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London’s Shubbak Festival of Arab Culture Returns, Live and Online

/ 16 Jul 2021

London’s Shubbak Festival of Arab Culture Returns, Live and Online

Arab culture is on display in London this summer, as the Shubbak Festival returns with an ambitious program of live and online events, despite having to work around some continuing Covid-19 restrictions.

The sixth edition of the biennial festival, titled “A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture,” is different this year as organizers decided to open it up not only physically, but also virtually to allow more access to a wider audience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s no mean feat to organize something as big as the Shubbak Festival in any year but with the difficulties of local restrictions, it is even tougher. Yet as the Middle East marks 10 years since the Arab Spring, it seemed apt to open up to more performers and audiences, to show what the Arab world can offer.

“As our world opens up again post-pandemic, Shubbak offers opportunities to reconnect, share and explore our new local and global realities.”

Eckhard Thiemann   لThe festival’s artistic director

Eckhard Thiemann, the festival’s artistic director, stresses the importance of Arabs and fans of Arab culture coming together again: “As our world opens up again post-pandemic, Shubbak offers opportunities to reconnect, share and explore our new local and global realities,” he says.

And there is a lot to share. Events including music, dance, film, theater, walks and talks are taking place at multiple venues across the British capital. They include the Chelsea Physic Garden, the Barbican and the British Museum, among others. Digital performances, meanwhile, are taking place from countries across the Middle East and North Africa region and Germany.

Planning Around Pandemic Restrictions

As the United Kingdom is still under (easing) lockdown restrictions, Shubbak organizers had to be clever with their planning of how to run the festival this year. From outdoor audio-guided theater to spoken-word productions in intimate surroundings, audiences still have to comply with social-distancing measures.

Shubbak Festival
“The Return of Danton,” by Syrian playwright Mudar Alhaggi and directed by Omar Elerian, reveals how the dynamics of political revolutions can be reflected in the politics of the rehearsal room.

Despite these, there is a global thirst for arts and culture, and the Shubbak organization has been working with artists on an international level to help them during a time when work is in short supply. (See a related article, “Relief Organizations Help Artists Affected by Covid-19.”) For many artists, the global restrictions have given time to get their creative juices flowing and this is their moment to showcase it to the world and unite people and ideas again.

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“This year’s festival has gone through many permutations, as we constantly had to shift plans to meet current conditions,” Thiemann said. “For a long time, it was not clear which venues would be open, what conditions we could present work in, and if international travel was possible.”

In the end, he said, the organizers arrived at a new festival model, with some live events in London, drawing mainly on Arab talent already present in the city and some smaller-scale international productions, combined with “a much expanded online program.”

Shubbak Festival
A scene from “It Ain’t Where You From,” a film by Philip Jamal Rachid that explores hip hop talent in the Gulf region.

Audience turnout has been good so far, with many joining in online. The media has also responded well, especially with a positive review of “The Return of Danton,” a new play by Syrian playwright Mudar Alhaggi and directed by Omar Elerian. Written and performed in Arabic, the play looks into how the dynamics of political revolutions can be reflected in the politics of the rehearsal room. Audiences can expect conversations about the Arab Spring and the role of Arabs in European society, intertwined with long cigarette breaks and talk of pot smoking.

An Opportunity to Reconnect

Festival-goers can expect a film introducing the hip hop scene in the Gulf, by the Dubai-based filmmaker Philip Jamal Rachid, and dance from Ramallah showing the talent coming out of Palestine and its diaspora. There are also DJ and VJ sets from North Africa, highlighting the experiences of the past 10 years since the Arab Spring uprisings.

“This year’s festival has gone through many permutations, as we constantly had to shift plans to meet current conditions.”

Eckhard Thiemann  

The Jazz Cafe in London’s Camden Town hosted the oud master Adnan Joubran, who performed a reworking of his breakout solo album, 2014’s Borders Behind.

When speaking of his return to live performance, Joubran says, “I believe the Shubbak Festival is the right wide door for my return on stage, that is reconnecting me with my public again. Sixteen months of not performing needed the right return event, public and collaboration.”

Normally at this time of year, London would be crowded with Arab visitors escaping the heat and humidity of the Gulf. But with international travel on hold, it is hoped that the local audiences will be in a festival-going mood to witness the energy and variety of the culture that Arab artists offer.

The Shubbak Festival 2021 opened on June 20 and continues through July 17.




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام