Another Member of The Nour Steering Committee

Having spoken with Aser El Saqqa and Roya Arab, today we learn more about Alnoor Samji who looks after the evolving Volunteers Program for the Nour Festival.


Alnoor Samji of Nour Steering Committee

Alnoor Samji – Nour Festival Steering Committee Member

Last book you read.

Disordered World by Amin Maalouf, an exceptionally well-written assessment of how we arrived at the current messy state.  I loved the tone: often posing questions, providing the context as objectively as possible, and inviting the reader to make up their own mind.  No magical answers, but plenty to think about.

Favourite place to grab a bite.

We’re spoilt for choice: if it’s a lovely day, Leonardo Caffe on Upper Richmond Road West has a hidden garden.  Otherwise, on the opposite side of the road, Valentina serves a first-rate Italian take on the Full English.  For special occasions, it has to be The Wolseley.

 What museum or gallery do you most often visit?

Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton showcases both established and contemporary artists.

If you could choose one piece of art to live with, what would it be?

Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park.  It never fails to refresh the body, help you think things through and nourish the soul.  The water trickling down the brook, the vivid azaleas in late spring, the remodelled duck pond and all the other wonders have been scattered on a natural canvas to produce a work of outstanding beauty.

Most touching moment from a previous festival?

Last year’s launch event was sponsored by the Embassy of Yemen.  In preparation, the Ambassador took us on a day trip, to visit members of the Yemeni diaspora in Sheffield, including performers and artists.  The warmth and hospitality were unforgettable.

This is the sixth edition of the Nour Festival of Arts. Have you been involved since the festival was established? How is the 2015 edition of the festival different than its predecessors?

I was invited to join the Nour steering group in 2011, the festival’s third year but the first time the Arts Service extended Nour beyond Leighton House Museum.  It has grown each year, attracting new partners and audiences.  This year, Nour returns to its roots as a pioneering arts education programme with a comprehensive learning programme.

Another important development is the festival’s volunteer programme.  Whilst we have always required the support of volunteers, this year we have a structured process, with an initial team supporting the set up and marketing, and a further group of Festival Ambassadors and Workshop Assistants helping at events.

As “Europe’s most significant annual showcases of contemporary artists and culture from across the Middle East and North Africa,” what is one of the ways that the festival continues to interest and engage local and international audiences each year?

Often, festivals such as Nour allow nascent themes to gain momentum and capture the public imagination.  I remember so well, the salon on Arab Science Fiction on the first evening of the 2013 festival.  The discussion continues today around the world, with regular contributions on social media.

Alnoor Samji is a former partner of market research organisation, MORI.  He now works independently, balancing research and cultural consultancy with extensive voluntary work.  This interview was conducted by Lisa Pollman, freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world.

The Nour Festival Steering Committee Continued …

Last time we spoke with Aser El Saqqa, founder of Arts Canteen and long standing member of Nour Festival Steering Committee.  Today, we learn more about the dynamic Roya Arab and how she is involved with Nour.

Steering Committee Member Roya Arab

Roya Arab – Nour Festival Steering Committee Member


Tell us about your interest in poetry. When did you start writing poetry? What at that time influenced you? What does now?  

I started writing poetry soon after the 1979 revolution, when we were exiled from Iran due to my father’s political and business activities. I guess I was influenced by the pain of feeling torn from a family, people and land that we were attached to. In school there was a great poetry book we worked from. John Donne and Wilfred Owen, in particular, touched me. I still think about life and what it means for us individually and collectively and pay close attention to international events and calamitous political-religious decisions that impact humanity.

Did you draw on this creative outlet when you began to write lyrics for songs? How? 

My love of music dates back to the minute I could speak to sing and stand to dance. When we moved to the UK, I began to learn classical piano and folk guitar. In my late teens, I was introduced to jazz music and singing became more important to me. After a few years of jamming around London in the early 90s, whilst working on a musical project in Vienna, the poetry morphed into lyrics.

For those who may not be familiar with Persian music, which artists would you suggest to provide a kind of rudimentary introduction?  

In terms of popular modern music, to get a cursory taste, there are classically influenced musicians such as Hayedeh, Gholam-Hossein Banan and Sima Bina. During the 1960/70s there was a spate of young popular musicians inspired by jazz, pop, funk, rock and psychedelic music, such as Googoosh, Vigen and Kourosh Yaghmaei.

