The Trace Of The Butterfly: A Tribute To Rim Banna & Concert To Celebrate Her Musical Legacy At The Barbican

Guest Post: MARSM*

A pivotal and influential figure in the contemporary Palestinian music scene, Rim Banna’s life was tragically cut short on 24 March 2018 after a ten-year struggle with breast cancer. She left behind a rich legacy of twelve albums, combining her own compositions and the careful assembling of traditional songs, children’s lullabies and works of Palestinian poets.

Brave and courageous to the end, her last work was materialised as a tapestry of voices and music over visual materials from her x-ray scans. Now a unique commemoration concert debuts at the Barbican in London by some of her closest musical peers: Tania Saleh (Lebanon) Faraj Suleiman (Palestine), Bu Kolthoum (Syria) and Sabrine Janhani (Tunis).

Born in December 1966 and raised in Nazareth, Banna studied music in Moscow and returned to Palestine to immerse herself in the events unfolding on the ground. She became a key performer in numerous local, regional and international festivals and an adamant artist within the Palestinian struggle. She was one of the first Palestinian musicians to document children’s music and lullabies, taking them from the confines of family homes to the outside world with three albums.

She also wove the poetry of giants such as Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Zayyad and Samih El-Qasem into her songs, blending pop, poetry and traditional Arabic sounds. Significantly, Banna became a voice for peace and equality, collaborating with the likes of jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, Norwegian choir Skruk and Arabic electronica collective Checkpoint 303. Her last album ‘Voices of Resistance’ was a conceptual piece of art uniting her spirit of resistance, poetry and medical scans with Checkpoint 303’s electronic beats and Bugge Wesseltoft’s edgy piano improvisations.

The collaboration between MARSM, Shubbak Festival and the Barbican will bring together the exceptional group of musicians who were Banna’s contemporaries to pay tribute to her life and work as well as creating a repertoire of music composed by Palestinian pianist Faraj Suleiman. Suleiman is one of the most promising musicians of the Arab world, whose music is strongly influenced by Arabic and Eastern melodies and rhythms as well as Tango and Jazz traditions, incorporating their unique scales and modalities in his compositions.

Accompanying him on the night will be the stellar contemporary alternative Lebanese singer, songwriter and visual artist Tania Saleh, whose lyrics mirror the reality of the Lebanese-Arab social and political turmoil. Since her early debut in 1990, she has experimented with various genres and is always challenging herself to explore new styles. Her collaborations have been eclectic: Ziad Rahbany, Toufic Farroukh, Issam Hajali, Charbel Rouhana, Ibrahim Maalouf, Rayess Bek, Khaled Mouzannar, RZA, Nile Rodgers, Charlotte Caffey, Tarek El Nasser, Natacha Atlas and more.

Additional features come from two artists from Syria and Tunis. The infamous rapper, music producer and film director who has been revolutionizing political rap in the Middle East is Bu Kolthoum. He will be making his much anticipated London appearance. Born in Damascus to a family of Sufi background, his 2017 album Bo’Bo’ was completely produced, mixed and mastered by him. His sound can easily be distinguished amongst other Middle Eastern rappers given old-school sound accompanied by prominent bass-lines.

The group is made complete with the gentle voice of former Yüma duo Sabrine Jenhani. Originally a fine artist and painter, Jenhani graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, but discovered her passion for singing and writing, moving into jazz singing at famous clubs in Tunis. She imbibed her inspiration from her work in the Tunisian capital while exploring the underground scene. She went on to become an icon of music through her first project in the group Yüma. Jenhani today composes her own music and writes her lyrics, releasing her latest project ’ZAY’ in January 2019.

The four musicians have been working, creating and arranging for months under the lead of composer Faraj Suleiman to bring this project together and to raise awareness to the life of one of Palestine’s most prominent musical figures. Banna was always a lighthouse in the turbulent seas of political uncertainties in Palestine and still inspires generations of artists and activists to resist oppression and fight for what is close to the heart. This night calls for the attendance of every soul that stands for justice, equality and the right to live.

