Nour 2017 Call for Submissions is Live

Nour Festival of Arts invites national and international artists and arts organisations, working across all art forms, to submit proposals for consideration for this year’s festival, which takes place from 19 October to 5 November 2017.

“Rapidly becoming the most significant festival of its kind in Europe.” Middle East Online

Now in its eighth year, Nour showcases a broad spectrum of arts and culture – including film, food, music, literature, poetry, performance, design and visual arts – and reaches a diverse audience of local, national and international visitors. Growing each year, Nour takes audiences on an unforgettable journey into the regions of the Middle East and North Africa, their cultures and art forms.

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Nour welcomes proposals from artists, creatives and cultural practitioners of these regions, their diaspora communities, and those whose work is inspired by the arts and culture of these regions. Nour prides itself on the high-quality, contemporary nature of the work it features. It offers audiences insights into the diverse make-up of the Middle East and North Africa today, challenging stereotypes of this region and its people through cultural expression. Above all, Nour looks to inspire, and be inspired by, these reflections, which have established this annual celebration as a crucial meeting point for East and West.

Please complete the online submission form before the deadline of 09:00 GMT on Monday 27 March 2017. Feel free to get in touch, if you have any question about making your submission: nour@rbkc.gov.uk

‘Migrating Histories – Moving Identities’ – Map your migrating history!

Nestled in the heart of South Kensington, NYLA gallery is playing host to the Barakat Trust’s exhibition ‘Migrating Histories – Moving Identities’ part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Nour Festival of Arts.

The preview showcased a visual dialogue between reinterpreted maps and diagrammatic representations expressing the intimate relationship between peoples, histories, cultures and their natural environment. Set within the context of the constantly evolving and rapidly changing face of the Middle East, themes around migration, polarisation, destruction of heritage and the impact on identity and the human body were explored and debated.

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The sense of continuous movement and migration of cultural landscapes was evoked by a number of emerging artists whose work spanned mixed media, digital and textiles. In particular the participatory, audience led ‘world installation,’ designed by NYLA, grew and evolved during the course of the evening like a pulsating organism, bringing to life the complex and delicate stories, the astonishing ancestry and bewildering intricacies behind each visitor as guests mapped their ‘migrating histories’.

‘The story of migration can be full of hope and optimism and beauty yet at the same time destructive and full of horror. Now more than ever, the focus needs to remain on the visual stories of migrating histories and our moving identities. We have all migrated from somewhere…

Who are we? And where do we come from? And does it even matter?’ These were the questions and conversations whispered throughout the evening as guests became involved in the interactive wall installation, inviting visitors to map their ‘migrating histories’. Other works included digital maps by NYLA and Hadiyah Hussain, an installation by Khaver Idrees, limited edition prints by Kevin Jackson, and a series of moving photographs by photo journalist and writer Sarah ElRashidi.

All the artists, to some degree or another, have been touched by the story of migration whether through their personal journey and cultural ancestry or the present day landscape of media and politics. Some of the artists have taken objects and earth from the Middle East and reinterpreted this in mixed media work to create a sense of beauty juxtaposed with a sense of horror allowing each onlooker to draw his or her own conclusions.

The exhibition runs throughout the Nour Festival. There is an “In Conversation” with the artists on Thursday, 3 November, from 18.30 – 21.30.

Kuwait Cultural Days in London

Kuwait is the Capital of Islamic Culture 2016, and the Nour Festival of Arts is its official UK partner.

So it was that I headed off to the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington for the launch event for “Kuwait Cultural Days in London” – to see for myself how the Nour Festival would celebrate having Kuwait as its Guest of Honour in 2016.

I found myself in very distinguished company. The Kuwaiti Ambassador in London, H. E. Mr Khaled al Duwaisan was present, alongside Mr Matthew James Lodge, the British Ambassador in Kuwait, and ambassadors from several other delegations in London. There were senior representatives from key partners in the relationship, notably the Kuwait National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL) and the British Council.

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Mais Montazar of the British Council, one of the architects of the Kuwaiti Cultural Days programme © Jose Ramón Caamaño

I was delighted to be introduced to the photographer Ali Al-Zaidi. Several of his stunning photographs were on display in the splendid Shannon Room at the Copthorne Tara Hotel, though, as he told me, they were to be moved 24 hours later to form part of a much larger exhibition of his work at the West Bank Gallery.

