Up a winding flight of stairs in the Tiananmen Building at Goldsmiths University chimes the delicate sound of an oud being tuned. The small, lute-like instrument is native to the Middle East and is a central feature of any traditional Arabic folk song. Around the corner, a man looks up, somewhat abashed, from the melody he is gently picking out to usher us into the Natura Café, the venue for "Palestine Verses: spoken word and song night". The evening was hosted by the Palestine Society at Goldsmiths and Interpal, a British charity and humanitarian aid agency as a way of exploring Palestinian culture and, in so doing, raising awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people left in poverty and desperation as the winter months approach.
Ibrahim Sincere, a hip hop poet and artist from London, introduced the evening by discussing Interpal's "Light Up A Life" campaign; it's a project which supports safe lighting for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. For many Palestinians, electricity is scarce. Frequent power outages and ageing appliances combined with seasonal risks of flooding leave many families at high risk of electrical accidents. All proceeds raised from the event at Goldsmiths were put towards helping to buy safe, LED light bulbs, Ibrahim informed the audience.
The first person welcomed to the stage was Shabbir Hassan (aka Shabbir the Poet) who performed a selection of his poems about Palestine and his experience of being a young, Muslim millennial in contemporary Britain.
The highlight of the evening was singer/songwriter Maya K who blessed us all with her soulful voice singing Palestinian folk songs. Her style was informal, ranging from well-known Arab songs that she couldn't stop the audience from joining in with great enthusiasm. The crowning moment of her performance was when she wound down from her otherwise lively set with a bit of experimental oud instrumentals and voice accompaniments, the combination of which permitted her accompanist to allow the vibrations of the strings to engulf the audience, showcasing the earthy beauty of the instrument intertwined with Maya's haunting voice.
The two featured performances were broken up by Open Mic sessions, during which members of the audience were encouraged to perform their own poetry. If you're looking to attend spoken word events in London keep a keen eye out for Jaipreet Kaur, Malak O and Eman Kotb; their performances were memorable and moving, with a genuine sense of empathy and care for refugees and those forcibly displaced from their homes.
To see videos from 'Palestine Verses' as well as pictures from the accompanying exhibition, visit www.interpaluk.tumblr.com