Hamed Sinno, Ghalia Benali & UK Premiere of Sulayman Al Bassam's 'I M E D E A' at this year's Shubbak Festival in London

The thrilling program for Shubbak Festival 2023 has been announced, celebrating the seventh edition of London’s largest festival of contemporary Arab arts and cultures, with further events across the UK -- from Friday 23rd June to Sunday 9th July 2023.
Hamed Sinno, Ghalia Benali & UK Premiere of Sulayman Al Bassam's 'I M E D E A' at this year's Shubbak Festival in London

With a dynamic and multi-disciplinary program, Shubbak Festival platforms narratives representing Arab, South West Asian, and North African cultures. This year’s Festival will see popular favorites, emerging artists, and highly anticipated UK debuts and world premieres -- with over 80 events across both arts venues and the public realm. A collaborative endeavor between creatives and communities, the Festival will also present commissions and residencies from Shubbak’s creative program. Showcasing an ambitious and vibrant line-up of performance, visual art, comedy, dance, film, literature, and talks & workshops, Shubbak Festival will champion artists and their crafts as they confront the urgent environmental and social issues of today.

This year’s festival will kick off with the group exhibition Totalitarian Props at The Africa Centre, exploring the use of political props as modalities of control in Afro-Arab nations, before embarking on a weekend take-over at the National Theatre’s River Stage Festival. An unmissable ceremony of international arts and culture for all ages and co-presented with the Bagri Foundation, this free event will offer an abundance of family fun, live music and late night entertainment.

Partnering also with the UK’s largest festival of Arab cinema, SAFAR Film Festival 2023: 'A Journey Through Space and Time' will screen across 9 different cities from 29th June to 9th July. Highlights of SAFAR include screenings of Fyzal Boulifa's The Damned Don’t Cry, Sara Suliman’s documentary Heroic Bodies and the opening night film of the festival, the UK premiere of The Last Queen directed by Adila Bendimerad and Damien Ounouri at Ciné Lumiere, followed by a director Q&A.

"Shubbak is so much more than a festival." - Shubbak Festival's joint CEOs Alia Alzougbi and Taghrid Choucair Vizoso

Shubbak is always immense, with a program that spans from music to art, from dance to film and literature with loads of intermediary stops in between. Among our personal highlights is renowned Lebanese-American musician and activist Hamed Sinno (pictured above) in their first public performance since leading up the most prominent indie-rock band of the Arab world, Mashrou' Leila. A key figure in representational politics, free speech, and sexual freedoms in the Middle East, Sinno is at the forefront of conversations addressing social and political discourse. Co-commissioned by Shubbak and the Barbican, Sinno’s intimate and honest piece Poems of Consumption explores the resonances between Amazon-era consumerism, mental illness, unrequited love, and environmental collapse in a captivating musical composition.

Shubbak’s music line-up also includes legendary Tunisian songstress Ghalia Benali in an electrifying live concert, and another UK debut Bahiyya, a rapturous revival of revolutionary Egyptian musicians. Love & Revenge will present a riveting ode to Arab cinema’s golden age whilst a night of Arab techno and old-time classics curated by Young Shubbak alumna is celebrated in When the Night Speaks. This event precedes the grounding invitation to walk along Hackney Marshes to explore the dialogue between us and the land in When the Land Speaks.

Another comedy highlight in the Festival not only represents female voices in the male-dominated sector, but also platforms disabled creatives. Blind artist Sharihan Hadweh teams up with acclaimed comedian and actress Manal Awad (Huda’s Salon by Hany Abu-Assad; Dégradé by Arab & Tarzan Nasser), to create Double Bill: No Cheri/Mia Chara, a back-to-back comedy set from two Palestinian voices with Soho Theatre. Foregrounding a biting and cynical humor, this show champions fearless women in stand-up comedy.

'I M E D E A' by Sulayman Al Bassam

A once in a lifetime kind of event, one that cannot be missed is one by the Arab world’s leading contemporary dramatists and directors, the Kuwaiti Sulayman Al Bassam (The Al-Hamlet Summit; Richard III: an Arab Tragedy) who returns to London with the UK Premiere of award-winning text I M E D E A. This bold reimagining of the Greek myth of Medea explores the eroding infrastructures of truth in a digital world and lies midway between a live rock concert and performance event. Further investigation into the evolution of sounds and music is also offered in the powerful 2-nighter event, Sonic Frontiers, which captures and reflects on our changing times.

Finally, let's leave it to the words of Shubbak Festival's joint CEOs Alia Alzougbi and Taghrid Choucair Vizoso who commented: "Shubbak is so much more than a festival. It is a home away from home for our artists and communities, our joyful resistance and respite from the times we live in, and our pride to continue in the breath of our ancestors’ wisdom yet to sing in our own tongues our reverence for the land. It is also the courage to discard that which does not serve us, humanity and the earth -- to confront with honesty the messiness that crouches in the deep seat of our shared experience. Bringing together an incredible line-up of individual creatives and collective works in one celebration of Arab arts and cultures to share with wider communities, we are beyond elated for this year’s Festival -- our first edition with two Arab women at the helm!"

For more information on all the events, check out the Shubbak Festival website and the SAFAR site for films.

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