‘The Trace of the Butterfly’ concert takes place on 9 July at the Barbican.

For more information to book tickets: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/the-trace-of-the-butterfly-a-tribute-to-rim-banna

* MARSM UK: Since its founding, Marsm has dedicated itself to producing events that promote the rich and diverse arts and culture of the Arab world across the UK. From hosting some of the biggest names in the Middle East to emboldening burgeoning underground music scenes, it strives to support the exceptional creativity and talent of artists across the region.

SAFAR 2016: Film Festival Solely Dedicated to Contemporary Arab Cinema

If you love independent films with the power to take you on a visual tour of faraway places, then a cinematic festival that carefully selects its titles to represent the best of what is coming out of a particular region is a must see. More of a reason also when that region, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is experiencing unprecedented turbulence that has been laid out for the world to see and when the dearth of good news has meant a lack of an adequate reflection of what really is going on in the Arab world.

It has been a privilege to preview six of the nine films that will be screened as part of the SAFAR 2016 Film Festival. Now in its third edition and hosted biennially by the Arab British Centre in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, SAFAR offers everyone – Arab and non-Arab alike – the chance to see some excellent contemporary MENA films recently produced despite the some logistical obstacles faced.

Curated by writer, independent film and visual arts curator Rasha Salti, she has selected a range of productions from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Kuwait and Syria. Each offers an artistic take on some real and others imagined tales, inspired by true or fictionalised events and played by actors deserving of Oscars. The themes tackled in the selection range from love to war, music, history, religion, politics, philosophy and homosexuality, with the open invite to enter both private lives as well as to learn of public concerns.

Insight From Curator Rasha Salti

I asked Salti to describe the challenges faced by directors and production teams who are working from inside the volatile region. She said: “Filmmakers working in the Arab world face very different kinds of challenges, the ‘volatile’ political context is part of them, but I would not say it is the most inhibitive or problematic. The most serious challenges pertain to the structure of the so-called industry, its near total absence in some cases (in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Algeria) or its fledgling state in other cases (in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia).

“In spite of the absence of an industry in the conventional sense, there are professionals, a notable number of which are very talented and very skilled. The films included in this programme are all low-budget and independent productions, also made in spite of the absence of a structure. They are also auteur, art-house films… The most urgent challenge for art-house cinema is exhibition or distribution locally, regionally and internationally. The more serious challenges that are a consequence of the socio-political contexts are censorship and self-censorship.”

I also wanted to know if she had employed a selection criterion in choosing the films. Salti replied: “In the past five or more years, I have observed a change in Arab cinema, not only are filmmakers more resolute in forging their own voice, but also they are fearless about challenging taboos and exploring different cinematic genres, risking a confrontation with authorities but also provoking the more conservative audiences.

“The Safar Film Festival includes two subjective non-fiction films (‘House without Doors’ and ‘This Little Father Obsession’), an absurdist comedy (‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements’), two psychological dramas (‘Borders of Heaven’ and ‘Before the Summer Crowds’), two socio-political dramas (‘As I Open My Eyes’ and ‘Let Them Come’), a raucous satire (‘Starve your Dog’) and the work of Monira Al-Qadiri, an amazing video artist, that straddles the realms of film and contemporary art and film.”

The SAFAR Parallel Programme

Alongside the screenings at the ICA, there will be an additional programme of Q+As with the directors, actors and scriptwriters featured in the films. Significantly, these events have been made possible due to the success of the ABC’s recent crowd-funding campaign that has enabled them to bring everyone together as well as the the possibly of extending SAFAR to other regional UK cities.

Nadia El-Sebai, Executive Director at the ABC, said: “As the news and the media continues to depict the region through protest politics and conflict, Salti’s selection for SAFAR enables us to look beyond the headlines and provide a more meaningful insight into the emergent trends and social issues affecting communities across the Arab world. The fact that people from around the world came together to support this vision, is testament to the festival’s significance to audiences in the UK at this time.”

