BFI London Film Festival 2016: Films From The MENA Region

The BFI London Film Festival celebrates an impressive 60 years this year. Launching this week Britain’s leading film festival takes place over 12 days and will bring 249 feature films and 145 shorts, including features and documentaries, live action and animated works. With 74 countries participating, there will be 39 world, twelve international, 49 European and eight world restoration premieres. Up for grabs also are the prestigious LFF Best Film Award, the Grierson Award for Documentary, the Sutherland Award for First Feature and the Short Film Award.

The screenings can be viewed across fourteen London cinemas, including: the BFI Southbank, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), the RItzy Cinema, the Curzon Cinemas, the Vue West End, the Embankment Garden Cinema and others. Part of the festival will also feature a stellar line-up of directors, cast and crew who are expected to take part in career interviews, screen talks, Q+As and Industry talks for those interested to learn more from behind the scenes.

Relevant to the MENA region, there are at least 20 titles that I picked out, with works from: Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Tunisia, Qatar, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan. To help you easily navigate the BFI LFF website, I have listed below the film titles with names of directors, the country of production and the genre-category by which they are registered. I do advise early booking as many of these screenings include world premieres and sell out fast.

Barakah Meets Barakah

Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh

Production: Saudi Arabia (2016)

Genre: Laugh

Showing: Thu 6 October, 6.30pm at Curzon Soho

Showing: Sat 8 October, 8.30pm at Ciné Lumière

​Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Farouk, Besieged Like Me (Mouhassaron Mithli)

Director: Hala Alabdalla

Production: Syria-France (2016)

Genre: Debate

Showing: Fri 7 October, 6.15pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

Showing: Sat 8 October, 3pm at Ciné Lumière

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

In the Last Days of the City (Akher Ayam El Medina)

Director: Tamer El Said

Production: Egypt-Germany-UK (2016)

Genre: Debate

Showing: Sun 9, October, 8.45pm at Picturehouse Central

Showing: Tue 11 October, 3.30pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

​Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Hedi (Inhebbek Hedi)

Director: Mohamed Ben Attia

Production: Tunisia-Belgium-France-Qatar-UAE (2016)

Genre: First Feature Competition

Showing: Tue 11 October, 9pm at ICA

Showing: Wed 12 October, 1.15pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

Showing: Sat 15 October, 3.45pm at Ciné Lumière

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Mimosas

Director: Oliver Laxe

Production: Qatar-Morocco-Spain-France (2016)

Genre: Journey

Showing: Thu 6 October, 9pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

Showing: Fri 7 October, 1pm at ICA

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Tickling Giants

Director: Sara Taksler

Production: Egypt-UK-US (2016)

Genre: Laugh

Showing: Wed 12 October, 6pm at VUE West End Screen 7

Showing: Sat 15 October, 6.15pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

LInk: ​Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Tramontane

Director: Vatche Boulghourjian

Production: Lebanon-France (2016)

Genre: Journey

Showing: Sun 9 October, 1pm at Ritzy Cinema

Showing: Wed 12 October, 6.30pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Clash (Eshtebak)

Director: Mohamed Diab

Production: Egypt (2016)

Genre: Official Competition

Showing: Wed 12 October, 8.45pm at Embankment Garden Cinema

Showing; Thu 13 October, 2.30pm at Embankment Garden Cinema

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

A Day for Women (Yom Lel Setat)

Director: Kamla Abouzekri

Production: Egypt (2016)

Genre: Debate

Showing; Thu 6 October, 8.45pm at Picturehouse Central

Showing: Fri 7 October, 1pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Adieu Bonaparte

Director: Youssef Chahine

Production: Egypt-France (1984)

Genre: Debate

Showing; Fri 7 October, 8.45pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

The Worthy

Director: Ali F Mostfa

Production: UAE (2016)

Genre: Dare

Showing; Sat 8 October, 6pm at VUE West End Screen 7

Showing: Sun 9 October, 6.15pm at ICA

Showing: Sat 15 October, 9pm at Curzon Mayfair

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Layla M

Director: Mijke de Jong

Production: Jordan-Netherlands-Belgium-Germany (2016)

Genre: Official Competition

Showing: Tue 11 October, 6pm at Embankment Garden Cinema

Showing: Thu 13 October, 12noon at Embankment Garden Cinema

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Divines

Director: Houda Benyamina

Production: Qatar-France (2016)

Genre: First Feature Competition

Showing: Thu 6 October, 6.15pm at Haymarket Cinema

Showing: Fri 7 October, 3.30pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

Showing: Tue 11 October, 6.30pm at Ritzy Cinema

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

The War Show

Directors: Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon

Production: Syria-Finland-Denmark (2016)

Genre: Documentary Competition

Showing: Thu 13 October, 6pm at VUE West End Screen 7

Showing: Sat 15 October, 12.45noon at Curzon Mayfair

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo

Director: Issa Touma

Production: Syria-Netherlands (2015)

Genre: Debate

Showing: Sun 9 October, 3.45pm at ICA

Showing: Mon 10 October, 6pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Battalion To My Heart (2016): Algeria-US-Western Sahara

Director: Elmi Imanishi

Genre: Debate

Showing: Sun 9 October, 3.45pm at ICA

Showing; 10 October, 6pm at NFT3

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Letters from Baghdad

Directors: Sabine Krayenbuhl and Zeya Oelbaum

Production: UK-US (2016)

Genre: Journey

Showing: Sun 9 October, 3.30pm at Haymarket Cinema

Showing: Mon 10 October, 8.45pm at BFI Southbank NFT2

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Moderation

Director: Anja Kirschner

Production: Egypt- Greece-Italy-UK (2016)

Genre: Experimenta

Showing: Sat 15, October, 8.15pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

In the Future, They Ate from the Finest Porcelain

Director: Larissa Sansour

Production: Qatar-UK-Denmark

Genre: Experimenta

Showing: Fri 7 October, 6.30pm at BFI Southbank NFT3

​Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Ruins of Palmyra and Baalbeck

Director: Jack Cardiff

Production: (1938)

Genre: Dare

Showing: Sun 9 October, 12.30noon at BFI Southbank NFT2

Link: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::lo…

Note: This article was first published circa October 2016

East End Film Festival 2016: UK Premieres of MENA Films

Launching this June month, the East End Film Festival (EEFF) will be bringing an incredibly rich, wide and diverse programme of UK premiering films created by independent local and international directors. Dedicated to first and second time filmmakers, the EEFF mission is to discover, support and exhibit pioneering works; and, to introduce viewers to innovative and challenging cinematic experiences. It will take place at arts venues in the heart of London’s East End.

