By Ashley Alleluya
It was one of those freakishly artsy nights in Kuwait. Two events celebrating music, several artists bringing their A-game and a difficult choice for a music buff. We chose ‘A Night of Music’ at the Center of the Arts in Shuwaikh, and it is a choice I’m glad we made.
The venue was crowded, with everyone packed into a spacious ballet studio on gigantic pillows scattered on the studio floor. It was an intimate setting that promoted cuddles on an exceptionally cold evening – and frankly, I love huge pillows. After a brief hello from Omar Afuni, we jumped right in.
‘Strumming my pain with her fingers’
Ghaneema was the first one up, with Omar Salem on the electric guitar and Abdulrahman Essa on the drums. She has a voice that interestingly sits between frothy and husky, a perfect lazy weekend morning voice. “Fairy Tales” by Cayetano seems to be tailor-made for her voice, and I found myself falling in love with the song once again.
Ghaneema plays at fewer events around Kuwait than Omar Afuni and Carol Souki, but she’s a smart performer. Between eclectic choices like Beth Hart and Amy Winehouse, she delivered a Justin Timberlake cover that had me love-stoned and then transported me back to high-school with some Kylie Minogue. She’s also quirky, unrehearsed and raw, a quality that translated into moments of hilarity when she interacted with the crowd.
And when she got Carol up on stage to end her set with Elle King’s “Xs and Os”, Ghaneema confirmed that she can work an audience and keep them wanting more. It was the perfect airy start to the show.
‘Singing my life with his words’
We barely had a few minutes before Omar Afuni’s set so we had to choose between rushing to the restrooms, catching a quick smoke-break or making a dash outside for something hot to eat or drink (my only gripe with the event.) He had Lester Rodrigues on the keyboard and Adel Al Qattan on the guitar, and for the next forty minutes, I relived the many stages of a bitter relationship with his songs. Omar showcased some tracks from his recent album RUSH, dedicated a track from Adel Al Qattan’s latest album Qattana, and also paid homage to George Michael, one of his music idols.
He began with the intense “Resurrect me,” segued into “This Can’t Be Love” – a snippet from the La La Land soundtrack – and moved to “Spinning Top,” another original. Omar’s is a voice that is earthy with a theatrical quality, hitting the high notes and the bass with equal ease. He is also a showman, mixing up his songs with glimpses into the inspiration behind his lyrics and teaching the audience the hook of his very catchy original, Rush.
Tying the set together with “Faith”, “Careless Whisper,” and John Legend’s “All of Me,” Omar Afuni gave the rest of us a musical catharsis – a little heartache, healing, foot-tapping, reminiscing and an earworm.
‘Killing me softly, with her song’
Carol Souki was the final act and it was a clever move, saving her for last. If Ghaneema’s voice is breezy and Omar’s is silken and earthy, then Carol’s is fire. A roaring blaze one minute and a gentle warmth the next. Carol is a master class in live performance – she’s talented, expressive, engaging and grabs your attention from the get-go.
With Adel Al-Qattan on the guitar and Bader Nana on the Cajón, Carol began strong. From the start, LP’s “Lost On You” was vibrant with meaning, blending seamlessly into Sia’s “Chandelier”. Carol also introduced us to some of her originals from her upcoming album: “Life,” “I Want You” and “Ain’t My Level” are tracks that fuse together her strong vocals, witty lyrics and the promise of making it to my love-life playlists.
Other highlights were her covers of “Stronger Than Me” and “Liberian Girl” in a voice that was seductive and coy, yet honest. Her playful side emerged when she wound up her performance with the audience dancing, clapping and singing to “Uptown Funk,” reminding everyone that she knows how to get a party going.
You know that feeling of elation mixed with irrational anxiety when you find a perfect piece of art, a kickass show on Netflix or a book that blows your mind and you cannot start a new one because you’re afraid it won’t match this level of genius? That’s the feeling that still lingers in my mind long after the night was done.