On a cold night last December in Saudi Arabia, more than 8,000 women donned bright pink headscarves and crowded onto a soccer field at Princess Nourah University in the capital city of Riyadh, looking to make history.
Many already had taken part in an historic event, voting for the first time on that Dec. 12 day in the country’s history. But they weren’t nearly done there.
Scores of the same women filed into the university soccer stadium later that night to form the world’s largest breast cancer awareness ribbon, a monumental feat that set a new Guinness World Record and brought much-needed attention to the fight against the deadly disease.
It was a remarkable show of solidarity, a night when Saudi women banded together like never before to speak with one voice about the health issues facing women in the Arab world.
But one voice rose above them all. And it belonged to Ojai Valley School alum Reem Altamimi, a Saudi native who wrote and recorded the song We’ve Got Wings to commemorate the event.
As the women joined together on the soccer field, forming a human ribbon that snaked around one goal and ended at the other, Reem’s voice poured through the stadium’s speakers, unifying all 8,264 women who took part in the record-setting event.
“This song is in honor of the fight against breast cancer, and the need to raise awareness for it in Saudi,” said Reem, a 2010 graduate of the Upper Campus who contacted the event’s sponsor,10KSA, and asked if she could contribute the song.
“Princess Reema, who started the (10KSA) organization, loved the song and asked me to get it produced so they could use it as the anthem for their breast cancer awareness campaign,” Reem added. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
The anthem was the latest step in Reem’s meteoric, musical career,
She first developed an interest in music at the age of 11, and arrived at OVS her sophomore year, honing that craft in chorus and school musicals, and voice class her senior year.
After graduating from OVS, Reem studied economics at UC San Diego. Her parents did not want her to study music, but she made a deal with her father that if she could graduate early, she would be allowed to stay in LA to work on a musical career.
When she was 18, she wrote the coming-of-age song “Little Girl,” and followed that up with the critically acclaimed “Gender Game,” which she sang last year at the 2nd Global Symposium on Gender in Media in New York. Like much of her work, Gender Game focuses on gender equality, especially for women in the Middle East.
Now comes “We’ve Got Wings,” which is quickly becoming one of her biggest hits yet.
In addition to being performed on the world stage at the event in Saudi Arabia, the music video for the song recently won top honors at the Asbury Park Music in Film Festival and the California International Shorts Film Festival.
“I’m really so lucky and thankful to have worked with such amazing and talented people,” said Reem, who goes by the stage name TamTam. “I didn’t know what to expect with the song, because it was for an organization in Saudi, so it was so cool that it won something in the West.”
While the awards are gratifying, Reem said she is most pleased that the song has helped showcase efforts to fight cancer in the Arab world.
Today, in Saudi Arabia, women are diagnosed with cancer at advanced states leading to higher mortality rates, so much so that occurrence of breast cancer (in Saudi women) is 10 years younger than their Western peers, according to 10KSA.
Breast Cancer is the most prevalent cancer affecting women all around the world. However, in Western culture, society is relatively normalized to the discussion of the disease, but in Saudi Arabia, women do not have as strong of a voice to raise awareness.
10KSA wants the conversation of breast cancer to switch towards prevention and treatment, rather than defeat — and Reem’s song, “We’ve Got Wings,” does just that.
“I wasn’t in Saudi (for the event), but my aunts were there, and some friends, so they sent me videos,” Reem said. “I was so proud to be a part of such a special and important campaign.”