Celebrating over fifteen years, this not-for-profit film and multimedia festival is recognised as one of the UK’s leading and finest. Over ten days, it is expected to attract an audience of over 20,000 and its feat this year will be to screen altogether 36 British feature titles and 50 internationals. Alongside these, the EEFF will also host its highly prized awards system for films (for Best Feature EEFF, Best Documentary Feature, Best UK Short Film, Short Film Audience Award, Accession Award and Rising Star Award) as well as engaging its visitors with opening and closing galas, industry master-classes, free pop-ups, parties and immersive live events.

Relevant to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the Arabic speaking world, there will be at least five very important UK film premieres to look our for, one important segment of the ‘Roots’ strand and attention towards the ‘Day of Refuge’, which will be addressing one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time. Skimming through the whole of the festival’s events, the EEFF is testimony to London’s continually powerful position and dynamic ability to provide a creative international platform that celebrates and exchanges the contributions of both local and global artists.

Andrew Simpson, Head of Programming, said: “The EEFF is delighted to present the boldest, bravest and most exciting new cinema from the Middle East. Taking in the Arab Spring, the invasion of Iraq, and the power of rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop in vibrant, politicised youth culture, this selection is a million miles from representations generally seen the media, as well as being potent, vibrant cinema from important new voices.”

Below are the MENA-related screenings and events with the EEFF blurbs provided.

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia)

Tunisia in the months leading up to the Jasmine Revolution provides the backdrop to a tale of rebellious youth and rock n’ roll. Eighteen-year-old Farah is being pressured to become a doctor by her family, but what she really wants is to sing in her band, get drunk with her friends and experience the dramas of life in Tunis’ underground music scene. Described as the best fictional film yet made about the Arab Spring, Leyla Bouzid’s debut is a humane portrait of the counterculture in a conservative society, with incredible songs and serious heart.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/programme-2016/17328/as-i-open-my-eyes

Mariam (Saudi Arabia)

Saudi Arabian journalist Faiza Ambah’s debut film is a poignant insight into the issues facing a young Muslim woman growing up in a Western country. It’s 2004 in France and a new law has recently been passed banning religious symbols in schools, including the hijab. For Mariam, a young teenager who has recently begun wearing the veil after returning from pilgrimage in Mecca with her grandmother, this means an agonising and unfair choice between continuing her studies and retaining an important part of her religious identity. Pressure from her father to conform to French law and attention from a young boy who admires her determination complicates this situation further. Will she continue to resist external pressures and in so doing put her education at risk, or find a way to please authority whilst staying true to herself?

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/programme-2016/17510/mariam

Exploiting It (UK Documentary)

In this thought-provoking documentary by first-time filmmaker Jade Jackman, several different British-Muslim women share their recent experiences of being negatively portrayed or stereotyped by the western media. Through these women’s perspectives we see an unexpected form of oppression that contradicts and challenges the misinformed view that these women are in fact oppressed by their faith. Furthermore, this short film offers an insight into how governmental legislation, such as Prevent and the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, is seeping into different areas of life and institutionalising racist stereotypes.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/programme-2016/17510/mariam

The Curve (Jordan)

Taciturn mystery man Radi likes his life just the way it is. Keeping himself to himself, a woman jumping into the back of his old VW camper van is the last thing he wants. But when she asks for his help, old feelings of human warmth and caring begin to stir. It’s the start of a meandering, touching road trip involving a cast of colourful characters, a Palestinian refugee, and the staggering vistas of Jordan, in this involving and human debut from debut writer-director Rifqi Assaf.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/programme-2016/17375/curve-the

Homeland

Iraq Year Zero (Iraq): A vital, totemic achievement in documentary filmmaking, Homeland is the ultimate cinematic account of the American invasion of Iraq. Abbas Fahdel films his family and friends, both before and after the 2003 invasion, the result a devastating, patient portrait of a community broken by reckless military intervention, in two parts. Before the Fall documents a people living under the expectation of war, with After the Battle laying bare the consequences of war for ordinary people, with visceral, personal and utterly devastating consequences.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/programme-2016/17453/homeland-iraq-year-zero

The Catastrophe Club (Palestine-US)

In collaboration with the Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Palestinian-American performance poet and writer Remi Kanazi will present his latest collection of poetry titled ‘Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up From Brooklyn to Palestine’. Based in New York City, his political commentary has been featured by news outlets throughout the world. His poetry has taken him across the US, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/events-2016/17825/catastrophe-club-remi-kanazi

Day of Refuge

The EEFF is dedicating a whole day to the monumental issue of the plight of refugees (from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere) that has been dominating the news headlines and public debate. In partnership with the Refugee Council, the University of East London (UEL) and Refugee Week, this will be a chance to examine and discuss the crisis, look into the response of developed nations to the genuine human need and the responsibility of filmmakers in how they address the refugee experience on film. Divided into sections, the day will include documentary film screenings, a panel discussion, a spoken word event and an art exhibition.

Tickets: www.eastendfilmfestival.com/day-of-refuge

For more information on the EE FF2016: http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com/

Note: This article was first published circa June 2016

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2016: MENA Highlights

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRW FF) has arrived in London for a latest edition and will be hosting altogether sixteen thought-provoking and eye-opening documentary films and dramas. As always the festival tackles the difficult subjects behind the international news headlines and offers a closer and better examination of the human rights issues that are pertinent to the stories impacting on all of us across the globe.

