I couldn't help but get over-enthused about the 9th edition of this annual music festival in Zanzibar. With Nneka and Super Mazembe amongst its headliners, the event promises to be a haven for locals and musically enlightened adventurers alike. According to Sauti za Burasa's official website the event will feature:
“400 musicians: that’s forty groups, with twenty from Tanzania and twenty from other parts of Africa; urban and rural, acoustic and electric, established and upcoming.
Carnival Street Parade: setting alight the streets on Day 2, the biggest parade to hit Stone Town, including beni brass band, ngoma drummers, mwanandege umbrella women, stilt-walkers, capoeira dancers, acrobats… and surprises.
Four nights in the historic Old Fort: In Stone Town, the main programme continues Thursday through Sunday with non-stop 100% live performances (no playback!) daily from 5pm until 1am.
African Music Films: documentaries, music clips, videos and live concert footage.
Seminars and Training Workshops: Building skills for artists, managers, music journalists, filmmakers, sound and lighting technicians from the East Africa region.
Movers & Shakers: Daily networking forum for local and visiting arts professionals.
Festival marketplace: local food and drinks, music, jewellery, clothing and handicrafts.
Busara Xtra: Around the festival, the island is buzzing with a range of fringe events: traditional ngoma drum and dance, fashion shows, dhow races, open-mic sessions, after-parties and performances of Zanzibar’s oldest Taarab orchestras are all arranged by the local community.”
For more information, visit http://www.busaramusic.
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I will not do a 'preview' on Contested Terrains (the expo), because this is pretty much what everyone involved with contemporary African art in the UK is talking about at the moment: "What took Tate so long?", "Why now?", "Are they feeling behind or are there darker politics at play?" and you will in a couple of days be reading about in everywhere. To the above questions, it will probably be a while before we know.
Having said that, there is an event linked to the actual exhibition (opening July 29), which I want to suggest you check out, not least because I think it's really important to see the position Tate will take. This is not one of their many screenings but a talk, where actual curators will be talking about their approach towards African contemporary creativity. Surely, the press release appears too apolitical and too anthropological but I want to think it's a trick. What the press release actually tells us is that:
"Contested Terrains artists Kader Attia, Michael MacGarry (he's the naughtier one, check him out) and Adolphus Opara discuss the ideas and processes behind their work with exhibition curators Kerryn Greenberg, Jude Anogwih and Bolanle Austen-Peters, Managing Director/CEO, Terra Kulture. The discussion will touch upon the role of research in artistic practice and of art in mediating the past and present."
I was at the Royal Opera House very recently, observing Rufus Wainwright being breathtaking and very openly gay. He was very sweet and kind and cheeky and most of his comments, I am sure, registered in the mind of the audience as the comments of a naughty little boy who's too cute to be mad at. But there was a moment when he declared he'd be having "lots of sex" with his fiance very soon and the opera went "aaaaaaaah". You could feel not everyone approved and it was then that I realized how essential open conversation (and confrontation) still is (two thumbs up Rufus).
So this is partly why I will be making my way to South London Gallery on July 29th (also partly because I love Zanele Muholi's work, see below) to join their event about 'queer Africa', curated by Jennifer Bajorek (Goldsmiths) and introduced by Natasha Bissonauth (Cornell University). Photographer Andrew Esiebo will be showing his multimedia work Living Queer African (Paris, 2007), which explores the lives of young queer Africans in Europe. Esiebo shares the spotlight with visual activist Zanele Muholi (seen at the V&A and Southbank recently) and her documentary Difficult Love (South Africa, 2010), which presents intimate stories from the black lesbian community in South Africa.
Friday 29th July, 7 - 9pm, FREE admission
I wanted to write a happy post, but instead I am going to share my thoughts on a Shubbak experience (and a should-have-been-highlight) which deeply troubled me. On Friday I went to the Barbican to experience "A Night in Tahrir Square", a night which promised to pretty much be the Woodstock of the Arab Spring. Acoustic, highly politicized and deeply emotional, for the majority of the (Arabic speaking) audience it most possibly was. People where crying, laughing, waving flags and singing along. It was clear that the performers where both proud and touched to be representing their homeland on such an occasion.
But throughout most of the night, not a word of English was spoken, leaving the non-Arabic-speaking audience at a loss. "This song is called - insert some Arabic title -" does really not count. What where the songs about, what was the significance of each of them? I'm pretty sure I am not alone in saying that there were people eager to understand, eager to get involved who where completely overlooked, if not disrespected. I believe the evening should have been more than a close-circle celebration of the Egyptian culture or it shouldn't have taken place at a venue like the Barbican. It should have been a night of celebration for the 'East' and a night of education for the 'West', bear that in mind future organizers. As it was it was both politically incorrect and (politically) pointless. A to-the-point review that captures the failures of the event but also gives a pretty comprehensive view and what was actually happening, can be found here.
So, having gotten that out of my system I can now dedicate some lines to the small but engaging exhibition of the Jameel prize 2011 at the V&A. For those of you who are (understandably) unfamiliar with the prize, it as a is a biannual international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition, launched by the V&A and supported by Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel (and which has been gaining more and more influence over the years). Ten artists have been shortlisted for this year's prize, all drawing strongly from their own local and regional traditions, celebrating particular materials and iconography with strong references to traditional Islamic art: Noor Ali Chagani (Pakistan),Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (Iran), Bita Ghezelayagh (Iran), Babak Golkar (Canada), Aisha Khalid (Pakistan), Hayv Kahraman (Iraq), Rachid Koraichi (Algeria),Hazem El Mestikawy (Egypt), Hadieh Shafie (Iran), Soody Sharifi (Iran).
