Dates: 23rd June – 9th July 2023
Creating a home away from home, the Arab diaspora in London continuously caters to its large and thriving community with an endless stream of events and initiatives sprouting around London. Be it Hishek Bishek, Habibi Funk, the Beirut Groove Collective, and the iconic BLTNM gig, even if it’s for an hour or two, your homesickness will be put at ease for the time being.
But when it comes to championing Arab creatives within the diaspora, the Shubbak Festival is definitely at the forefront. Considered to be the UK’s largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, the event is returning for its seventh edition this summer from June 23 to July 9 2023, with a ultra-creative multidisciplinary programme. Representing creatives from the SWANA region, this year’s 16-day-long festival is a collaborative effort between the community, showcasing an array of disciplines from visual art, performances, comedy, dance, film, literature, talks, and workshops— all of which deal with the confrontation of current environmental and social issues of today.
Joint CEOs Alia Alzougbi and Taghrid Choucair Vizoso for Shubbak comment that, “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!”
The festival will kick off with an epic weekend take-over at the National Theatre’s River Stage on Friday 23rd June. Followed by Totalitarian Props at The Africa Centre, which will explore the use of political props as modalities of control in Afro-Arab nations.
Other highlights include a concert from Hamid Sinno, a renowned Lebanese-American activist and singer, who will make his ground-breaking solo debut at the festival since Mahsrou’Leila announced their split. With an emphasis on representational politics, free speech, and sexual freedom, Sinno has been at the forefront of social and political discourse in the Middle East. His intimate and honest composition, Poems of Consumption explores the resonances between Amazon-era consumerism, mental illness, unrequited love, and environmental collapse in a piece co-commissioned by Shubbak and the Barbican.
For the music lovers, Shubbak’s music line-up features iconic Tunisian musician Ghalia Benali in an unmissable live performance. Born out of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the contemporary revolutionary Egyptian band Bahiyya will be making their exciting UK debut. The event celebrates Arab cinema’s golden age with Love & Revenge, while When the Night Speaks showcases Arab techno and old-time classics curated by Young Shubbak alumni. It precedes When the Land Speaks, the grounding event to explore the dialogue between us and the land along Hackney Marshes.
Marking her first-ever performance in the UK, revolutionary Lebanese activist and the first openly queer comedian in the region, Shaden presents All Hell Broke Loose— one of Shubbak’s exclusively Arabic-spoken events. Embodying satire to comment on toxic masculinity and her relationship with God, Shaden continues to pave the way for artistic freedom despite having been summoned by the military court for her criticism of the political class.
Another comedy highlight in the festival not only represents female voices in a heavily male dominated sector, but also platforms disabled creatives. Blind artist Sharihan Hadweh have teamed up with acclaimed comedian and actress Manal Awad (Huda’s Salon, Hany Abu-Assad; Dégradé, Arab Nasser, Tarzan Nasser), to create their fantastic Double Bill: No Cheri/Mia Chara, a comedy set from two Palestinian voices at Soho Theatre.
The Royal Opera House will host the debut of Woman at Point Zero, an operatic retelling of Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi’s novel. Additionally, a staged reading of Chambers of the Heart confronts the love, desire, and memory of four women with stories spanning the East and West, while Dreamer is a semi-autobiographical performance about three Black women growing up in Arab society.
As part of Shubbak Festival’s performance platforms, Mohamed Toukabri presents an unconventional performance titled The Power (of) The Fragile. Through his mother’s untold story, Toukabri blurs the lines between artist and non-artist in a breathtaking and tender performance piece on family relations, dreams and personal desire.
With their promenade installation that highlights human displacement, poet Lisa Luxx and composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman present a ground-breaking immersive performance for climate justice. While What The Dog Said To The Harvest uses opera, dance, spoken word, binaural sound, and film, Bad Diaspora Poems debuts Momtaza Mehri’s new collection of poems, which combine her own family history with that of many others, speaking for all those left behind.
Through a retrospective look at Arab history from the past to the present digital age, one of the world’s leading contemporary directors, Sulayman Al Bassam returns to London with his award-winning text I M E D E A for an iconic UK Premiere. As a live rock concert and performance event, this showstopping retelling of the Greek myth of Medea explores the erosion of truth and infrastructures in a digital world. Sonic Frontiers, a powerful two-nighter event that captures and reflects our changing times, offers a further exploration into the evolution of music and sounds.
Presenting the festival’s first live interactive piece between two cities, The Legitimated Body and Navigated Listener opens a sonic dialogue between artists from their home city of Slemani and the participating audience in London.
With I Will Not Fold These Maps, Shubbak presents Mona Kareem’s fiercely unapologetic new book of poems in a dynamic bilingual reading accompanied by an English translation for the first time.
This year’s Shubbak Festival will feature the evolution of Palestinian narratives, including one of the UK’s leading playwrights, Hannah Khalil, with her play Trouf: Scenes from 75 Years. In Losing It, Palestinian choreographer and performer Samaa Wakim embodies war trauma with movement and live music by Samar Haddad King.
For the visual art enthusiasts, the festival offers multiple shows, from an investigation into the cross-pollination of coastal cultures in Two Seas to the intricate practice of Arabic calligraphy in Sound & Silence. The multidisciplinary exhibition I’d search forever, I want to remember will feature captivating movements of the English Channel and demolished buildings. questioning if matter and place recall things in the same way our bodies do.
Shubbak celebrates the lives and narratives that exist amongst all Arab communities, with Elias Matar’s Olive Jar, developed over the course of a year through local community workshops that explores the rich heritage from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Morocco, and beyond. As well as this, thrilling action will take to the streets with parkour and circus comedy show Taroo, an ambitious fusion of Acrobatics, Chinese pole, and urban movement.
All of Shubbak Festival’s events can also be found across the UK as well as online, with exhibitions and touring performances heading to Greater Manchester, Devon, Liverpool, and Bradford’s Literature Festival. Partnering 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.
If you’re in the UK or planning a trip to London soon, make sure not to miss out on Shubbak Festivals incredible line-up of stellar showcases, installations, artwork and so much more this summer!