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.
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.
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.