Folk Art, Heritage, Music
Nibal is a singer, drummer, chef, and teacher specializing in the ballads of the Arab-speaking world, and in children’s folk songs from the Middle East and Africa. She is particularly inspired by the work of Umm Kulthum (the legendary Egyptian who sings about the deep pain and intensity of love in all its forms) and Marcel Khalife (a Lebanese musician who sings about the land and freedom). She is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.
Nibal was born in 1981 in Nazareth, Israel. She grew up in a Palestinian family that was extremely musical. Both her sisters also sing and all three brothers are drummers. She became a professional singer in her late teens, and sang at local festivals and at college events. People took pride in her singing as it was a symbol of their common suffering and desire for peace. Nibal met her Syrian-born husband at a year-abroad college program in Jordan. Since Syria and Israel have no diplomatic relations and the Jordanian government could not offer the couple and their two infant children any legal status they sought asylum in United States in 2009. She now has four children and lives with her husband in Erie. They own and run Sham Market and the Shawarma Station food truck that specialize in Syrian cuisine. Nibal graduated from the Arab American University in Jenin, Palestine with a degree in Hotel Management.
Nibal has been active in sharing her music and children's songs from other refugees as part of the Old Songs New Opportunities project. Since 2013 she has visited over 40 early childhood classrooms to teach multicultural songs that help children develop and learn. She has assisted in many teacher trainings about the power of song and believes that music can act as a passport to another culture. In 2019 she was a guest artist and song coach in a project at the expERIEnce Children's Museum and several downtown childcares. Nibal has also done workshops through the Erie Art Museum and Erie Arts and Culture connecting her traditional Middle Eastern cuisine and culture. Nibal’s gentle manner, beautiful voice and eagerness to connect with individuals comes through in her teaching.
In 2020 Nibal collaborated with Zoey Crenshaw, a modern dancer from Erie studying at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Nibal chose an Arab ballad, Kalemone, (They Reminded Me About You) from the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. Zoey choreographed this piece and they premiered it at the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival. (Watch their performance here.) This song is about the power of lost love.Nibal has performed in Erie at celebrations for World Refugee Day, Celebrate Erie, Mercyhurst and Edinboro Universities, Behrend College, and at the Erie Art Museum.
Music is one of the best ways to share culture, because you can feel it. I may not understand the lyrics in a foreign language, but the melody talks to me. It gives me free energy and a deep understanding about a culture that goes beyond words. Music is like food. If you don’t try it, you won’t know the taste. Every song takes me to a different place. Some songs remind me of great pain and how people have suffered and it reminds me to be thankful. Some songs remind me of evil and sadness in the world and they document tragic history. Music is everything in my life. Even my children follow me in this. If I am cooking, cleaning, or driving, I always listen to music or sing.
As a mother and a member of the Arabic-speaking community in Erie, it is important to keep positive. Music reminds me that life is short and to focus on what is most important. There are a lot of difficulties in this world. Sometimes we have to cry, but it doesn’t solve anything. Music helps me enjoy the problems, to solve the struggles with a positive attitude. Music gives me the strength and patience to handle challenges.
I use singing to build the confidence of my own children. I urge them to sing out, to not be afraid, to have power. When they have a voice it gives them a push to make positive change. Music is a way to teach religion, to teach morality. Music teaches us to feel for others. I also believe every child has something special and different from everyone else. When I am in a classroom, I show each child that he is special so he will give me the best he has. This will make the world a better place.
It is very important, as a mother, to preserve my culture. I have to keep cooking our food, speaking the language, singing the songs, and continuing the celebrations. Although every culture is different, it also shows how humans are the same: we all share love, laughing, and crying. My father really taught me this: to respect everyone, to welcome everyone. Your religion doesn’t tell me if you are a good person. Your actions show who you are. I want the world to know our songs and culture and show that Muslim people have love to share.