Running from 9-18 March, the big themes featured in this year’s HRW FF include: the global migration and refugee crisis, looking at artists as agitators, censorship and press freedom, radical ideologies as well as the rights of women, children and LGBT communities. In much of the gathered material, credit and attention are also due to the journalists and other individuals who are not just in front of, but also behind, the cameras, as some of them take big security risks in order to be able to bring the tales.

Another element of the festival is that screenings are accompanied by director talks, question and answer sessions and are open for audience interaction. They also take place across London venues, including the Barbican, Curzon Soho, the Ritzy Brixton and Picturehouse Central. As this year also happens to celebrate the twentieth anniversary, a Special Programme series has been added, bringing four extra events that combine visual media with an in-depth study of filmmaking and human rights which will be led by experts at HRW and independent others.

Below is a selection of the films and events that pertain to the MENA world. I do, however, highly recommend that you spend some time on the official website to see the films that resonate with everybody’s human rights concerns and shed light on some of the dark passages in our collective experience.

The Crossing: First Hand Account Documentary

This has to be my top choice of documentary to view at the festival. It is the true story – documented and evidenced first hand by personal cameras – of a group of Syrian friends and acquaintances who are forced to make a dangerous sea journey from Alexandra, Egypt to get to Italy where they all hope to seek asylum and face an unknown future.

We meet the musician Nabil, the journalist Angela, the IT professional Rami, Alia, the pharmacist Afaf and also her son Mustafa who have all gathered in Cairo, Egypt but find that their visas have all run out and are no longer able to reside nor work there. With the threat of deportation hanging over their heads, they have no other choice but to make the suicidal journey to reach the European shores and pay the hefty sum of €6,000 each for the smugglers.

Following the horrid experience of being at sea for seven days and the miracle that they have survived, their struggles don’t end but just begin, when they are rescued by an oil tanker that delivers them to the Red Cross in Genoa. For each one of them, there is the further cross to bear in the uncertainty of seeking refugee status and also in the facing of life in a state of both physical and psychological exile, being far away from home and all that is familiar.

Showing: 15 March, 2016 at the Ritzy Brixton

Showing: 16 March, 2016 at the Picturehouse Central

Both screening will be followed by a Q+A with the filmmaker George Kurian and HRW directors.

For more information: https://ff.hrw.org/film/crossing?city=London

The Trials of Spring Shorts: Women In Revolutionary Times

These four short documentaries put together are my second pick. Each film looks at the role of Arab women during the revolutionary events that took off circa 2011 and in the aftermath, specifically in the cases of four countries: Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. The leading female characters, with feisty bravery and determination, all risked their safety, security and lives because they believed in the active political struggle for freedom and gender emancipation.

In ‘The Brides of Peace’ from Syria, we see the group of young women who went out onto the streets wearing white wedding dresses underneath black abayas to creatively demonstrate against the regime. By taking off the latter in public to reveal their bridal regalia, they end up facing serious consequences and a heavy punishment for their actions by the Assad regime.

In ‘Wake Up Benghazi’ we hear from the family and friends of the late Libyan Salwa Bugaighis, who was a strong human rights lawyer and activist who played a big role during and after the February Revolution in 2011. She also dared to call for the democratic participation of the masses for a new government and was vocal against all forms of terrorism, violence and religious radical elements. She ended up paying the heaviest price possible and was assassinated in cold blood in her hometown of Benghazi.

The third segment is ‘When Is the Time?’ with the focus on the women of Yemen who also demonstrated and led the marches in 2011 and asking for a change to the authoritarian rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. With the narrative spoken by the feminist Belquis Al Lahabi, she tells of how these same women were later forced out by the men and were publicly beaten. Not much has changed for the women in Yemen in the past five years, a country that remains the poorest in the MENA region and with the highest rates of illiteracy and lack of economic resources.

The last short documentary is ‘Our Oath’ that brings the experience of the female medical practitioner in Bahrain who was detained for two months and subjected to torture for treating anti-government protestors. Dr Nada Dhaif couldn’t stand back and not help in the emergencies before her during the very short-lived rebellion. The experience inspired her to create an organisation to help others who are suffering from trauma and offering useful therapeutic methods.

Showing: 11 March, 2016 at the Barbican

The screening will be followed by a discussion with director Gini Reticker, producer Beth Levison and MENA Researcher at HRW Rothna Begum.

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/trials-spring-shorts?city=London

At Home In The World: A Close Look at Refugee Children

Highlighting the impact of the migration and refugee crisis on the children caught up in a sad situation, Andreas Koefoed’s film is a close observation of the young people, as they attend the Red Cross school in Lynge, Denmark; whilst their parents await the outcomes of their asylum seeking claims. At any one time, there are 120 students who are learning Danish and preparing for either the transference to a normal school (if the succeed in getting residency) or the possibility of being deported back to where they came from.

Originating from Syria, Chechnya, Albania and Afghanistan, the psychological impact on the children is evident, with the stresses of their parents’ predicament showing up in their unusual behaviour and in the nightmares where some of them replay the violence of war that they have witnessed or in just recalling the terrible journeys they have had to undertake in order to reach a safety haven. This is my third pick and the last one I had the opportunity to watch in advance of the festival screening.

Showing: 11 March, 2016 at the Curzon Soho

Showing: 12 March, 2016 at the Picturehouse Central

Both screenings will be followed by a discussion with filmmakers Andreas Koefoed and Duco Tellegen and Children’s Rights Division Researcher at HRW Elin Martinez.

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/home-world?city=London

The Idol – A Biopic on Palestinian Pop Star

Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad directs a biographical film about the true rags to riches story of the young Mohammad Assaf. Originally a wedding singer from a refugee camp in Gaza, Assaf went on to win the very popular TV talent show ‘Arab Idol’ in 2013.