You also have a keen interest in archaeology. Is there something that the past can tell us about the present or future? What?  

From the indispensable computer, which has its roots in rudimentary mathematics and physics, to the shuttles we send to the moon that would not exist without early metallurgy and astronomy, the past is stitched into the fabric of the present. The flood of agony plaguing much of the MENA region today finds its source in streams flowing in the distant past. Likewise, decisions made “today” all have a bearing on what tomorrow brings.

Speaking of antiquities, is there a favourite piece that you hold dear to your heart?

Although I am drawn to and delighted by Iranian artefacts and am a bit of a collector of craft and art objects old and new, our Mother taught us never to become too attached to earthly goods.

How are you involved with the Nour Festival of Arts 2015?

I am curating a panel discussion on the critical state of MENA heritage and an Iranian Theatre Retrospective workshop. I will also be singing for Scheherazade’s Night.

The Iranian Theatre Retrospective day-long workshop, perhaps the first of its kind in the West, takes an overview from early indigenous entertainment forms to the modern plays of the 1960s and ends with the theatre scene post-1979 revolution.

Roya Arabis a musician and archaeologist. Arab is currently an Honorary Research Assistant at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Her research examines the socio-political and economic uses and abuses of the past in the present, while her work promotes MENA region heritage.  This interview was conducted by Lisa Pollman, freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world

The Nour Festival Steering Committee

Working with the Arts team at The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Nour Steering Committee plays a key role in the development and realisation of the festival.  But who are the members of the steering committee? What are their interests? And why are they motivated by Nour?

Today, we speak with Aser El Saqqa, a long-standing member of the Nour Steering Committee and founder of Arts Canteen.


Aser El Saqqa - Nour Festival

You are originally from Palestine. How would you explain Palestinian creative traditions to someone who is new to the country?

To be born in Palestine means carrying and reinterpreting ancient social traditions and values that we grew up with. The importance of cultural resistance is deeply rooted in our popular culture and the arts.

There has been huge growth in the cultural infrastructure in Palestine over the last 30 years. This has had a significant effect on me, as I also worked in the cultural sector in Palestine for a few years, building up the capacity of local artists, galleries and festivals. When I came to London, I wanted not only to continue this work with diaspora communities, but also to bring our cultural traditions and contemporary practices to new audiences. This is part of a wider project of making visible the contribution of the Arab communities to the rich cultural life of London and the UK overall – conveying a sense of pride and community among and between us all.

You are the founder of Arts Canteen. Can you tell us more about this organisation?

Arts Canteen was founded in 2010 as a non-fixed space. Our achievements are informed by a grassroots approach of creating a network of supporters who are vital in the success of the programme. This network has been built up over the past few years and now includes a range of diaspora Arab communities in the UK, non-Arab communities who follow the arts scene in London and includes those of all ages.

Arts Canteen events have become a hub where connections are made. These connections have been undertaken through social media platforms, community and arts events across London, where ticket prices for events ensure that high quality programmes are accessible to the widest possible audience through collaborative partnerships with universities, music venues, museums, festivals and NGOs.

Favourite performing arts venue in London?

 My favourite venue would be Union Chapel, Islington, well known for live music events and voted London’s best live music venue. Incidentally, it was the venue for Arts Canteen’s first gig in 2011.

I also like Rich Mix. It offers live music, film, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and a huge range of creative and diverse activities for local communities.

Name the last gig you attended.

Orange Blossom band (France-Egypt), a really interesting and powerful project with electric whirlpools, electronic storms and featuring Hend Ahmed, the Egyptian singer who is influenced by ethnic and traditional Nubian music.

Last book read?

A Son of the Road by Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf.

Favourite contemporary gallery/museum?

Tate Modern is one of my favourites. It covers a broad range of painters from the 19th-century including impressionists, to modern day pop art as well as film media, video art, photography and sculpture. Also, the building is as interesting as the art itself!

What particular event/artist excites you most at this year’s Nour Festival of Arts? Why?

I would go for Hindi Zahra. She is a self-taught, multi-instrumentalist from a Moroccan mother and a French father. I like her occasional Berber whispers, and am looking forward to hearing some of the songs from her new album “Homeland” described as soulful, “surreal bluesy” and humanist.

Aser El Saqqa is curator, founder and director of Arts Canteen, an arts organisation which shines a spotlight on art from the Arab world.  This interview was conducted by Lisa Pollman, freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world.