Nahla Ink on SAFAR Films

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia-France, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 17 September, 2016 at 6pm

Beautifully directed by Leyla Bouzi as a first feature film, it carries a wonderful soundtrack with songs composed by the Iraqi musicologist Khyam Allami. Set sometime before the Jasmine Revolution, young and carefree Farah (played by Baya Medhaffar) is passionate and excited to be singing with her grungy band and wants to hang out with the bohemian crowd to pursue an innocent dream of becoming a rock star.

Naïve, Farah doesn’t see how her fearless and reckless attitude can put her life in danger. In a country where an oppressive government keeps tabs on everyone, events turn for the worse when her boyfriend writes the lyrics to a politically inspired tune. In peril, Farah embodies the contradictions between the needs and desires of a certain youth who are yearning to live and be free versus a culture that wants to stifle their right to self-expression.

With the popular Tunisian singer Ghalia Ben Ali performing in the strong role of the mother, she brings a sweet and tender dimension to the tale. For good reasons, this film was a winner at the Venice International Film Festival (2015) and the Dubai International Film Festival (2015). I highly recommend viewing!

Before the Summer Crowds (Egypt, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 14 September, 2016 at 8.30pm

Directed by the late Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Khan, this will be a UK premiere to be screened on the opening night of the festival as a tribute to Khan’s legacy and cinematic achievements over the years. ‘Before the Summer Crowds’ is a colourful fiction that exposes Egypt’s troublesome socio-economic dynamics and reveals the clear difference between the haves and have-nots with a seductive female lead.

Unhappy and frustrated with her life, rich and pretty Hala (played by Hana Sheha) wants to get away from her daily life and plans an intimate holiday with a secret lover. Hiring out a chalet at the Blue Beach resort not far from Alexandria before the high season, she doesn’t factor in the unwelcome interest nor the intrusive curiosity from her neighbour as well as the resort’s handy boy.

Obsessed, Dr Yehia (played by Maged El Kedwany) unashamedly snoops on her with his binoculars and flirts with her at every chance to the chagrin of his wife, whilst the resort caretaker Goma (played by Ahmed Dawood) gets a perverse pleasure from following her around and touching her intimate garments that she has put outside to dry in the sun. Her big plan for private time with her amour seriously backfires.

Khan sheds light on the injustices in an Egypt where the rich and the poor live in physical proximity but reside on two different planets. It is a world where the elite are outwardly spoilt, demanding and corrupt but always beyond reproach as their positions of power and money will get them out of any trouble or even scandal. It makes for an interesting viewing.

Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Palestine, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 15 September, 2016 at 6.15pm

Shot in dramatic black and white and directed by the Palestinian Muayad Alaya, this is an unexpected Palestinian story that is an amazing psychological thriller, drama and fairytale all rolled into one. Set in Jerusalem sometime circa the Oslo Accords, we follow Mousa (played by Sami Metwasi) who is a desperate car thief with a precarious plan to get out of the country and escape to Europe.

When he thinks he’s struck gold by stealing a valuable car – to sell its parts to fund his trip to Italy – too late he finds out that there is an Israeli soldier (played by Riyad Sliman) in the trunk who is part of a huge political exchange plot between a Palestinian militia group and the Israeli government.

When all the other characters are seriously concerned with the explosive politics and the high emotions of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Mousa’s only concern is to put the money together to be able to leave as well as to help solve the love triangle that he is also a key part in.

Describing his film, Alayan has said: “Love, Theft and Other Entanglements is a universal story of an anti-hero and his journey towards redemption. The lead character Mousa is neither the Palestinian national ideal typically found in many Palestinian films nor the pure victim of the occupation who is otherwise a perfect manifestation of good…

“Whilst the setting of the film is Palestine, the goal is to tell a universal story about human beings and how they act under circumstances that are heavy to bear. Do we act morally under pressure or is morality a luxury when so much is at stake? Are we able to connect with others or not? Do we trust or mistrust? Do we act responsibly or selfishly? And, ultimately, how do we redeem ourselves from our own mistakes and actions?”

