DUBAI: The biennial, multi-artform Shubbak Festival is returning to London this week for its another edition from June 23-July 9 with a program of Arab art, film, music, theater, dance and literature. Read on for just a few of the events to look forward to.
When? June 23, 30, July 1, 2 and 8
Taroo is a parkour and circus comedy show that tells stories from streets all over the world. The show has a fusion of acrobatics, Chinese pole and urban street moves. It is performed and created by Moroccan circus artist Said Mouhssine – a free runner, stage director, actor and stuntman.
The London edition of Taroo has been developed in partnership with the Babylon Project and will be performed in multiple public squares and neighborhoods.
Sound & Silence
When? June 23 to July 9
This immersive and interactive exhibition explores the practice of Arabic calligraphy. In Sound & Silence, internationally renowned calligrapher Soraya Syed dives into the essence of her practice, the geometry of Arabic letters and their connection to the human form.
Through a display of photographic images and a series of artworks and sculptures, Syed draws an unprecedented connection between the human body in contortion and calligraphic form. Her sculptures are formed from white Carrara marble dust from the same quarries that provided Italian sculptor Michelangelo his single block of stone for his sculpture “La Pietà.” To coincide with her show, Soraya is delivering two hands-on Arabic Calligraphy Workshops on June 23 and 24 at Cromwell Place.
Sonic Frontiers Night 01
When? June 23
Palestinian singer, songwriter and composer Haya Zaatry will bring her debut album “Rahwan” to audiences in the UK for the first time. The album consists of songs transcending the complicated threads of history, time and geography to pay tribute to generations of mothers and matriarchs from the Levant.
Acclaimed Tunisian singer, composer and musician Badiaa Bouhrizi – who sings in standard Arabic – will present her distinctive vocal style and committed lyrics in her latest album “Kahru Musiqa.” The night will end with a DJ set by Lebanese DJ and producer Sam Karam.
Art & Disability Under Siege
When? June 24
For this event four participants will engage in a virtual conversation on disabled artists and cultural practitioners from Jordan and Palestine as they discuss the challenges and opportunities of living with a disability and working with geo-political instability.
When? June 25
Egyptian band Bahiyya revive Arabic heritage and folk music, taking both a sarcastic and philosophical approach to their re-arrangements and interpretations.
Layered with musical arrangements distinguished by the oud, violin, electric guitar, bass guitar and percussion, Bahiyya’s performances are peppered with jazz and funk flavors.
The Power (of) The Fragile
When? June 27-29
This dance show is about what the relationship between a mother and a son can look like. Tunisian Brussels-based dancer Mohamed Toukabri presents this performance with his mother Latifa.
‘I began to question everything,’ says Cannes award-winner Mohamed Kordofani
The Sudanese filmmaker gave up a comfortable career in Bahrain to make movies that could shed light on his homeland’s deep divides. He’s now a Cannes award-winner
Updated 23 June 2023
DUBAI: Great art often raises more questions than answers. In the case of “Goodbye Julia,” the Saudi-backed film that won the first-ever Freedom Award at the Cannes Film Festival last month, those questions were born in a single historic moment.
It was February 7, 2011, and Sudanese filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani was sitting with his family in Khartoum as they read out the results to the South Sudanese independence referendum. His country was quite literally split in two and, as his shock turned to shame, a long search for truth began — one that would upend his entire life and turn him into one of the region’s most promising storytellers.
“Something sparked inside of me. Why would 99 percent of a whole nation vote to separate? I couldn’t fathom it, and I began to question everything — about my society, my upbringing, and even myself,” Kordofani tells Arab News.
“I was brought up in a typical Eastern Sudanese household, and the traditions and norms I inherited from previous generations made me think that racism was just a normal part of life. I hadn’t realized the true damage that everyday hate could cause. I had been so confident in my ignorance. I told myself, ‘No more.’ And I’m a better person now because of it,” he continues.
Truth be told, Kordofani had never wanted to be a filmmaker. In fact, at the time of the secession, he was working in Bahrain as an aircraft engineer, settled in a seemingly comfortable life in which he could safely start a family. He was never a cinephile and had no great interest in the artform. But as he wrestled with the deep flaws within himself and his home country, his ideas began to take narrative shape.
“It’s funny to me that I found myself at Cannes when I didn’t come from a cinema background like so many of my peers. I have impostor syndrome about this — wondering why I’m here when so many others are not. Growing up, I watched movies like everyone else, sure, but that was it,” says Kordofani. “I wrote stories for myself in university, but no one would ever read what I wrote. I didn’t know anything about cinema, but I chose filmmaking because I realized it was a tool I could use to tell my stories to biggest audience possible.”
