A Night of Communal Love
When The Times interviewed Kuwaiti music composer Nawaf Gheraibah back in April, we asked him about his upcoming concert, to which he had replied – while not disclosing much – that ‘It’s going to be big’.
Indeed, and true to his words, last Saturday’s music concert – Samsara – featured an ensemble of over 30 musically endowed artistes, talented instrumentalists, multilingual vocalists, over 2500 people in attendance which included the American Ambassador and various other dignitaries – easily making this event Kuwait’s biggest concert, yet.
After ‘Samsara’s’ resounding success, nobody can doubt Nawaf Gheraibah’s caliber as a composer, or his knack for infusing tribal and ancestral rhythms, poetries, and theories into present day music, as well as his subtle ability to break social barriers with it.
Although composing and producing music for over a decade now, Nawaf has only recently made his presence felt, debuting with 2012’s critically appraised, ‘Bija’. With ‘Samsara’ Nawaf wanted to play to a wider audience that has taken an affectionate liking to his brand of music. In his own words, Nawaf says, “I was inspired to do the show by my wife, family and the people around me who kept asking for more since we did Bija. It took approximately a year in preparation, we started work on Samsara immediately after Bija and I don't even think we took a break since!”
Hence, ‘Samsara’, which means ‘Circle of life’ or ‘Rebirth’ in Sanskrit, is befitting in many context. The rising artisan belted out a series of feel-good music tracks influenced by Asian, African, Arabian, and European cultures, and delivered in Arabic, French, Swahili, Portuguese, Hindi, and English, whilst sending out an open message of unity and communal love.
Personally, I think its Nawaf’s humbleness and willingness to look past man-made differences, which makes him a true champion of music. The concert, which was once re-scheduled in reverence to Ashoura, and again due to the storm on November 18th, finally performed on a perfect night to an ecstatic crowd at GUST University’s open air amphitheatre in Mishref. The show started promptly on time and was efficiently managed by CAMCO Global.
Interesting, the concert was free, on which Nawaf commented, “I believe art is free. I want people to just come and enjoy, and when they leave with a smile it is priceless!”
Nawaf credits his wife, his father, and his in-laws as his biggest support system. “And of course, all of CAMCO team supported me immensely,” he added.
He further describes his whole experience as being both exhaustive and exhilarating. “I had to be a composer, musician, and producer –all at once. Not only was I creating an album, but also managing, chasing sponsors, and coordinating rehearsals with musicians. This left me with no time for myself, and a lot of things became chaotic towards the end,” he explained.
But he adds that all of it was worth it. “I feel pure joy...I'm on cloud 9!” he replied at the conclusion of the show. “Although we went through a great deal, including my ill-health, it was worth every smile on my audiences’ faces.”
The show kick started with ‘Bismillah’, giving way to vocalist Hadi Khamis, one of the lead singers of Kuwait’s first ‘Ra’n’B’ band Army of One, who enthralled the audience with Rumi Blues, followed by Hawa, a duet by Faisal Marei (Army of One) and signer Coco Kara.
Next up, Yallah, a solo by Neelima Dominic and the words of Urdu poet Mubasher Sayed, who describes how happiness and peace come for a few seconds in our day, yet we miss it without cherishing.
Fistula Carmen, or flute song, was a slow track sung by Coco Kara. A poem by Rumi describing himself as a Reed, cut off from the ground and with holes in him, so that when he sings, men and women cry to his mournful sounds.
For the instrumental Rag Avatar, Nawaf donned his classical avatar, perching himself on the ground to play one of his favorite instruments –the sitar. This was followed by Blue, a rendition of Nizar Qabani’s poem infused with the words of a very old Kuwaiti sea-song, ‘Tob Toby al bahar’, sung by women of the yore for their men risking their lives out at sea. Mixed with reggae and sung by the vivacious Coco and Daffy, this one definitely struck a chord with the audience.
Coco and Daffy teamed up again to sing Borboleta, Portuguese for ‘butterfly’ and my personal favorite of the night. Basically a nursery rhyme, wherein the poet reflects on the life of a butterfly that lasts for a day, yet is peaceful, graceful and full of joy. The track, which gave the audience a chance to see the amazing Stylus Band in action and vocalist Coco at her best, was an absolute hit.
By then the crowd was so thoroughly enjoying themselves that they refused to take a break, urging the musicians to keep playing.
Misty Dreams is perhaps the only tragic track dedicated to the loving memory of Nawaf’s late brother and best-friend, Hadi. “My wife wrote the lyrics for this one, and it’s for people who lose someone special in their lives….it’s for my brother, my angel who's above guarding me,” Nawaf said.
Other numbers included: Bhakti, a retake of last year’s track by Army of One and featuring Daffy, Hadi and Faisal as they crooned ‘Don’t you love yourself’; Malek Shiva, a duet by Neelima and the versatile Hadi and a love ballad called Duda, which is Nawaf’s affectionate nickname for his wife. “‘Duda’ actually means ‘worm’ in Arabic and she bugs me like one to persist with my music,” laughs Nawaf, as the audience cheered the couple’s affection for each other.
The last song was apparently an encore song. Hello Earth is Nawaf’s first attempt at writing lyrics, and was in response to all the distressing news on TV these days. “I wanted it to be as simple as the words ‘I love you’,” Nawaf explained, who wanted to remind people how we as humans, have forgotten to protect and cherish planet Earth.
In all of this, Nawaf’s says his biggest challenge was satisfying his listeners. “Even though I do music for myself, as it's my portrait, but in the end people are the ones who see, critique, and judge it.”
When asked if he thinks any one musician of his troupe outshines, Nawaf replied, “They are all spectacular...it would be wrong to mention anyone. I believe we’re one family...when I speak of one, I speak of all.”
Finally, the musical spectacle received a standing ovation. And while Nawaf claims ‘it wasn’t the way he had imagined, but was good, nevertheless’, he is already flooded with public requests for another show! So, when do we see him next? “Soon, hopefully!” exclaimed Nawaf, who wishes to thank all his sponsors whose support made the night possible.
“My next concert will be more about love, art, many more cultures and traditional experiments,” said the talented musician, whose simply message to everyone is ‘spread love….never get enough of love’.
- By Shabana H. Shaikh