This one for me is another must see! Produced by the PalCine collective of filmmakers based in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area, its goal is to make organic cinema by and about Palestinians as a community. This film was first screened in the Panorama section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.

This Little Father Obsession (Lebanon, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 18 September, 2016 at 4pm

This is a warm-hearted family documentary drama that utilises auto-fiction film techniques with great humour. Captured over two years, Selim Mourad presents an intimate insight into his life as a young gay Lebanese male and his relationship dynamics with his parents, with an emphasis on the ‘obsession’ with his father. When the family have to leave their old house for redevelopment and must move elsewhere temporary, Selim is worried about the future.

Without siblings, he knows he cannot provide a grandchild and is concerned with what that would mean for the Mourad surname. So son goads father on a quest to explore their family tree and en route to various appointments, they engage in many philosophic conversations that openly discuss his homosexuality and contemplate whether there is perhaps a 70-year curse on them for past karmic mistakes. When eventually Selim’s earnest search discovers missing relatives, he has to confront his father.

Improvising with unusual props and getting his parents and friends to do all sorts of crazy impromptu scenes for his big documentary, Mourad employs actors and actresses in the background who surreally run around the ‘set’ as if they are real characters in a film; or, perhaps, it was his aim to creatively blend and blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. If you wish to laugh or to philosophise about family, this is the one film to book for!

Borders of Heaven (Tunisia-UAE, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 17 September, 2016 at 4pm

Directed by Fares Naanaa, this poignant family drama will make you cry and sing. Sarah (played by Anissa Daoud) and Samy (played by Lotfi Abdel) are a young Tunisian couple in their thirties who have to endure the greatest loss possible, that of their young child. The stressful event of little Yasmine’s death comes to challenge their marriage and manifests more than just some of the already underlying cracks in their relationship.

Played powerfully by Daoud and Abdel, the pain of the couple’s predicament leads each on a different path. Whilst Sarah who is a teacher tries to find solace in work, prayer and taking part in a singing group, Samy who is an architect blames himself and is unable to turn to his wife for comfort, choosing instead to lose himself in alcohol.

With immense suspense throughout this love story, the viewer is drawn into Naanaa’s expert handling of the psychology of grief and its many complex layers of human emotion. It also beautifully portrays the possibilities for closure and when there are reasons for hope to live once again. Another must see, this film premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival (2015), where Abdel won the ‘Muhr Feature’ award for best actor.

Starve Your Dog (Morocco, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 18 September, 2016 at 6pm

Part of a trilogy with a ‘Dog’ theme directed by the Moroccan Hicham Lasri, this film cleverly deploys an imaginary journalistic scoop that revisits the real ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco. The film reflects on the country’s current socio-political and economic scene and one is made visually aware of the frustrations of the millions who are still illiterate, poor, desperate and afraid.

Set in Casablanca, an incredible interview is just about to take place and be nationally broadcast. Pretending that the real but dead ex-Minister of Interior Driss Basri (played by Jirari Ben Aissa) is still alive circa 2012 and ready to confess for his political crimes, a desperate female journalist quickly puts together a production team to capture the historical moment. But things don’t’ work out as planned when their sound system and video equipment fail to capture Basri’s dramatic performance.

For the Moroccans, Basri was the notorious right-hand man working for King Hassan II who had complete control of the police, security and intelligence services in the time between 1979-1999. He was therefore complicit in many of the horrors that took place then, from killings to ‘disappearances’ of dissidents as well as the torture and imprisonment of many who opposed the regime.