Inspiring millions with his talent and the story of acquiring fame in difficult circumstances, the director imagines the childhood origins of the star and the experience that changed his life forever. Starring Tawfeek Barhom, the film was partially filmed on location in Gaza, the first feature film to be shot there in decades.

Showing: 13 March, 2016 at the Barbican

Showing: 17 March, 2016 at the Picturehouse Central

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/idol?city=London

If the Dead Could Speak: Special HRW Programme

In August 2013, a military defector with the code name ‘Caesar’ smuggled 53,275 photographs out of Syria that landed at the HRW offices via the Syrian National Movement, a Syrian anti-government political group. Nine months of research revealed some of the human stories behind the photos, which included images of at least 6,786 people who died in government custody.

This culminated in a HRW report and video in December 2015 that laid out the evidence regarding the authenticity of the photographs, identified several victims and highlighted key causes of death. In this special programme, the HRW video will be featured with an in-depth conversation with Nadim Houry, who is the Deputy Director of the MENA Division at HRW. It will look into the investigative techniques used to assemble the report, the decision-making process around publishing the material, the exposure it garnered and its impact to date.

Event: 15 March, 2016 at the Curzon Soho

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/if-dead-could-speak?city=London

A Right to the Image: Special HRW Programme

By examining different bodies of film and photographic work, this panel discussion looks into the notion of ‘a right to the image’ that can protect the dignity of subjects, as well as the integrity of the journalists, filmmakers, photographers and the researchers who work in certain situations. It shows the political and ethical choices being made when victims of wars and mass violations are depicted in the media and how they are represented sometimes as bodies and not as individuals. The panel will include Charif Kiwan, who is the Co-Founder of the Syrian Abounaddara Collective, Giles Duley (filmmaker, journalist and photographer) and Kim Longinotto (filmmaker).

Event: 16 March, 2016 at the Barbican

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/right-image?city=London

Desperate Journey: Special HRW Programme

This event considers the unfolding migrants situation in multiple countries where HRW researchers – that include photographers and videographers – capture the conditions on the ground and conveying the individual stories behind the crisis. With more 800,000 asylum seekers arriving in Europe by sea last year, 84% were from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, or Iraq—all countries that are going through conflict, widespread violence and insecurity or which have highly repressive governments.

The HRW Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert and photographer Zalmaï will be sharing their insights and images, and discuss how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis in line with their legal responsibilities and stated values.

Event: 17 March, 2016 at the Curzon Soho

For more information: http://ff.hrw.org/film/desperate-journey?city=London

For more information of HRW FF: https://ff.hrw.org/london

Note: This article was first published circa March 2016

Palmusic: London-Based Friends Transforming the Lives of Children in Gaza, Palestine

We don’t readily imagine the children of war-torn Gaza in Palestine to be singing or playing a whole host of musical instruments, let alone taking part in the ‘Arabs Got Talent’ regional competition or having fun with an old mysterious grand piano. However, this has been the reality for some children thanks to the efforts of the Gaza branch of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), an institution that has been developing a musical culture for the children of Palestine for over the past twenty years.

Despite all the political upheavals and the wars that have blighted the country, the ESNCM has stood strong since its genesis in 1993 in Ramallah – and later branches in Nablus, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Gaza – and has fulfilled its mission to educate the local children in Arabic and classical Western instruments. By keeping to the highest of international standards, it has single-handedly established all of the orchestras and ensembles to be found in Palestine and turned many of its original young students into adult masters in their field.

The ESNCM however relies on the support of its many friends to further its goals and ambitions, as they can help it by raising and providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of providing such an education, buying or repairing instruments and collaborating with many of its other musical projects on the ground. One of these friends is the London-based Palmusic UK, aka ‘The Friends of the ESNCM’, who will soon be holding a fundraising concert at St James Church, Piccadilly with all the proceeds earmarked for the Gaza branch.

I spoke with Zina Papageorgiou of Palmusic UK, who is heavily involved working behind the scenes in organising the event. She said: “This concert will kick start our campaign for the whole year to raise funds to enable as many children as possible to get scholarships to study at the Gaza branch. At the moment, we are hoping to enable 100 students from the age of kindergarten to 18 years old to join the school.

“Having witnessed the vital role that the music school plays in the lives of our students in Gaza, I feel an urgent need to invest in a better future for those children who have been experiencing war and destruction throughout their young lives. Music can offer healing, hope and inspiration to them and we want to show the world the real face and talent of Palestinians. We have to make their lives more beautiful and fulfilling and with initiatives like Palmusic UK and people’s support we can achieve it.”

Palmusic UK Concert

The concert itself will bring a line up of three emerging Palestinian musicians who are all former ESNCM students and proud graduates from the Bethlehem branch. They will perform alongside the acclaimed Levon Chilingirian Quartet and also with Wissam Boustany, who is a renowned Palestinian solo flautist, musical composer, professor at the Royal Northern College of Music and trustee of Palmusic UK.

Inside the beautiful St James Church, they will present a mix of classical Western pieces and Arabic arrangements, compositions and improvisations. With Ramzi Shomali on piano, Mohamed Najem on clarinet, Lourdina Baboun on violin, Levon Chilingirian on violin, Suzie Meszaros on viola, Ariana Kashefi on cello and Boustany on flute; the pieces to be performed on the night: De Bethlehem A Angers and Al-Asmar (by Mohamed Najem), W A Mozart Violin Sonata K454, Broken Child (by Wissam Bousany) and Robert Schumann Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op 44.

Looking forward to the evening also is Levon Chilingirian, the internationally acclaimed violinist and founder of the Chilingirian Quartet, who visited the ESNCM as part of Palmusic’s Masterclass programme in January 2015. He said: “It was with great pleasure that I visited the ESNCM earlier this year and had the opportunity to teach many talented and dedicated young students. Music gives great hope to so many who live under a great amount of daily stress. By participating in the fundraising concert in London, I hope that we can encourage the work of many many dedicated teachers as well as all who are involved with the ESNCM.”