For years, Kordofani led a double life. He would use his annual leave and dip into his savings to make short films, screening them for the local community to great acclaim before traveling back to his workaday life in Manama. By 2020, he realized he had to make a choice: continue with the life that had been prescribed him, or follow what had become his passion. He chose the latter.
“When you’re married and have kids, switching careers can be very scary, but, honestly, I was miserable,” he says. “I said, ‘You only live once’ and, at age 37, I left engineering behind to start a production company at a time when there was no film industry in Sudan. I burned all my bridges, cancelled my engineering license, and put myself on a new path.”
By that time, his efforts to make “Goodbye Julia” were well underway. The idea had come to him at home in Bahrain one night, as he and his wife argued over whether they should get a live-in maid to help around the house. The idea repulsed Kordofani.
“I thought the whole setup was unfair. These people work for a long time, often have no off-days, and it all sounded to me like slavery. It took me back to growing up in Sudan, and the help that we had around the house that wasn’t much different — always made up of people from the south of the country. It made me think back to the separation in 2011, and the plot started forming in my mind,” he explains.
The film follows two women from the north and south of Sudan respectively — Mona, a retired singer racked with guilt for causing a man’s death, and another named Julia, the man’s widow. Mona offers Julia — who doesn’t know about Mona’s involvement in her late husband’s death — a job as her maid in order to atone for her misdeeds, against the wishes of her husband Akram, who is open in his resentment of southerners.
In early drafts, Kordofani was unsatisfied with how one-dimensional all the characters felt. “I was writing with my engineering mentality,” he says. “All of them were binary — zero or one, black or white. It wasn’t until draft three or four that I actually felt I understood that the film wasn’t just about separation. I had to not only delineate their differences, but reconcile them, and reconciliation is about understanding.
“I had to learn to stop judging them, and empathize. That was not hard to do, because they are me,” he continues. “Each of them, from the conservative husband Akram to the socially progressive wife Mona, were a reflection of my own points of view at one time in my life or another, back when I felt I was a victim of my society. And they turned from black-and-white to gray, and that turned them into a good catalyst for dialogue.”
As his script progressed, Kordofani began pitching the film internationally, but found that the predominantly white decisionmakers couldn’t fathom the racial divide of his home nation.
“In one pitch session in Portugal, the first question was, ‘I don’t understand. You are black. And the southerners are black as well. So you’re talking about black-on-black racism? How does that work?’ I responded, ‘Yeah, if this were a comedy, we’d call it “50 Shades of Black,”’ Kordofani says wryly.
The film has found instant success coming off its Cannes debut — it is the first Sudanese film ever to screen at the storied festival — scoring big deals for theatrical releases in countries across the world. Ultimately, though, Kordofani made the film with Sudanese audiences in mind.
After all, part of the reason that he imbued the film with so much complexity — why he asks hard questions without reaching for easy answers — is that he wants to inspire discussion in Sudan, hoping to bridge the divides that continue to plague the country as it verges on a civil war that Kordofani believes is caused by the same underlying social illness as the 2011 secession was.
“We’re a divided people. Political division, ethnic division, and tribal division have always been the root cause of all our problems,” he says.
Kordofani, meanwhile, has begun to accept that he truly is a filmmaker, and a stamp of approval from Cannes could mean he’ll be able to tell stories for the rest of his life. He’s come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t have the answers, whether in politics or his art, and that his journey to find them will continue for years to come. Indeed, accepting his own imperfections may be the big answer he was always looking for.
“When I finished the final scene, I cried so much. We were we were on a bus from Kosti to Khartoum, a five-hour ride, and I think I cried the whole ride,” he says. “It hit me that my intention was to make a film that may change people. And I found out that I was the one who was changed the most by making this film. I feel I finally understood myself.”
The original branch opened in a bustling part of the city of Alkhobar in 2018 that enjoyed an enthusiastic following but was plagued with car traffic
The cafe relocated to Alkhobar Alshamaliya this year, in a quaint standalone house with a sizable front yard and plenty of seating
Updated 22 June 2023
Alkhobar has long enjoyed a deep, laid-back lifestyle and culture, which includes an insatiable appreciation for coffee, music and gathering like-minded people in a fun and homey environment for discussion.
The new Bohemia Cafe in Alkhobar is the perfect place to do all of the above.
