Emel Mathlouthi during a recording session. File
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
When she wrote the music of ‘Kelmti Horra’ in Tunis back in 2007, Emel Mathlouthi visualised a full orchestra performing it and a large choir singing the lyrics, hand in hand, as a unifying protest chant.
After inspiring the Tunisian and Arab revolutions in 2010 and 2011, Kelmti Horra travelled continents and years. It was the title track of Mathlouthi’s first album in 2012, and she performed it live in over 45 countries, as it blossomed to be a global anthem symbolizing freedom and hope.
As the anthem grew in reknown, Mathlouthi continued to nurture a bigger dream for her song; she wanted to bring artists from across the Arab world together to perform the song for the world to listen to, as a statement of freedom and justice.
One part of the dream was fulfilled when she performed the song at the star-studded Nobel Peace Prize Concert, accompanied by the 66-piece Norwegian State Orchestra in 2015, in a tribute to her country, broadcast live to millions across the world.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year, Mathlouthi was confined in Tunis and wanted to share a powerful message of unity, human connection and empathy, that she believed were more important now than ever before.
She decided to create a quarantine video of Kelmti Horra and started contacting artists from all over the world, specifically people she was inspired by that are making a change in their countries and beyond. She asked each of them to record a short part of the song on their phones in DIY mode.
Everyone responded enthusiastically, loving the idea of singing a part of the iconic song, and some even translated it in their own language.The journey resulted in a beautiful gathering of 53 musicians and artists from 22 different nationalities with over 100 video and audio tracks to take to the editing room.
Mathlouthi believes that the response of her fellow artists is testament to the power of certain songs and melodies to transcend language, geography and cultural differences. The lyrics of the song, which take bold stands in favor of freedom and justice for all, resonate today as oppression thrives worldwide.
“I feel hopeful and proud that this amazing group of talented artists from different horizons and different backgrounds and cultures came together for this tribute to freedom and justice.” Emel Mathlouthi said. “Everyone added their own touch, their own interpretation, their own emotion, from their own experiences and perspective. All united for freedom.”
The artists collaborating on the project were unanimous in their enthusaism to participate in this unique project heralding a song that has come to represent the hopes and dreams of the Arab region.
Dhafer Labidine, from Tunisia said: “I love everything about this song, the lyrics, the music and of course, what it stands for…such a special song from a brilliant artist.”
Omar Kamal from Palestine noted: “Emel’s performance of Kelmti Horra brought tears to my eyes, and as soon as I sat at the piano to sing the song, my soul opened up to its true power and purity.”
Faia Younan from Syria said: “I’m excited to be part of this project, this song is extremely powerful, the lyrics are simple yet so real and so heartfelt. We need to keep singing about justice and a more just world, everything in life starts with a vision and music is one of the purest ways to create those visions.”
Meanwhile, Hend Sabry from Tunisia said: "This song, for me and for millions of Tunisians, was the voice of a social uproar that took us all by storm.“
Ahmed Joudeh from the Netherlands, who had previously developed a choreography to the song, which he performed at the Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony held by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, said: “I chose to perform on ‘My Word is Free’ for the UNHCR because the first time I heard this song it got me in my core. I could relate to every single word in it and I could fly with Emel’s voice singing it. So I wanted to express this by my dance and to unite my art and hers to stand up together as a voice for those who don’t have a voice.”
El Seed, a visual artist from France/ Tunisia said: "Kelmti Horra is one of the most inspiring and uplifting songs I have ever heard. The beauty of the melody, the depth of the lyrics make it a classic."
Sussan Deyhim from Iran said: “Delighted to have my first recording in Arabic language to be from a song that has touched the hearts and minds of the Tunisian nation honoring democracy and progress. I love North Africa and am grateful to have experienced some magical mystical moments in that part of the world!”
In a briefing about the song with media partners, Emel Mathlouthi demonstrated her appreciation for her fellow artists. “I am honored, touched and eternally grateful to my fellow artists who gave of their time and their talent, to help us share this song again with the world. This song does not belong to one person. It is to be shared among all people around the world who yearn and fight for freedom and justice.
"I thank my peers from the bottom of my heart and I hope that together we can even touch just one person to keep hope alive, and to keep fighting for the rights and dignity of all. It is also a chance for us to show the world a different face of our regions. We are not only victims of oppression, of war, of tyranny. We are agents of change for a better future in our countries, our regions and ultimately for the world.”
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