Whilst Boustany had this inspiring message to give: ”The Middle East is a region in flames, a part of our planet where Love no longer has a relevance – and the epicentre of this turmoil and tragedy is Palestine/Israel. Yet in spite of this perpetual suffering there are pockets of hope and creativity, where talent and love CAN and DO blossom. The ESNCM nurtures this culture of creativity, love and hope for our children while giving a real identity to the people of Palestine, serving to remind the world that we exist, we create…and we can still LOVE. This is why the work of ESNCM is vital for the present and future of Palestine.”

For more information on Palmusic UK: http://www.palmusic.org.uk/

47Soul – Help Launch The Incredible New Sound Of The #Shamstep

Support The Band Overcoming Visa + Border Restrictions!

If all goes to plan and you are online, tomorrow at noontime, you will be hit by a cyber thunderclap to support the efforts of the 47Soul band. With tweets popping up and Facebook updates, as well as Tumblr alerts, you will be invited to help launch the new sound of Bilad al-Sham and support the #Shamstep.

If you haven’t already been exposed to the young energetic 47Soul musical formation, then be prepared for marvel and surprise once you listen to them on Youtube or Soundcloud. Better yet, make sure to attend a concert as they are currently taking the London underground music scene by storm. They have amassed thousands of fans throughout the Middle East and Europe in the past two years and are still going strong.

The four artists, who are all originally Palestinian, have already had to overcome visa and border restrictions to be able to work together. The first time they performed as one was at the Blue Fig in Amman, Jordan in 2013. There they succeeded with their experimental hypnotic sound that now Glastonbury and WOMAD 2015 want a bit of them, as they guarantee to get the crowds dancing in whichever style of dance they like, although preferably the dabke.

Each one of them had been a solo musician before they all got to know one another via Youtube and word of mouth on the alternative Arabic music scene that is itself breaking boundaries. Their real and stage names are: Walaa Sbait, 28 from Palestine; Z the People (real name Ramzy Suleiman) who is also 28, born in the United States and of Palestinian origin; El Far3i (real name Tareq Abu Kwaik) who is 31 from Amman with Palestinian origin; and, El Jehaz (real name Hamza Arnaout) who is 32 and also from Amman of Palestinian origin.

Onstage the 47Soul magic mix combines the spontaneous charisma of all four as they play the electric Arabic dabke sound that is always hyped up with analogue synthesizers, hypnotic guitar lines and strong political lyrics in English and Arabic. Their message is for the celebration of life, the struggle for freedom and the desire for peace inside Bilad Al-Sham and throughout the world. One of their most popular songs is ‘Every Land Medley’.

In London they have already performed at venues like Rich Mix, The Flyover in Portobello, Passing Clouds, and The Elgin at Notting Hill Gate. They hope to next perform at Koko’s in Camden, where the space can hold up to 2,000 people, so that there will be lots of space for dancing and dabke for those who know the steps!

47Soul have also taken part in the Wilderness Festival at Oxfordshire, the Secret Garden Party, as well as concerts in Bristol, South Devon and other UK cities. Outside the UK, they have been in Jordan, Egypt and Belgium. Their fan base however extends even to South America and the Caribbean.

At the present moment they need our crowd support to utilise their time together in London by producing a debut record that encapsulates all the songs they have been performing, as well as new material they are working on. If the campaign succeeds, they will do the recording at the Soup Studio, where they can record on analogue equipment for the best real sound. At present, they are on artist visas and have a booking agent, the ‘Diplomats of Sound’.

The online campaign is being done via the Zoomaal crowd-raising platform and the deadline is 20 April, 2015. The funds gathered are to cover the costs for the recording, sound engineering, mastering, design and manufacturing CDs, vinyl and the rewards for those who donate online.

If you need any more convincing, this is what they have said: “We are not just asking you to contribute to this campaign. We want you to own this music with us! We want the Shamstep to be something that gives you pride to blast full volume out of your speakers and car stereos. Your support means more dabke for the world and less culture-erasing! It means that music is bigger than borders and that music is made to be shared . Your support is as important as the opportunities awaiting us!”

To support them: http://www.zoomaal.com/projects/47soulshamstep/3835?ref=167690414

For more information on 47Soul and their gigs: http://47soul.com/

Note: This article was first published circa April 2015

Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2015: Let’s Celebrate British-Arab Women Style!

I know this much is true, that to be an Arab woman in today’s world has its challenges no matter what you do, where you live, country of birth, how young or old, married or single. But there is no need to list our grievances or dwell on the negatives, when this month brings the opportunity of International Women’s Day; an annual occasion to create, attend or otherwise engage in the thousands of events organically taking place all around the world.

With its positive spirit and energy, International Women’s Day always brings women together in different groups or formations to celebrate being a woman and engage with the issues dear to our gender. On the global level, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets annually at the UN Headquarters in New York and brings activists to address relevant issues. Whilst in the United Kingdom, there are at least 312 separate events registered online to take place.

For the very first time in London, it is surprisingly one man who has been working hard to organise an event that caters uniquely to the British-Arab woman. Aser El Saqqa, who clearly supports the female cause!, is the mastermind  behind the ‘Arab Women Artists Now’ (AWAN) Festival that will be an extravaganza day to highlight the achievements of Arab women in the UK, with a focus on those working in the arts and creative field. It is scheduled to take place on 7 March, 2015 at the Rich Mi venue in Shoreditch.

AWAN will be showcasing a British-Arab pedigree of spoken word, storytelling, dance and visual presentations, a panel discussion as well as the launch of an art exhibition and a musical performance. It will be a rare opportunity for attendees to mix and mingle, share and appreciate the range of British-Arab female talent that exists already but has not been tapped into until now.

