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London’s Shubbak Festival open to global audiences for the first time



Hip-hop, spoken word and karaoke stage shows are what’s on offer in this year’s Shubbak Festival line-up.

A decade on from its launch, the biennial festival returns to London for its sixth edition with a programme full of Arab art, film, music, theatre, dance and literature.

Organisers say nearly all the work has been commissioned or especially conceived for Covid-19 compliant conditions, including the use of outdoor spaces, digital programming and live-streaming.

Shubbak’s artistic director Eckhard Thiemann says the festival has tapped into an extensive network of international locations, from Sleimani to Casablanca and Cairo to Riyadh, to bring audiences a wide range of performances. “This year’s festival programme transcends the borders of all our previous editions,” says Mr Thiemann. “As our world opens up again post-pandemic, Shubbak offers opportunities to reconnect, share and explore our new local and global realities.”

Some of the UK organisations partnered with this year’s festival include Glasgow-based Dardishi, a platform showcasing Arab and North African women’s contributions to contemporary art and culture, and the SAFAR Film Festival, the UK’s only festival dedicated to Arab cinema. SAFAR will put on a special hybrid edition of its festival at Shubbak 2021 with its curated selection of films mirroring 10 years of Arab Spring, both on the big screen and at home.

The recently appointed chairwoman of the Shubbak Board of Trustees, Shadia El Dardiry, said the ability to put the festival on this year was as result of “brave and inspiring responses to a radically disruptive year.”

“It has forced artists and curators to think of new ways of collaborating, creating and presenting art. While the festival will retain its roots and a physical presence in London, it will for the first time in its history be open to a global audience through a series of online and international initiatives,” said Ms El Dardiry

The Festival said it was a recipient of crucial funds given as part of the government’s £1.57 billion ($218bn) Culture Recovery Fund to help face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shubbak’s special commissions include a collaboration between two of the most sought after Arab Hip Hop artists. Palestinian-Jordanian The Synaptik and American-Egyptian Felukah will be combining their dynamic music on stage together for the first time in a live and streamed event that will globally premiere two new songs. Felukah, who dropped her debut album, Dream 23, last summer, recently told The National she was itching to get on tour once restrictions imposed by the pandemic eased.

Another Shubbak commission focused on the music genre comes from Dubai-based filmmaker Phlilip Jamal Rachid (aka Soultrotter) who uses dance, spoken word and street art in his film It Ain’t Where You From to explore the Gulf region’s burgeoning young hip-hop scene.

Other works on show include a live and experimental digital performance retelling the history of the legendary Egyptian cabaret Cairo KitKat Club, and a specially curated selection of works by female Saudi artists who intermix movement, live performance and choreography in their artistic work.

Shubbak Festival will run from June 20 – July 17.

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