As a Libyan observer, I was conscious of the irrational political rhetoric spewed by Basri to justify his past evil acts and Lasri’s referencing via archival political material is a very powerful reminder of the fear and paranoia associated with that time. In a frightening sense, also, the metaphor of the ‘dog’ wasn’t lost on me. Gaddafi used that term to insult the people he was planning to execute or assassinate; and, ironically, he was referred to as the ‘mad dog’ himself by others.

For the full SAFAR 2016 programme, details of the Q+As as well as a promotional code when booking: https://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/projects/safar-film-festival-series/safar-2016/full-programme-listing/

Note: This article was first published circa September 2016

AWAN Returns: Niche Festival Strengthening Arab Female Creatives in London, in Style and Now!

Awarded pioneers in ‘stirring the arts, breaking down borders and telling unheard stories’ in connection with the Arab world in London, Arts Canteen is also hosts the annual ‘Arab Women Artists Now’ (AWAN) festival. Organised and directed in collaboration with partners, it is now in its fourth edition and will run throughout March, to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Bringing forward the diverse talent, achievements and industrious work of Arab female creatives, AWAN offers not only the chance to attend and enjoy the artistic programme, but it also enables direct networking opportunities – through workshops and the ‘Connect’ programme – whereby established and emerging arts professionals can engage with each other and help guide new hopefuls who may wish to break into the field.

Proving highly popular for its intimate niche outside of the mainstream IWD women events in the UK and abroad – for example, the ‘WOW’ festival at the Southbank Centre – last year’s AWAN attracted an audience reach of 26,000 in London and beyond, both in reality and virtually online.

In terms of what AWAN aims to provide for its visitors, founder of Arts Canteen, Aser El Saqqa, said to Nahla Ink: “AWAN will raise awareness, attract attendance from and create conversations among large numbers of different types of people. In effect, we enable and market positive new ideas about Arab identity at the grassroots, across a broad social spectrum.

“In addition, AWAN community cherishes its ability to strengthen cultural pride and positive self-identity among Arab diasporas in Europe as well as spread a message of Arab talent, harmony and creativity to non-Arab audiences.”

This year the schedule runs from 1-25 March and will host over twenty separate events under the categories of music, comedy, film, visual arts, performance and the informative and practical workshops. Each of these will take place in one of these venues: Rich Mix (Shoreditch), the Royal Albert Hall, Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, Chatham House, the Arab British Centre or the Book Club.

For the fantastic line up and plan your AWAN visit: https://www.awan.org.uk/

Note: This article was first published circa March 2018

The BFI London Film Festival 2017 – The MENA-Inspired Choices

The BFI London Films Festival (BFI LFF) returns for its 61st edition and set to screen a selection totalling 242 feature films and 128 shorts, made by both established and emerging directorial talent from across the globe. Over twelve days from 4-15 October, London will host a celebration of cinematic output that illustrates the richness of international filmmaking and bringing together a stellar line up of cast and crew. 

As the UK’s leading film festival, the BFI LFF offers the UK public and film industry professionals the chance to be the first to view new films sourced from over 55 countries, alongside a wide events programme where audiences can engage with the world’s most inspiring creative-cinematic talent. This year, the festival will host 28 World Premieres, 9 International Premieres and 34 European Premieres.

As with each year, the online and printed programme classifies films by strands under which they can be found.  These important strands are: Galas, Official Competition, Experimenta, Create, Thrill, Dare, Laugh, Debate, Cult, Love, Journey, Treasures and Family. It is under these strands you have to locate any film of interest and the only way of booking your ticket.

Programmed by MENA-region advisors Elhum Shakerifar and Ali Jaafar, this year’s festival includes at least ten features that are connected to the following countries: Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria and Tunisia, UAE (production) and Qatar (production).

