Words by Amar Dhillon
It might not have been a full house at the Barbican last Friday, but the crowd’s enthusiasm went beyond overcompensation. The strong contingent of Arab fans greeted Lena Chamamyan’s entrance with raucous cheering and applause, and as the show progressed many sang along loudly or danced in their seats.
From the lullaby dedicated to the children of Syria to the traditional Kurdish wedding song, each track’s emotion was conveyed effortlessly by Lena’s breathtaking voice (“You will feel it,” she had rightly predicted). However for a non-Arabic speaker, it was tinged bittersweet: although I had enjoyed every second, I wished I had understood her lyrics.
With a disarming smile and charming stage presence, as well as an obvious talent as a singer-songwriter, I could see why Lena’s fans were quite so zealous, to the point that the grand finale ‘Halale Janlale’ had me singing and clapping along with the entire hall, while dozens of camera phones filmed in defiance of the ushers, and distinctive ululations propelled the qanun, trumpet, piano and percussion to an exhilarating crescendo.