Tarabband’s frontwoman, Nadin Al Khalidi, greeted the audience with “salam alekum” (‘peace be upon you’), which also happens to be the title of their opening song. The Arab majority audience cheered, replying with an excited “walaikum salam!” The ninth song from their new album, ‘Salam Alekum’ was an aptly chosen response to the current troubled times and set the absorbing tone of the evening.
Having grown up during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, Al Khalidi chronicled real-life stories of people affected by the war. Each story, translated into song, bears with it the feeling of pain, suffering, loss and sorrow. The simplicity of the verses accompanied by the buoyant sounds of the saz and mandole (lutes) delivered a moving portrayal of the emotions felt by Al Khalidi and her chosen subjects of war.
But for Al Khalidi, the crudeness of her songs – she reflected on “how the roots of my heart sound” – required something else to bring the stories home to the audience. Determined to instil the message of her songs, she validated each with a brief introduction.
Halfway through their set, Tarabband changes tone, breaking the sullen mood of her narration, Al Khalidi introduced the story of Yasmin, a young girl lost to war. Via Yasmin, she reminded us to celebrate the memories of the children of war and to reflect upon them as inspiration to help us become better people.
Despite the underlying solemnity of the evening’s performance, the audience remained upbeat – dancing, clapping and cheering. In keeping with their name – tarab meaning ‘ecstasy through music’ – the night climaxed with an old favourite demanded by loyal fans – ‘Baghdad Choby’.