Relating to these films, Shakerifar said to Nahla Ink: “The selection process lasts over months, as we try to bring a dynamic mix of the region’s most exciting new titles to a London audience. This year at LFF, there is definitely something for everyone and the MENA region is represented by a broad array of talent as diverse as the region itself. It is a selection strong in emotions: from the sly humour and absurd realities of ‘Lebanon Factory’ and the charming father and son road trip of discovery of ‘Wajib’ (Annemarie Jacir), to the interwoven stories of a conflicted modern day Casablanca in ‘Razzia’ (Nabil Ayouch) and the taut social drama of ‘The Journey’ (Mohamed Al Daradji). For the dreamers and the cerebral, ‘Le Fort des Fous’ (Narimane Mari) will give a lot to think about, for those wanting to see systemic change, ‘Beauty and The Dogs’ (Kaouther Ben Hania) packs a punch.”

WAJIB

Production: Palestine

Director : Annemarie Jacir

Genre: Official Competition Strand

Showing: Monday 9 October 2017, 6pm Embankment Garden Cinema

Showing; Wednesday 11 October 2017, 2.15pm Embankment Garden Cinema

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

RAZZIA

Production: France

Director: Nabil Ayouch

Genre: Debate Strand

Showing: Thursday 5 October 2017, 8.45pm Cine Lumiere

Showing: Friday 06 October 2017, 6.10pm BFI Southbank NFT2

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

LOOKING FOR OUM KULTHUM

Production: Germany-Austria-Italy-Lebanon-Qatar

Director: Shirin Neshat

Genre: Special Presentations Strand

Showing: Saturday 7 October 2017, 6.20pm BFI Southbank NFT1

Showing: Sunday 8 October 2017, 3.30pm Rich Mix Cinema

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

LEBANON FACTORY

Production: Lebanon-France

Directors: Ahmad Ghossein, Lucie La Chimia, Shirin AbuShaqra, Manuel Maria Perrone, Una Gunjak, Rami Kodeih, Mounia Akl, Neto Villalobos

Genre: Journey Strand

Showing: Saturday 7 October 2017, 3.15pm ICA Cinema Screen 1

Showing: Sunday 08 October 2017, 1pm at Cine Lumiere

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

LE FORT DES FOUS

Production: France-Greece-Germany-Qatar

Director: Narimane Mari

Genre: Experimenta Strand

Showing: Sunday 08 October 2017, 5.45pm BFI Southbank NFT3

Showing: Wednesday 11 October 2017, 6.10pm BFI Southbank, Studio

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

THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT

Production: Sweden-Denmark-Germany

Director: Tarik Saleh

Genre: Thrill Strand

Showing; Wednesday 11 October 2017, 6:30pm Vue Leicester Sq, Screen 5

Showing: Thursday 12 October 2017, 6:10pm Cine Lumiere

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

THE JOURNEY

Production: UK-Iraq-France-Qatar-Netherlands

Director: Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji

Genre: Journey Strand

Showing: Wednesday 11 October 2017, 8:45pm Curzon Soho Cinema

Showing: Thursday 12 October 2017, 6.30pm Rich Mix Cinema

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

OUROBOROS

Production: France-Palestine-Belgium-Qatar

Director: Basma Alsharif

Genre: Experimenta Strand

Showing: Friday 13 October 2017, 6:30pm BFI Southbank, NFT3

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

SHEIKH JACKSON

Production: Egypt

Director: Amr Salama

Genre: Journey Strand

Showing: Thursday 05 October 2017, 9pm Curzon Soho Cinema

Showing: Saturday 07 October 2017, 12.15pm Curzon Mayfair Cinema

Showing: Thursday 12 October 2017, 3:15pm Vue Leicester Square

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

 

BEAUTY AND THE DOGS

Production: Tunisia-France-Norway-Lebanon-Qatar-Sweden-Switzerland

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

Genre: Debate Strand

Showing: Wednesday 04 October 2017, 8:45pm ICA Cinema

Showing: Thursday 05 October 2017, 2:45pm Vue Leicester Square

Showing: Friday 06 October 2017, 1pm BFI Southbank, NFT2

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

Note: This article was first published circa October 2017

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

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