AWAN’s Mastermind: Aser El Saqqa of Arts Canteen

Behind AWAN is the Palestinian Aser El Saqqa, who is Director of Arts Canteen. Arts Canteen is a company that curates arts and music projects with the aim of stirring the arts scene; and, to bring the work of emerging artists from the MENA region and the Arab diaspora to a London audience, El Saqqa has been instrumental in managing and representing many artists who might otherwise have no support whatsoever and no opportunity to do what they do best.

Since the birth of Arts Canteen four years ago, the endeavour has brought to life many Arab musical acts, art exhibitions, involvement with other London arts festivals, and even holding an Arab-inspired comedy evening. I asked him what has inspired him to create the AWAN festival.

El Saqqa: “It is to reflect on the issues we have encountered and which face both the artists and audiences from the Arab diaspora. Some of the issues are: engagement with the UK arts infrastructure, lack of funding, cultural and religious taboos, working under censorship, responding to political conflict, challenges of integration, lack of profile amongst non-Arab audiences, lack of recognition of their contribution to the UK arts scene as Arab women and the artists’ right to a livelihood.”

Being a pilot-festival, AWAN will also have a research and development element to decide whether it can be done annually and how to improve the experience. During the festival day, there will be a consultation exercise with artists and interested partners to assess how the professional needs of the artists might be supported through future work under the AWAN umbrella.

El Saqqa said: “We are anticipating Arab and non-Arab female artists who will be attending as members of the audience. Their support and engagement at this pilot stage will help to build sustainability for the event in the coming years. My hope is to build on and consolidate Arts Canteen’s curating and programming experience with new, emerging and profile women artists from the Arab diasporas and to recognise their contributions in the UK and beyond.”

AWAN Festival Highlights

The festival highlights for the day include: two spoken word performances by poets Fajr Tamimi and Hala Ali, a storytelling segment by the actress Alia Alzougbi, a presentation by visual artist Maiada Salfiti, a presentation by theatre-maker Nesreen Nabil Hussein, a contemporary dance act by Tania Salmen and a panel discussion on the experiences and challenges of Arab women artists, curators and producers in the UK.

This latter will be chaired by Roya Arab, who is an archaeologist, musician and poet rolled into one! And will feature the editor of Kalimat Magazine Danah Abdulla, the playwright Hannah Khalil, the film curator Yasmin El Derby and the dancer and event producer Tania Diggory.

AWAN Exhibition + A Musical Journey

The AWAN festival also includes the launch of an art exhibition entitled ‘It’s About Time’ that will explore the issues of the female identity, ethnic origin and politics; aiming to provoke thought, discussion and to generate a renewed perspective on the role of contemporary art in today’s society.

Curated by Zina Papageorgiou this collective show will bring the artworks of several women that span across a wide range of practices. Those taking part are: Dia Batal, Inas Halabi, Saadeh George, Shirine Osseiran and Malika Sqalli.

Last but not least, the festival day ends with a musical journey with a line-up of prominent Arab women musicians including: Reem Kelani, Reham and Christelle Madani.

For more information on AWAN: https://www.awan.org.uk/

For more information on Arts Canteen: https://artscanteen.com/

Note; This article was first published circa March 2015

Libyan Street Theatre Project: At London’s GDIF Festival

Without a script but eager to be performing and entertaining for the very first time outside their home country, a group of six Libyan actors and a musician arrived in London last week to prepare and take part in the Greenwich-Docklands International Festival (GDIF). The biggest and longest established of its kind, the GDIF celebrates outdoor theatre and the performing arts and takes place at various venues across the Greenwich-Docklands area.

The unprecedented Libyan participation comes after the group was recently formed as a ‘Libyan Street Theatre Project’ through the great efforts of Muftah Ibrahim Elfagi and with the support and sponsorship by the British Council and the European Union. Elfagi is an actor and the Director of the National Theatre Tripoli since 2011 and has been awarded an MBE in 2009 for services to British-Libyan family reunification.

“Muftah is very much a fine performer, a wonderful character with a wicked sense of humour. He has already been entertaining and joking with people passing by in the Olympic park where we have been rehearsing. The others are also a great mix of personalities that creates an interesting chemistry and lively debate on which stories to use. Muftah has also invited us to Libya and we would love to go and continue our work there.” Damian Wright, Periplum

As a group they have performed only once before in Tripoli in a public park during March 2014 to a happily surprised crowd of up to 1,700 people in an act titled ‘Family Picnic’. This had been created with the British theatre director Nathan Curry, who later invited them to take part in the GDIF.

I met up with the positively energetic group at Cutty Sark, Greenwich and they all introduced themselves to me: Muftah Elfagi (age 60), Zahra Arafa (age 42), Hanan Espaga (age 20), Adel Abulefa (age 23) and Fuad R Gritli (age 28) Ahmed Elmusrati (age 17) and Saif Alwaine (age 17).

Elfagi said: “Acting is a spiritual medicine. Angels take me away and I lose my hurt, pains and sorrows and especially with my love feelings. Under the old regime, there was some censorship working at the National Theatre so we did social or historical plays and took part in Arab festivals in Cairo, Carthage and Damascus. But I am so glad to be here. As actors, we have to tell the truth and this is better after the revolution.”

For the GDIF Global Streets performance, the team have partnered with the innovative London-based performing arts production company Periplum, to work with Artistic Directors Damian Wright and Claire Raftery. The brief was to devise an original show for the Libyans within only a few days of planning and rehearsals that has to also be site-specific for the location at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

I asked Wright how the Libyan team were responding to the challenge: He said: “So far the process has been intense and exciting and we have grown close to the Libyan group in the past few days. We have been showing them different techniques to make innovative street theatre performance and they have found it hard work, but hopefully this will inspire them when they go back to Libya to take on more ambitious projects.”