Forget about waking up to smell the roses, Bohemia Cafe is asking people to wake up and smell the coffee — while rocking to music. The hybrid cafe, which sells music records and offers a space for live performances, has become a sort of off-the-beaten-path sanctuary where the artsy types can come together and listen to some tracks while sipping on some beverages or enjoy homemade pastries.
Arab News first spoke to founder Fawaz Alsulaim in 2019 when he mentioned that the multipurpose venue was meant to be a co-working space, record store, coffee and vegan-food shop, as well as an art gallery. They also aim to bring back the old-school nostalgia through selling a sizable collection of vinyl records which includes Arabic music, classic rock, newer pop and some hidden gems in-between.
“Owning vinyl records, something that you can touch, is a new way (for our generation) to experience music,” Alsulaim told Arab News at the time.
The original branch opened in a bustling part of the city of Alkhobar in 2018 that enjoyed an enthusiastic following but was plagued with car traffic.
The cafe relocated to Alkhobar Alshamaliya this year, in a quaint standalone house with a sizable front yard and plenty of seating.
Much like the first iteration, this newer branch has an artsy bohemian vibe with lots of posters of musicians of all genres decorating the walls.
On the day of our visit, freshly-baked cinnamon rolls were available, slathered in decadent frosting and perfectly layered. Their iced coffee also hit the spot.
You will likely find two types of patrons: the ones sitting alone in deep concentration, with an assortment of beverages on the table, typing away on a laptop and jamming to whatever is coming out of their headphones; and the chatty individuals who excitedly talk about music, art or just life.
This summer, there will be live music at the cafe.
For more information, visit @bohemia_artcafe on Instagram or their website bohemiaartcafe.com
Fashion e-tailer SHEIN launches Saudi Arabia-focused reality show
Updated 22 June 2023
DUBAI: International fashion e-tailer SHEIN is launching its first-ever reality show — and it is set in Saudi Arabia.
“SHEIN Travel Diaries” is the result of a partnership between Rotana Media Group, the Saudi Tourism Authority and Warner Bros. Discovery and will premiere at 8 p.m. on June 24 on SHEIN’s official YouTube channel and the Rotana Khaleejia YouTube channel.
Taking place across five episodes, the show will take viewers on a journey across Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscape and cultural heritage, with stops at iconic restaurants and other landmarks along the way.
Influencers from across the region will showcase looks from the SHEIN Summer collection during the show.
Host Sara Khonkar will team up with influencers including Aliona & Yazan, Noha Nabil, Nouf Nabil, Rakan, Nawaf Suliman, Shahd Naser and Lana Aqeel as they explore Riyadh and Jeddah and the surrounding areas.
The influencers will explore tourist attractions and be updated on the progress of various Saudi Vision 2023 projects all while battling it out to win gift cards that will be distributed at random to viewers who tune in live on SHEIN’s social media channels and answer the challenges correctly.
According to SHEIN, “each episode will also delve into the progress and much-anticipated upcoming projects across the Kingdom, where influencers will discuss the development of tourism and entertainment, progressive policies put in place to champion sustainability and women empowerment, and the improvement of urban infrastructure over the years.”
Meanwhile, the e-tailer launched a bricks-and-mortar shopping experience in Saudi Arabia in June.
From June 1-20, shoppers at Al-Nakheel Mall in Riyadh were able to shop labels including Dazy, known for its Korean-style fashion; Luvlette; and SHEGLAM.
Recipes for Success: Chef Hisato Hamada talks freestyle cooking as he opens 3 eateries in Saudi Arabia
Updated 22 June 2023
Shyama Krishna Kumar
DUBAI: Celebrity favorite Japanese chef Hisato Hamada has not one, not two, but three restaurants opening in Saudi Arabia this month, including the high-end, members-only Wagyumafia — a concept that started out as a pop-up in Tokyo and Hong Kong, created by Hamada and entrepreneur Takafumi Horie.
While the Saudi branches of Wagyumafia and wagyu barbecue joint Yakinikumafia are housed in trendy new Via Riyadh, his wagyu ramen and gyoza bar, Mashi No Mashi, is based in Jeddah, where Hamada is excited to debut the brand new dish, wagyu shawarma.
Here, he talks to Arab News about his cooking style and Wagyumafia’s motto.
Q: When you started out as a professional, what was the most-common mistake you made?
A: I don’t make mistakes. I just enjoy cooking. I'm a self-taught chef, right? When you have a master, the master will say, “This is wrong.” Since I'm the master, I don't (have that) coming down. Everything comes from my own inspiration. I think cooking should be freestyle. So, for my concept, there are no mistakes.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs cooking at home?
