‘We hope to perform for our people in Gaza’

Reema Ashour from Palestine's Al Takht Al Sharqi talks about going straight from the audition to the semi-finals of Arabs Got Talent.

Members of Al Takht Al Sharqi perform at Arabs Got Talent, 2015. From left, Mahmoud Kehail, Ramzi Alfar, Reema Ashour, Sarraj Al Sersawi and Ahmad Al Madhoun. Courtesy MBC
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When the first live episode of Arabs Got Talent is broadcast on Saturday on MBC4, signalling the start of the eliminations, the Arab world will be united in their support of a band of teenage musicians from Gaza. Al Takht Al Sharqi became an overnight sensation following their audition – they moved the audience and the celebrity judges to tears, and went straight to the semi-finals.

Ranging in age from 13 to 15, the band are lead singer Ahmad Al Madhoun; oud player Sarraj Al Sersawi; Mahmoud Kehail on the qanun; tabla player Ramzi Alfar; Reema Ashour on the nai; band leader Majd Oweida; and conductor Anas Al Najjar. All seven were born and raised in Gaza.

Ashour, the only female ­member, speaks to The National from Beirut ahead of their live performance.

When did you form Al Takht Al Sharqi?

Three years ago. Since then, we’ve taken part in the ­National Palestinian Competition and in various celebrations and performances.

Do you all attend the Edward Said Conservatory of Music?

Yes, all of us are students of the conservatory and we really loved studying there, especially because it’s free, which is a big help. Our band leader Majd Oweida was the one who picked us to form the band Al Takht Al Sharqi from among other students at the conservatory. He considered us the best talents.

How did it feel when the judge Nasser Al Qasabi pressed that Golden Buzz?

It was an amazing feeling to have reached the hearts of the audience and the judges and to get the chance to deliver an ­artistic and musical message from Palestine – so wonderful.

How does it feel not only to finally be able to take part in ­Arabs Got Talent, but also to have done so well that you are sent straight on to the semi-finals? Do you feel you are deserving?

We really felt that we deserved to win, because it was a result of perseverance and hard work. Our instructors told us that even if we were born with a truly wonderful talent, it is through hard work and practice that we are able to reach this point, so it’s so inspiring to be rewarded.

Why did you choose a song for Wadih El Safi for your performance on Arabs Got Talent?

We did it in appreciation of such a great and celebrated artist, and because we are in the land of Lebanon, the land of peace. It was an homage.

What are you doing to prepare for the semi-final round?

We know what we’re performing and we’re working hard to make sure we present our very best. We are focusing on both practical and theoretical rehearsals, as well as studying other bands who have gone through the same auditioning experience to see how we can benefit and learn from them. The choice of music is up to our band leader and our band conductor.

How many hours a day do you rehearse together?

Three hours together every day.

What has the experience of being in Beirut been like?

It has been fantastic, full of ­excitement and challenges. We’ve been also feeling a little pressured and stressed, considering the heavy responsibility of knowing we need to do our best.

Have your parents always been supportive of your choice to play music?

Yes, always. Our parents have supported us and are so proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve even had a glimpse into the joy of the people of Gaza, thanks to all the messages and calls we’ve ­received and all the buzz on ­social media.

Does Al Takht Al Sharqi perform publicly in Gaza?

We don’t really have the ­opportunity to do that. But we hope, God willing, that we ­continue down this path and we can perform for our people in Gaza.

Do you all hope to pursue music professionally?

We’re still teenagers, who knows? Music is a passion, but our professional lives may go down a different path.

Arabs Got Talent (www.mbc.net/mbc4) will begin airing live on Saturday at 10pm, after the final auditions are shown on Friday at 10pm. Follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; stream past episodes through shahid.mbc.net