Re-loaded and re-energised, the wonderful Arabic Arts Festival returns this weekend. Never been? Make this your year. Liverpool excels at focused, authentic, free festivals like this: and we should support them, not out of any civic duty, but because they connect us, viscerally, to our past.
Liverpool’s Arabic community grew from a small community of Yemeni sailors, brought to our shores over a century ago. There’s a great potted history on the Guardian’s Northernist blog
New to the post Razanne Carmey, Executive Director, is bringing a topical twist to the procedings, looking at political coverage of last year’s Arab Spring.
It says something that, after the tumultuous happenings in North Africa and Arabia over the past 12 months (which, sadly, continue), the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival is the UK’s only festival qualified to offer a rounded response with an authentic voice.
“This year’s Festival looks ‘Behind the News’ of political change in the Arab world,” Razanne says. “Yes the riots and demonstrations, yes the calls for dictators to ‘Leave! Leave! Leave!’ But who are the people on the streets, when they go home? We want to know the truth behind the news, the life behind the news and the loves, tears and laughter of the news makers. And here in Liverpool, LAAF will let us sample and participate in the rich art and culture of so many countries and communities.”
“Liverpool is a city that can say much about its art and culture coming through change and turmoil,” she adds.
An arts festival responding to the bloodshed and brutality of the year’s events? We can think of nothing more icendiary – only art can honestly illuminate the places invective and politically-skewed commentary can’t reach.
But don’t fret, there’s lots of good vibes too: with ace comedian Maysoon Zayid (pic r) lending a wry eye to the procedings at St George’s Hall on 14 July with her acclaimed Laughing Wildly show. The Walker is displaying a retrospective of Reem Abdelhadi’s satirical cartoons. Which should be interesting. Targets are Governmental figures, rather than spiritual leaders, though.
There’s a family fun day at Sefton Park on 8 July, Arabic dance showcases and a show based on the teachings of Iranian prophet Khalil Gibran at the Unity, Rest Upon The Wind – featuring live music and visuals – written by Nadim Sawalha.
Nadim Sawalha also brings his reflective memoir, An Arab Actor for Better or Worse, to the Bluecoat on 9 July, and there’s a Sufi dance workshop – honestly, the positions you can get into are limited only by your imagination. And the elasticity of your support hose – with the Merseyside Dance Initiative on 12 July.
Our highlight has to be the world premier, at the Philharmonic, of a new work by the Alf Ensemble.
Created by Iraqi oud player and massive Joy Division fan Khyam Allami, the piece showcases musicianship from traditional and contemporary Arabic music disciplines from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine.
A skilled multi instrumentalist, Allami began to study the pear-shaped stringed instrument known as the oud, as well as the buzug which, as well as being a brilliant Scrabble word, is a type of long-necked lute. We know this stuff.
“I would say it’s a realistic work about the beauty of both joy and darkness. It’s about contrast rather than opposites. It’s also far more hopeful than people tend to assume,” he says.
Soaking up Arabic music theory and traditional Iraqi repertoire, Allami fuses indie rock with the Middle East, interweaving melodies and flourishes from the Arabian peninsula with beats and loops from his new homeland to mesmeric effect.
Contemporary/alternative Arabic music is enjoying something of a purple patch (as any devout Late Junction listener will confirm), so we’re excited to see what this one-night-only event has in store.
“I think art is the best medium to bring people together because it brings out in them the human experience over and above the ethnic, religious or political identity,” Razanne adds. “It would be wonderful for all the communities in Liverpool to sample Arabic arts and to see how Arabs find a way to talk about immigration, famine, sectarian conflict, exile and their glorious past…”
Get involved. Check out the official website
Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival
July 6 -10