Our conversation was interrupted in the nicest way possible, when the musicians of the group Q80Tone took to the floor. Their repertoire reshapes traditional Kuwaiti songs, and represents them in a modern idiom, which subtly blends Western and Eastern influences. They received warm and generous applause at the end of their set.

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Q80Tone performing at Nour Festival 2016 © Jose Ramón Caamaño

The room then became quieter as we watched a beautiful five-minute film which captured the essence of Kuwait Capital of Islamic Culture 2016, and the relationship with the Nour Festival, as represented in the Kuwait Cultural Days in London programme. The film led on to the speeches, with both the Kuwaiti and British ambassadors talking warmly of the long-standing relationship between the two countries, and how cultural initiatives such as this are essential in ensuring it remained fresh, vital, and relevant.

After the speeches, we were privileged to have the opportunity to listen to the outstanding young Kuwaiti pianist Lulwa al-Shamlan, who earlier in the week had given a special performance to students at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School as part of the Nour Festival’s ever-growing Creative Learning Programme.

No lunchtime occasion is properly rounded off without food, and our Kuwait hosts did not let us down. The eminent Kuwaiti chef Abdulrazzak al Sayed, known throughout the Middle East for his frequent TV appearances, served up a wide variety of dishes which captured the essence of not only Kuwaiti but also Arabic cuisine more generally.

A great occasion, and a great launch for the special relationship between Kuwait and the Nour Festival.

Reem Kelani at the Tabernacle

On 22 November 2012, Reem Kelani performed in concert at the Tabernacle as part of the third annual Nour Festival. Her band on that occasion comprised Bruno Heinen on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass, and Antonio Fusco on drums and percussion. There was also a special guest appearance by the acclaimed Palestinian ‘oud player Tamer Abu Ghazaleh.

The sell-out audience gave a standing ovation. With great foresight, the concert was recorded and four years later the CD “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle” was released.

Aser el-Saqqa is the curator of the music programme of Nour 2016. Aser had the brilliant idea of asking Reem to return to the Tabernacle, to celebrate the launch of her new CD and as a special performance to herald the Nour 2016 festival programme.

So it was that, on the evening of Wednesday, 12 October, I found myself once again at the Tabernacle. There was a great buzz of anticipation in the air. The online TV company al-Araby was there, interviewing Reem and other key figures, and filming the concert. The merchandise stall was doing brisk trade with Reem’s CDs and also had on display the Nour Festival programme, which was hot off the press and eagerly seized upon by all present.

At 7.45pm, Aser el-Saqqa took up the microphone to welcome to the stage Reem and her trio – the familiar figures of Antonio Fusco, Bruno Heinen, and Ryan Trebilcock. They were greeted with thunderous applause, which echoed around the unique setting that is the Tabernacle auditorium.

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Reem Kelani performing at Nour Festival 2016 © Jose Ramón Caamaño

However, this was to be no mere reprise of the 2012 concert. Indeed, at the outset Reem announced that she would perform new songs, including some she had written herself. As the evening unfolded, we were led on a musical journey that took us from Palestine, Syria and Jordan to Kuwait, and from Nubia in northern Sudan to Egypt.

Reem’s introductions to each song were fascinating, and overall formed a compelling mosaic history of the music of the MENA region over the past century. The repertoire ranged from Reem’s original song Al-Shahbaa’ (Aleppo) to the traditional Palestinian song Ya Ghzayyel (O Little Gazelle); from Abdul-Aziz al-Basri’s Ana al-Baareha (Last Night) to Ya Tali’een el-Jabal (Going up the Mountain); from the traditional Jordanian song Hayyid ‘An el-Jayshi! (Stay Away from the Army!) to another original song by Reem, Lima Uhibbuha? (Why Do I Love Her?). The concert closed with a spirited rendition of Mama Don’t Allow, which brought the house down.

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Reem Kelani performing at Nour Festival 2016 © Jose Ramón Caamaño

As I noted above, this concert was partly to celebrate the CD “Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle”. It is more than fortuitous that this evening’s concert was also recorded. Who knows what the future has in store? Perhaps we will all have occasion to assemble once again – this time to celebrate the release of “Reem Kelani Live at the Tabernacle – 2016”.

There could have been no more fitting opening to the Nour Festival of Arts 2016. It sets up everything perfectly for seventeen days of festivities across Kensington and Chelsea, starting on 21 October.