On October 13th, I had the pleasure and honor to be the musical guest at the annual Healing Hands Gala of PCRF (Palestine Children's Relief Fund). This unique experience will definitely remain in my memory: it was unforgettable.
The gala, which was held at the Anaheim Hilton, was attended by close to 400 guests, with an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the crowd. I was struck by this vibrant Palestinian community, which seems to be one of the most successful communities worldwide among our people in the diaspora.
Being aware beforehand that many in the crowd would be of Palestinian heritage, I attempted to treat them to a varied program of music ranging from the purely traditional to relatively modern Arabic music, and from Western music with live accompaniment to the English songs of my repertoire with the use of pre-made backing tracks. Judging from the response of the audience, they were quite enthusiastic, especially about my Palestinian traditional songs.
I opened with traditional Palestinian tunes on the shibbabeh (Palestinian flute) while wearing the kuffiyeh on my head in the classical way, and starting with the typically melancholic mawwaal tunes. I then moved on to the more uplifting tunes of the Palestinian dabkeh, which prompted a few teenagers to jump on the stage and join in with the famous feet-stomping dance. They did a lovely job, and they helped break the ice and create a strong rapport with the audience.
I then sang two verses of a capella vocals by Abu el 'Alaa, who may be known to some from the 70's radio station Sawtu Filasteen (The Voice of Palestine). 'Ghanna el 7aadi' and '7ayyaakum Allah w mar7aba' were received very well by the audience. I wanted to take the crowd back in time, with the style of Abu el 'Alaa representing a flashback to the times of the Palestinian popular uprising of 1936. I then picked up the Oud (Arabic Lute) that was lent to me by renowned Palestinian composer, musical director and musician Dr Nabil Azzam, and played and sang some empowering mawaweel about the Palestinian struggle, drawing the crowd into the atmosphere of the Intifada of the 80's.
I removed the head dress and replaced it by a thin shawl with a kuffiyeh pattern, and sang Fairuz's tribute to Jerusalem 'Marrayt bill Shawaare3' on stage piano. After this, I picked up the acoustic guitar, and played and sang my song 'Children of Gaza'.
To keep things varied, I then did my most popular song 'Intifada' with pre-recorded backing tracks. The audience responded positively to this continuous changing from instrument to instrument, and from style to style. I also did the song 'Freedom Flotilla' in a similar way, paying tribute to the efforts of International Solidarity with the Palestinian cause. In order to keep things interesting I then moved back to the piano and did John Lennon's song 'Imagine'.
I ended this sweet little concert with the song I had written especially for PCRF's amazing efforts: 'Healing Hands.' By then, it was time to move on with the other parts of the program, most importantly the reason for holding this annual gala: to raise funds for providing medical treatment for the children of Palestine.
While the impressive efforts of PCRF's medical projects were being shown on slideshows on two large screens, the generous crowd started making its donations. I was extremely impressed to hear that when it was all over, more than a hundred thousand dollars had been raised, with expectations being expressed of reaching almost double that amount at the closing of the fundraiser.
Knowing that PCRF translates all these finances into direct medical assistance to Palestinian children, was absolutely humbling. I know that words are of enormous importance, in creating awareness for the injustice that befalls these children, but you can't help but feel forced into a modest attitude when you see the direct relief resulting from real-life medical and surgical treatment of Palestinian children in need.
I must therefore express my admiration for the efforts of President of PCRF's South California chapter Lily Karam, an amazing lady who appears to have the astounding ability to organize unbelievable events such as this, year after year, supported by her husband Karim and the rest of the board. Both Lily and Karim have become very dear friends to me, not in the least because of their tremendous personal warmth and hospitality. I must also thank the wonderful Hala Gabriel and Randa Issa for their tireless efforts in making the Healing Hands gala possible. Dr Musa Nassir and his wife have also played a pivotal role throughout the history of PCRF's activities, and have created a lasting impression on me by their dedication. Last but definitely not least, my admiration goes out to Steve Sosebee, CEO and co-founder of PCRF, the man who started it all and who is keeping this wonderful organization up and running through times of hardship and success.
The entire gala was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. All who were involved in organizing it and in participating in it, helped make it what it was, each in their own way, and as far as I am concerned, the wonderful job they did serves as an excellent example of what the collective efforts of dedicated individuals can bring about. I thank them all, including all whom I haven't mentioned here by name, for having done this, and for having let me be a part of it. I met only wonderful people on my short trip to California, and if you have shaken hands with me or had a conversation with me there, you can definitely count yourself among them.
Keep going, PCRF, kudos to you - send in the Healing Hands !
Photos in this blog: by Suha Albadawi and Randa Issa.