by Jon Dillingham, guest contributor
Camellia Abou-Odah was three months old the first time she ever sang: her mother says she belted out an impromptu tune to accompany her father, who casually filled the kitchen with Islamic melodies. Though it was her father’s extraordinary voice that first inspired her to sing, that few minutes in the kitchen was the last time they would ever share a song.
Born and raised in Kansas City to a strict Muslim father from Gaza and a self-described liberal Muslim mother from Lebanon, Camellia has struggled to stay true to traditional values while at the same time nurturing her passion for singing, which her father prohibits.
She’s now in the middle of recording her first songs with Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Danny Sembello, and she smiles confidently as we talk over Thai iced coffee near the University of Southern California in South Central Los Angeles. It’s casual sweatpants and sandals this afternoon, but it’s hard not to notice her boisterous brown curls and big smile when she walks in. She looks like a slender, young, Arab Chaka Khan. The ease and grace with which she speaks betray the fact that the long, arduous road to this point has broken family bonds and challenged her sense of self and identity.
Camellia’s father is often chosen to lead prayers at his local Islamic center in Kansas City thanks to both his piety and mellifluous voice. Her mother, Dr. Basimah Khulusi, says her ex-husband had even entertained notions of becoming a singer himself, before dismissing the idea as “a childish notion.” He came to America from a prominent family in Palestine but was far from a religious fundamentalist, until his daughter was born.
“When I met him, he was different, and then he flipped,” says Camellia’s mother. “He went back to the old traditions that he grew up with. Having a daughter was a driving force because in the Muslim tradition his honor lies in what ends up happening with his daughter.”
A Singing Career in the MakingComments
Colleen Scheck, Producer
"The main creed that I like to refer to when I think of Vedanta is as Swami Vivekananda said: ‘If you’re a Christian, be a good Christian. If you’re a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you’re a Hindu, be a good Hindu.’”
This is the comment of 17 year-old Akhil, a young man interviewed as part of a new study released by the Search Institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. The study is the first report from an ambitious project reaching across cultures, languages, and traditions to understand how today’s global youth experience and think about their spiritual growth. Focused on advancing the scientific study of this area of human development, the guiding philosophy of the endeavor is that good science is the key to good practice in fostering the formation and growth of spiritual identity.
I attended a presentation of the study results this week, and walked away with increased curiosity about how young people around the world are shaping their spiritual sense of self and the overall importance of that dimension in their lives. The exploratory findings in the report include data from focus groups, interviews, and surveys with youth ages 12–25 across 17 countries from Cameroon to Syria to the United States. Some intriguing points include:
A panel of international advisors followed the presentation, providing additional context to the findings. Lori Noguchi of the Chinese-based Badi Foundation commented that there is a remarkable desire among youth in China to explore questions of spirituality when given the opportunity. In Chinese education, there is a strong moral component, but it is often scripted and doesn’t match with young people’s reality — and that creates a crisis for many around spiritual development.
Kelly Dean Schwartz, a Canadian social psychologist, remarked that areas of spiritual development that need much more attention include the role of doubt in adolescent spirituality, the role of arts, media, and technology, and the role of sexuality. He oversaw a focus group of Canadian youth for the study. When he stopped filming the group and tried to take their discussion to a deeper level, that’s when participants opened up more and expressed a connection between sexuality and spiritual development in their lives.
A program on this topic is on our long list. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share.Comments