The anticipated trilingual show is scheduled to take place this week on the evenings of 25-26 June, 2014. I’ve been told it will not be a continual narrative but more of a composition of the spontaneous and challenging images and sounds inspired by the Libyans’ personal stories and feelings, and, also, being suggestive of the subjects that came up in their exchange with the Periplum team.

Wright: “Together we’ve created original text and original music to be played by the guitarist and drummer Fuad Gritli. He will be drumming on a piece of street furniture. There will also be a metaphorical line that begs the question of how do you make music from a broken instrument? And we do touch upon the subject of conflict, though there is optimism from the group as to Libya’s future despite the difficulties. It was also their preference to keep the work as universal as possible.”

Representing British Council Libya, Awatef Shawish, said: “Through the Libyan Street Theatre Project, a new form of artistic expression enters the Libyan art scene. It aims to raise the profile of street theatre in Libya by forging links with international experts to increase public access to the arts in Libya and provide the opportunity for young Libyan theatre students to work with well-established British outdoor theatre directors.”

As part of training during this short experience in London, the Libyan team have also attended up to thirty of the many incredible and amazing acts taking part at the GDIF. They were particularly impressed by the French company Rara Woulib’s ‘Deblozay: Dance with the Dead‘ and the Belarus Free Theatre’s ‘Red Forest’ at the Young Vic Theatre.

What they have discovered is the power of street theatre and how it can break the boundaries between actors and audience, as well as the use of humour that can be utilised in dramatic ways. Now they wish to take these insights back to Libya in order to further develop and invest in a new type of creative performance industry.

For more on the GDIF: https://festival.org/gdif/

Photos: Muftah Elfagi Image, GDIF Logo, Members Warming Up, Team Photo Before Last Rehearsal

Note: This article was fist published circa June 2014

World In London Project: Behind Libya’s Portrait

Mid-February 2011. A surprise email arrived in my inbox from James O Jenkins, a professional British photographer, asking if I would like to model for a portrait to represent Libya’s participation at the London Olympics as part of the ‘World In London’ photography project. 

At the time I hadn’t even realised that Libya would be taking part in the Olympics as sports and politics have been inter-mixed with dangerous consequences under Qaddafi. The recent kidnapping and later release of Nabil Al-Alam, Libya’s President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), only highlighted the problem. My initial response was therefore hesitant and reluctant.

Most certainly I didn’t wish to represent Libya with any political association with the regime and I knew that Libyan sports had been hijacked by Saadi and Mohammed Qaddafi for quite some time. The former had been the obsessive control freak behind the national football team who forbade any popular support for individual players by banning the calling out of their names. He also pressurised referees to favour his Tripoli Ahli team, whilst the latter was the head of the NOC.

So much for fair play and the spirit of honest competition that typifies athleticism on the world stage. Despite all these challenges, it seems that five courageous Libyans did qualify to take part in the individual sports. They were: Ali Mabrouk El-Zaidi (marathon runner), Sofyan El-Gidi (butterfly swimmer), Ahmed Koeseh (judo), Hala Gezah (100-metre sprint), and Ali El-Kekli (weightlifting).

But then this was a critical time for Libya and the Revolution had kicked off and Jenkins assured me there would be no political message to my participation. So I took the risk to represent Libya in the hope that the country will be free by July 2012. I also did inform him that there were many gorgeous and much younger models that he could choose from, but he insisted on me because he had come across my blog.

He told me: “I was given the list of countries that were available and I don’t really know why I chose Libya. It’s worth noting that I chose it before the start of the revolution and the portrait was not to do with the political troubles there. It is about London and you being Libyan in this city.”

My readers know that if there is anything I am super-passionate about, it really is London. So in the end I wanted to celebrate being a Londoner and a Libyan simultaneously; and, to also feel proud in taking part in this project.

Finally on the first day of the Olympics the Libya portrait was unveiled, along with the other 203 images of the other Londoners who were representing their countries taking part in the Olympics.

The Photographers’ Gallery, which commissioned Jenkins and 200 other photographers – who were picked from London’s most noted, talented and emerging talent – kept the project top-secret for three years. They admit it has been their most ambitious project to date and are now super pleased with the outcome.

The World In London Project’s artistic ambition and desire is to showcase through photography London’s rich cultural diversity and to celebrate its incredible mix of people from all over the world. The exhibition is free for residents and tourists to view. The 204 large-scale portraits will be at two sites for the duration of the Olympics: the external wall of the BT London Live site in Victoria Park, E3, and across the Park House city-block in Oxford Street, W1.

Jenkins and I are very happy with the final Libya portrait and the choice of dress and background. Hopefully it will please everyone for its simplicity and the intended layers of meaning about what it means to be a Libyan. I did also take part in a related project, the ‘Oral Histories’, which will feature a recorded interview to go with my portrait.

In the coming days, I intend to fully support the Libyan athletes and hope they will do us proud. For the future also I hope that more young boys and girls can pursue sports for the joy and thrill of open and fair competition and to see it as a great measure of personal achievement.

For more on the World in London project: https://www.artlyst.com/news/the-photographers-gallery-world-in-london-olympics-exhibition/

For more on James O Jenkins: http://www.jamesojenkins.co.uk/

Note: This article was first published circa July 2012

Diamond Jubilee Celebrations: Why It Matters To Be British!

The Jubilee weekend has brought out a British person inside of me I never knew existed. First I went to the Battersea Park Jubilee Festival for the River Pageant and was super excited to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people. All trying to get a glimpse of the lady of the hour, she is celebrating sixty years on the throne. The crowd on the day totalled over a million and I can’t think of any other world superstar, other than HM Queen Elizabeth II, who can manage even half that much.

It took me back to December 1996 when I first pledged to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law. It was an important day as I got my British passport, but with the only pity being that they didn’t have a citizenship test nor a citizenship ceremony as part of the process, which I would have loved to do.

Since I have felt grateful to the Queen as my new shiny ID gave me access to things and places otherwise not possible with my Libyan nationality. It has enabled me to feel free and confidant in traveling the world without hassle. Not only that, I did study English Law and learned about the UK government system, the British constitution and the role of the Monarchy.

