The golden voice of a Kuwaiti bedoon
"My childhood friend Ahmad was arrested not only because he is 'bedoon' but because his children are 'bedoon'".
Abdullah believes that the Kuwaiti government granted his friend one chance (i.e. gave him a light sentence for one offence; being a 'bedoon'), but when he was discovered to have been married and have had two kids, Ahmad's sentence was revised to 18 years. He's completed three years and four months in prison.
21-year-old Abdullah sits on a bike outside his tent in the Calais 'jungle' singing to himself. With boy-band looks, a beautiful singing voice and a story to tell he seems like a perfect candidate for the type of talent show televised on a Saturday night in the UK and around the world. Except you'd need proof of identity to enter and he specialises in 'mawwal' singing (poetic improvisation and technically demanding) rather than Bieber.
The disparity between living standards in the oil-rich country is extreme. Luxury appartments and makeshift shelters in slums share the same city. Citizens are separated not only by wealth and prosperity but by their entitlement to civil rights.
The number of Bedoons in Kuwait is estimated to be close to 10% of the population. 'Bedoon' is taken from the arabic 'Bedoon jinsiya' meaning 'without nationality' and refers to a diverse group of people who at the time of independence from Britain's protectorate in 1961 were not given citizenship. This means they have no rights to healthcare, education, work or housing. They can't obtain birth, marriage or death certificates. They suffer from social marginalisation and those defending their rights can face threat, attacks and detention.
Abdullah takes to the studio and to the recording process with ease. After some initial confusion as to what exactly was expected from him in a sound check, he kind of gets the idea of the 'one, two, one, two' and then delights us with a comical musical improvisation on the words 'sound check'.
Photo: Sarah Hickson
He has many songs in his repertoire. One, accompanying himself on darbuka, is called 'Khala Um Ali'. Um Ali, an Iraqui woman, who was usually seen out and about with two of her daughters lived in his neighbourhood and she used to make and sell 'geimer' (thick cream). Abdullah and his mates would tease her with the song and Um Ali in return would chuck things at them and they would flee.
His voice full of expression and nuance and his technique and focus remarkable. He records in one take. A true recording artist and undiscovered talent.
The song he performed and recorded in the makeshift studio which we set up in one of the classrooms near the Jungle Books library, is his own composition 'Ya Rab'oun'. "It's about living in exile, about travelling and the pain and sorrow carried by mothers and fathers. Of having to be aware of the treachery of people and of the time".
Abdullah had a good friend, Lo'ai, who betrayed him. Abdullah heard that the Kuwaiti police where after him so he fled and sought a hiding place at Abu Nayef's, a simple goat herder. The police asked Lo'ai to become an informant and to tell them everything he knows and can gather on Abdullah. Lo'ai told the police where they could find Abdullah at the inconspicuous shelter.
He wrote the song based on that experience, expressing the feeling of being betrayed or stabbed in the back by someone he considered a friend, someone he shared a meal with. The song, which is in two parts also describes love and about falling is love; how difficult it is to find a person who loves and compliments you, but it is easy to find those who betray.
Photo: Sarah Hickson
"Musically speaking, I'm self taught. The pain I have been through and the injustice I have experienced prompted me to express my heart's sorrows through song"
"Sometimes a complete stranger could provide you with the 'medicine' or the pain relief (emotionally) while the closest of people could be those who badly hurt you – where you had been the one to previously provide them with the emotional relief or refuge".