At their annual Christmas concert Thursday night, an Ottawa’s children choir performed the Arabic welcoming song that caused them to go viral last week.
A shaky video of the choir performing the song “Tala’ al-Badru ‘Alayna” was posted on YouTube last week and has been viewed more than two million times. The song is a traditional Islamic song which welcomed the Prophet Muhammad when he sought refuge in Madinah.
The video received attention around the world, as many people considered the song a welcome to the Syrian refugees currently arriving in Canada.
Choral director Robert Filion, from De La Salle High School, had been planning to include the song before the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news, and he never intended to direct the song at refugees, but he said it’s great that people have interpreted it that way.
“The YouTube phenomenon – that was surprising, that people took it to another level, to another meaning for them. As artists, that’s the greatest thing that can happen to us,” Fillion said.
The Christmas concert is performed by choirs from 10 French public schools from Ottawa and one school from Kingston. Filion said he has spent three years trying to find an Islamic song that he could include with the other diverse songs the choir performs.
It was a difficult task because, traditionally, Islamic group songs are not written for the same kind of choral arrangement, Filion explained.
He enlisted the help of Canadian composer Laura Hawley, who took the song “Tala’ al-Badru ‘Alayna,” and wrote it as a choral arrangement.
“We asked around to different Imams in the Muslim community in Ottawa to make sure that we weren’t frustrating anybody or doing something wrong or using something that shouldn’t be used in such a context, and everybody said ‘No, no, no, this is perfect,’” Fillion said.
There were a few Muslim students in his class who recognized the song when he brought it in, Filion said. One of them was Hawa Diallo, who was surprised when she realized she already knew the words.
“It’s a really happy song,” Diallo explained. “It’s a welcoming song, so it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s just happiness, and come with us and have fun.”
Although the choir didn’t originally intend it as a welcoming song to Syrians, Diallo said she’s happy people have made that connection.
“I think the message of it, the welcoming part … the fact that the Syrians are coming too about the same time, it’s just a good message to portray everywhere,” Diallo said.
“They can know they feel welcome here, this is their country too, and they can stay here.”
Megan Chaine, another student in the choir, said she’s also pleased with how the song is being interpreted around the world.
“It’s really heart-warming when you think about it, because they got a message that we weren’t even trying to deliver,” Chaine said. “That’s what choir singing … is about, it’s about finding a meaning, finding the message of the song, and that’s what people did.”
Filion said he knew there would be a lot of demand in the choral community for an Islamic song written in choral arrangement, but he never expected it would get this much attention. Other choirs around the world want to perform the song now too, and he’s currently working with the publisher to get the music out there so they can access it, he said.
At the choir’s concert Thursday night, Hawley accompanied the students on the piano. It was the first time she had heard her composition performed live. After the show, she said that she’s been overwhelmed by the response the song has received online.
“When you’re writing a piece of music … you have certain hopes for what everyone’s going to experience with it and the fact that that experience has happened with millions of people now is mind blowing,” Hawley said.
Amira Elghawaby from the National Council of Canadian Muslims attended the concert and said the song was beautiful to listen to.
“I think the song really exemplifies everything that Canada and Canadians hope to stand for, and that is a country that is welcoming of diversity, that celebrates that as a strength, that finds all these beautiful differences and actually amplifies them and makes them stronger as we find different ways and new Canadian ways of expressing them,” Elghawaby said.
“I think the outpouring of support and admiration from around the world really is testament to what Canada’s always stood for and is standing for now.”