither wanted nor could have ever dreamed of. Split into three parts — for the lost, for the searching, and those left behind — the novel begins with an undocumented immigrant who is writing to an ex-girlfriend. He writes to her of the most profound and disturbing moment in his childhood, one that changed the trajectory of his life forever. From that moment on, life has never quite been the same, and it has led him to a dark place where he cannot mentally, spiritually or physically settle.

Barakat’s novel is a delicate experiment in confession and a testament to the catalyzing power of writing to reveal the truth. Her characters commit their lives to paper without the fear of retribution, confessing their crimes of infidelity, torture and more. None of the writers can return to his or home, to a state of comfort or to the past. Some have lost their countries, while others have simply run out of time.

Barakat’s characters must force themselves to move forward from their past sufferings. Where loved ones and society may not accept their revelations of shortcomings or shame, their confessions are a reconciliation with themselves. And in writing of their pain, they connect with one another. They are not alone, no matter how lonely the act of writing a letter can be. And in a moment of consciousness, awake in their confessions, Barakat’s characters reach a spiritual peak within themselves, one that pushes them to continue surviving.

 


US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Updated 17 April 2021

US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images

DUBAI: US actress Yara Shahidi is developing a new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions. The part-Middle Eastern star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World,” alongside her mother and business partner Keri Shahidi and Brown for ABC Signature.

“Honored to bring @coletdbrown’s incredible & nuanced telling of our stories as brown folx onto screens w/ my PARTNER IN CRIME @chocolatemommyluv! (sic)” wrote the 21-year-old on Instagram, alongside a screenshot of a Deadline article announcing the news of the series.

“The work of displaying and celebrating the ENTIRE spectrum of our humanity continues to feel more prescient (sic),” she added.

Published in 2020, “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” is a first-hand account of what it’s like to navigate life in America as a mixed-race adolescent. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author.

According to the author, the book is heavily inspired by an essay he wrote in college.

“What a dream come true this is!” exclaimed Cole on Instagram. “It still astounds me to think that what began as a college essay a few years ago has made it all the way to ABC. No duo I’d rather work with to bring Greyboy to life than @yarashahidi & @chocolatemommyluv. Let’s get to work! (sic),” the author posted on social media.

Back in September, Shahidi took to social media to praise Cole’s debut book, writing that “his honest reflections on the way in which racial identity takes shape and shape-shifts through his own experiences feels intimate, and yet taps in to the common experience of moving through space as a black and brown person.” She added that “It’s been a must-read in our household!”

“Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” isn’t the only project that the “Grown-ish” star is currently working on. 

The US-Iranian actress and activist is also producing a new single-camera comedy series, titled “Smoakland,” for Freeform via her production company 7th Sun.

The rising star and her mother announced the launch of their new production company in July and signed an exclusive overall deal with ABC Studios which will see them develop television projects for streaming, cable and broadcast platforms.