Nai Barghouti: ‘Unheard’
(Kings Place Hall One. 12 November 2023. EFG LJF. Review by Gareth Thomas)
As the Israel-Palestine conflict continues, the death toll in Gaza surpassing 10,000 people, Nai Barghouti’s two performances at King’s Place for the London Jazz Festival were ones of “grief and hope”. The Palestinian singer, composer and flautist dedicated the concert to all the unheard voices of Gaza, donating all proceeds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The set itself consisted of a mix of Barghouti’s own compositions – many of which have their lyrics inspired by Palestinian poetry, for instance Mahmoud Darwish’s “Think of Others” – alongside a selection of well-known Arabic pieces. During a performance of “Mawtini”, once the unofficial anthem of Palestine in the 30s before being adopted as the national anthem of Iraq much later, many audience members could be heard clapping and singing along in a striking display of solidarity.
Her voice soft yet powerful, Barghouti’s versatility is exemplified by the obvious comfort she has in singing both classical Arabic compositions as well as jazz. Songs popularised by the iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz were juxtaposed with an arrangement of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” (sung partly in Arabic) and a rendition of the Civil Rights movement’s anthem “We Shall Overcome”.
Supporting Barghouti was an instrumental accompaniment featuring Khalil Khoury on qanun and oud, alongside a typical jazz rhythm section of piano (Tony Roe), electric bass (Diego Álvarez) and drums (Ruven Ruppik): once again demonstrating this bridge formed between jazz and traditional Arabic music. Barghouti also introduced her signature vocal technique into the performance: dubbed ‘Naistrumentantion’, this is a layered vocal mimicking of instruments, and was impressively employed in her arrangement of an old Ottoman instrumental piece.
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Over the course of around two hours, a lot of musical ground was covered, and Nai Barghouti’s LJF performance at Kings Place received two standing ovations: a performance moving and musically brilliant, at once mournful yet uplifting.