Just enjoy cooking. There’s no textbook. Again, I think cooking must be freestyle. Nowadays, you can learn anything from the internet. Pretty much all the information is available already. You can get started on YouTube or social media. It’s totally different from how people learnt back in the Eighties and Nineties. All of the secrets and special techniques are all there online. So just, you know, be in the kitchen every day. That's probably the best way to become a chef.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
Salt. A lot of people don’t know how to adjust salt properly. Even experienced chefs struggle with it. But when done right, it can elevate your food.
When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food? What’s the most-common mistake that you find in other restaurants?
I try not to go to high-end gastronomy, those sit-down or omakase places. For me, that’s boring. I go out for street food, and street food you don’t judge. You either like it or don’t like it and there’s no point in criticizing.
What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home?
Depends on my mood. In Tokyo, we can get pretty much everything from every country. It’s a very universal, diversified food culture. I make a lot of noodles and rice. I make tortillas by myself. I like making something that you can cherish and enjoy the ingredients. I try not to cook too much. Because as long as you can find the right ingredients, I try to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Cooking at home is probably the best way to understand the value of the ingredients and the quality of the ingredients with your family and friends. I think home is the best kitchen.
What request or behavior by customers most annoys you?
All my guests are very, very nice people. I believe that good food comes from good producers, good farmers, good fishermen, good cooks… and all of that will lead to good guests. So, it's all harmonized. We have a motto: “Come as strangers, leave as family.” Literally, if you’ve had one experience with one of my restaurants, you’ve become family, because I started my cooking journey at home with house parties and there you don't have nasty people. If you're not good people, you’re not invited to my house. That's my whole mentality with Wagyumafia. I only want to see happy people. You’ll never break up my restaurant. We’re very music driven and very noisy. No business meetings. We’re too busy to be bad people.
As a head chef, what are you like?
I think the thing that differentiate me from other chefs is that I create everything — I do the interior design, I create graphics for the menus, I create the recipes. So, basically, anything creative, when it comes to the restaurants, I do. So it's not like I’m in the kitchen 24/7. I try to spend 10-12 days a month in the kitchen. The rest of the time, I travel, I experiment with recipes. When I’m in the restaurants, I like to go to the kitchen, check the conditions and also meet my guests. I think being yourself is very important.
REVIEW: ‘Black Mirror’ is back — dark and as frighteningly plausible as ever
Updated 22 June 2023
DUBAI: The current boom in anthology series — no self-respecting streaming platform, it seems, can be without one — is due in great part to “Black Mirror,” the prescient sci-fi/horror/black-comedy show from writer and director Charlie Brooker.
It has just returned for its sixth season — five episodes that mine the existential fears of modern life (lack of privacy, the reverence for algorithms over creativity, what’s ‘real’ in a world of increasingly human-like machines and AI… that kind of thing) and the ancient terrors that have been part of humanity since its origins: Can we ever really know the true nature of even those closest to us? How far will anyone go in pursuit of accumulating more possessions or wealth? It’s not cozy viewing. But it is compelling.
The latest series begins with the nightmarish “Joan is Awful,” in which bored, mostly miserable HR manager Joan (Annie Murphy) sits down to watch a show of the same name on a streaming platform, Streamberry (which looks very much like Netflix), only to discover that it’s a dramatization of her own life (in fact, a replay of that day’s events, including verbatim conversations) starring Salma Hayek as Joan and ‘tweaked’ to present Joan in the worst possible way. As her life falls apart, she discovers that — thanks to the terms and conditions she agreed to when she subscribed to Streamberry — not only can she do nothing to prevent this invasion of her privacy, she’s not even getting paid for it. And Streamberry, it turns out, has similar plans for hundreds of thousands of its subscribers. It’s familiar ground for “Black Mirror,” but none the less powerful for that.
Second episode “Loch Henry” is a fairly straightforward (though immensely unsettling) horror story that includes some thought-provoking commentary on the commercialization of true crime stories and how little consideration seems to be given to how they may affect those on whom the original events had the most impact.
Episode three, “Beyond The Sea,” stars Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett as two astronauts in an alternate-reality 1960s. While they are up in their spaceship, they can link their minds to inhabit their replicas back on Earth. Things don’t go smoothly.
Season six features stellar performances from stars and soon-to-be stars, and the plot twists are as sharp as ever. It lacks a stand-out episode to match the best of past “Black Mirror,” but Brooker’s dystopian visions remain some of the highest quality TV around.