Although I was really looking forward to seeing Hayv Kahraman's work - I usually love her graceful and low-key approach to the discussion of female identity in Iraq - I found her three selected artworks (dealing with issues of migration) a little too 'quiet' for the non-specialist audience. I was struck by Aisha Khalid's creation "Name, Class, Subject"(an artists book inspired by the exercise or 'copy books' used by government schools in Pakistan to teach writing in Urdu and English) instead, and the issues it raises concerning bilingual societies which are becoming all the more common as English spreads throughout the continents. A line in the book that claimed English speakers where considered during the artist's youth culturally superior to Urdu speakers I found particularly poignant and touching. Having said that, I don't think she will be the winner this year.
Another favourite was Soody Sharifi who looks at how things have changed for recent generations, touching on collisions between Islamic cultural heritage and modern life in digital collages where photos of Muslin youth culture are interlaced with Persian miniature paintings. I think she's one of the most serious contenders. Last, I want to make a point about Hadieh Shafie's paper scroll artworks inspired by the Sufi philosophy and tradition. It was one of the artworks that appeared the least impressive from afar, but totally took you by surprise upon closer observation (and, well, the curatorial description was useful in that case). With handwriting that becomes invisible in the larger installation her paper scroll works demonstrate a constant element of her work which is the significance of process, repetition and time, all rooted in the influence of Islamic art and craft.
The winner of The Jameel Prize 2011 will be announced at the V&A on 12 September 2011. More info here.
Shubbak has had quite some coverage in the wider media so far, we've reported on the Poet in the City event "Poetry from the Arab Spring" and tried to catch as many of its mind-blowing shows and events as possible (we weren't as successful as we would have liked, mind). But, while the festival has been running from the beginning of this month, it looks like things are heating up only now, with a calendar of events so rich its overwhelming.
I'll dedicate this post to the upcoming one-day (or mini) events and a second post to a series of exhibitions which you can take your time to plan and enjoy.
1. Ahmed Bouanani Mirage, 22.07.11 @ Tate Modern
Tate Modern presents a film that is considered a landmark experiment in Moroccan cinema. Mirage (1979, 100 min) incorporates folk fables and popular symbols into a story about a working class Moroccan man who discovers money in a flour bag. It is the beginning of a story between past and future, between silence and cries but at the end seems as an illusion.
2. A Night in Tahrir Square, 22.07.11 @ The Barbican Centre
The Barbican Centre presents a celebration of Arabic people power with an exceptional line-up of artists including singer-songwriter, Ramy Essam; Egypt's most famous street music ensemble , El Tanbura; Azza Balba, former wife of Egypt's greatest living poet, Ahmed Fouad Negm and Mustafa Said, an Eyptian singer, composer and virtuoso of the oud.
3. The Bidoun Library Saturday Seminar. Speaker: Nawal el Saadawi , 23.07.11 @ Serpentine Gallery
As part of The Bidoun Library residency at Serpentine Gallery, leading authors, scholars and artists are in dialogue with the Bidoun editorial collective every Saturday at 3pm from 12 July - 11 September. Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist writer, physician, psychiatrist and a militant advocate of Arab women's rights. Despite her books being banned, and a period of detention under the Sadat regime, she has continued to write about the problems and struggles of Arab women and has gained a considerable reputation in the English-speaking world through her books The Hidden Face of Eve, a study of women in Arab society, and Woman at Point Zero, a novel.
4. A Glimpse at Contemporary Arab Choreography & Free Debate, 22-23.07.11 @ Sadler's Wells
As part of Shubbak, Sadler's Wells is host to two unique dance artists. Radhouane El Meddeb, from Tunisia, invites us to mix the pleasures of the belly and the soul in a tasteful performance I dance and I feed you, and Nacera Belaza from Algeria performs her award-winning piece The Scream. Both artists also take part in a free debate discussing Preconception and Identity in the Arab World on Saturday 23 July at 4pm (booking required).
Details on the programming/ venue info/ tickets/ etc. HERE.
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I'm quite curious about this event at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, which mixes the spoken word with acoustic music. I like the spontaneity it oozes along with the kind of laid back feel which is hard to find in the larger and more official congregations of the British (and probably any) capital. In their press release they describe the planned evening as:
"A diverse range of acts from traditional African 'mbira' music from our very own Sitholé brothers, comedy, dramatic sketches and visual presentations. Guaranteed that no two events are the same on this platform for seasoned and new performers. Open mic for those who want to share in the fun and easy-going spirit of the evening."
Friday 8 July 2011, 7:30pm, FREE admission, CCA 4 (cinema)
About Seeds of Thought:
Seeds of Thought is a non-funded group that aims to promote the sharing of cultures through poetry, art and music. The group was started by 3 people in 2006; Ernest and Tawona Sithole, brothers from Zimbabwe, and close friend Tarneem Al Mousawi from Bahrain. It's not intentionally a multi-cultural group, but defaults as such due to the background of the founders and members. The ethos of the group is that everyone's voice deserves to be heard - a seed to plant and we help each other in tending to the seeds. The group is open to all adults and is free.
They have a writing group that meets fortnightly at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, and we host a monthly performance evening at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. Seeds of Thought challenged their members to create an original 'illustrated poem' to explore individual interpretations of conflict.
View a short docu on their work here.