On Sunday in great British fashion nobody was excluded from the festivities. The crowds were a reflection of the diversity of the country, with not just natives but people of all ethnicities come together to celebrate. My guess is we the latter have all been resident in the UK long enough to feel and know that we belong and as we have been granted our rights and protection of civil liberties within the legal framework.

The weekend has reaffirmed that HM the Queen, who has been around longer than any other monarch in modern history, will always be an icon of the archetypical mother of a nation, offering herself as the symbol for all of us to come together, regardless of any divides. Her patience and resilience are admirable qualities; and, even as some believe the royal family should be abolished, this Queen has earned all the respect that she gets.

Not only does she take seriously her duties to serve her country, she never takes more liberties than what is permitted. She has devoted her whole life to her role and has never complained or begged tiredness or sickness in all the years she has been on the throne and working. Now she is 86.

It was truly wonderful to behold all of this, with everybody carrying and waving the Union Jack; or, they were holding items with the design on hats, sunglasses, scarves, afro wigs, pins, hair bands, shoes, suits and candy floss.

After Battersea where I couldn’t get a good view of the River Thames, my friends and I managed to tube it to Waterloo to see the atmosphere by the Southbank. It was electric there too. The Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the NFT were full of people standing on the balconies with lots of families and children too. Even though it got colder and wetter, it was beautiful to see the whole width of the river bank and the bridges jam-packed with spectators.

I was soaked by the end of it, but I am so glad I didn’t stay at home and just proxy view it on TV. This way I got British fever and it won’t escape me for a bit.

Note: This article was first published circa June 2012

Dairo Vargas: Colombian Artist Speaks About Childhood, Art and Barnardo’s

For the thirty-three year old Colombian artist Dairo Vargas, putting a smile on a child’s face is not just the occasional nod to charity, but a lifetime personal commitment. From his early years, his mother encouraged him to give and together they would visit youngsters affected by severe poverty, homelessness, abuse and crime in the capital city of Bogota and other Colombian towns. They would spend hours with the children, play with them and offer them gifts of toys, food and clothes.

As Vargas has gone on to become a graphic designer and painter, he’s kept up the passion to offer his skills and efforts for this delicate cause. Even living in London since 2005, he annually raises money in creative ways to help give to the La Escaltera kindergarten in Agrado which educates some 80 underprivileged children.

He said: “The Christmas parties for the little ones are always a big hit. We would bring them things as little as ice-cream and balloons which they love, to buying them more books and educational equipment for their future development.”

It is a sad and difficult truth that deprived, impoverished and hurt children are to be found everywhere in the world. As synchronicity would have it, last November, when Vargas was attending a Firecracker Event in Yorkshire, he heard a young Barnardo’s girl give a moving speech about her past which prompted him to make direct contact with the charity.

Vargas: “This girl had faced unimaginable things in her life but had so much strength to recover from the abuse she suffered. It’s unbelievable to think what some children have to go through. But now she has her own family and a job. It’s good to know that what happened in her childhood isn’t shaping her future, she is.”

The project with Barnardo’s has turned into the current exhibition – ‘A Thousand Words’ – at the Reading Room Gallery, Soho. Vargas dedicated much of the year to make the seventeen paintings on display and volunteered to teach Art lessons to Barnardo’s students at the High Close School in Berskshire that proved a huge success.

He said: “At first, they were hesitant. But I wanted to reassure them that there is nothing like the perfect image. That doesn’t exist. I wanted them to create their own portraits with confidence in response to my sketches. Art is above all about expression of feelings, emotions and honesty.”

Vargas’s paintings speak volumes on the theme of lost childhood and approach the psychological links between dreams and reality for the children. My favourite is the ‘Chiquita de Rojo’ that is an image of a little girl with a red face and braided hair who seems shy and preoccupied. Half the proceeds of her sale will help give 25 families access to Barnardo’s Advice Phone Line, which helps parents and carers to understand the child’s grief and look at practical ways to support them.

There is also the ‘Dreams’ painting of a black girl surrounded by butterflies. Half the proceeds of her sale will be go to the ‘Leaving Care’ project that provides a range of housing and support for young adults leaving residential, foster or family care. And there is more, including three little sculptures up for a donation amount.

As an artist Vargas has been self-taught although he started early. He confessed that as a fourteen year old that he always found himself doing his brothers’ and friends’ art homework and helping with the school murals. He said: “This was the best practice I ever got. But I was still afraid I wouldn’t get a job as an artist, so I studied graphic design and marketing instead. I even worked with JWT in Bogota for some time.”

But then he wanted to travel and came to London to learn English. Although art wasn’t big on the agenda and the plan was to stay for only nine months, he found himself taking out the colours and acrylics in his suitcase. He started to sketch and painted anything he could find of intrigue and even used cardboard to work with. After with some more money he was able to buy bigger canvasses and this gave him the push to study at Kensington and Chelsea College of Art circa 2008.

Since he has committed to being a full-time artist and works right through the nights, finding lots of inspiration especially from William Turner and a love for depicting natural landscapes and studying light movement. This is his true calling and his work has been exhibited in London, Europe and Colombia. On his website, one can see the broader scope of his art portfolio and developing technique.

For the future Vargas tells me: “I now want to focus more on conceptual images and the abstract world. One of my current projects, The City, is all about the energy of big cities where I look at human movement and activity as well as links to the different buildings and architecture.

“For me, cities are like a positive virus where there is chaos but also beauty and order. They are also more alive than one thinks and London in particular has this incredible feel to it. I love it even with the weather, as I come from a hot country. I hope to stay for as long as I can and then maybe move on to New York, another place I find fascinating and worth exploring.”

For more information on Dairo Vargas: https://dairovargas.com/
To donate to Barnardo’s charity: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/

Note: This article was first published circa November 2011

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