The annual Nour Festival in London’s cosmopolitan Chelsea and Kensington neighbourhoods launches its fifth cycle this week with an expanded cultural programme focused on contemporary Middle Easter and North Africa (MENA) and its varied British and European connections.
Spread across numerous venues in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, home to citizens and residents of great cultural diversity, the six-week festival celebrates contemporary art including music and dance, film and video, cuisine and material culture, its practitioners drawn from across Europe and the MENA region.
Arabic is now said to be the second largest language spoken in the borough, which is designated royal because it is home to numerous properties of the British monarchy. Chief amongst these is Kensington Palace, one of the residences of three potential future kings, Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, Prince William the Duke of Cambridge and the little Prince George, aged one and third heir to the throne.
Nour had modest beginnings as an arts education programme, catering for the borough’s communities, which include many people of Middle Eastern ancestry or heritage. The festival now boasts more than 30 partners and commands about 20 venues, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ismaili Centre opposite, the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal College of Music, the Finborough Theatre, the Electric Cinema and the Royal Geographical Society and, lately, the Mosaic Rooms gallery and art centre.
Councillor Maighread Condon-Simmonds, lady mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, opened the festival in her parlour at the Hornton Street Town Hall in the presence of Ambassador Abdulla Ali Mohamed Al-Radhi of Yemen, lead sponsor of this year’s events. Ambassador Al-Radhi regaled the audience with tales of antiquity, frankincense and myrrh, Sheba/Bilqis and about competing interpretations of her persona, painted and depicted in works of art across cultures.
“In just five years Nour has grown from being a pioneering arts education programme based at Leighton House Museum to an all-encompassing cultural festival which this year features 32 partners,” Councillor Timothy Coleridge, the Royal Borough’s Cabinet Member for the Arts, said. “Each year Nour introduces more new friends and welcomes new audiences.
“Through the diversity and quality of the work it presents, Nour challenges stereotypes of the Arab world and its peoples, fostering friendship and understanding. Nour defines city life in Kensington and Chelsea in late autumn. I hope as many people as possible join with us in celebrating and enjoying this year’s festival.”
This year’s festival takes amid fraught conditions in key areas whose art and culture are celebrated in Nour, a far cry from hostilities in the battlefields of Arab lands, including sponsor nation Yemen. Zoom in Yemen, a short film competition, showcases new Yemeni film making talent and is organised in association with the British Council. It’s a refreshing departure from daily news of mayhem and communal strife in the region.
A moving introduction to the festival by Souad Talsi MBE, founder of Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, set the tone for the coming activities with a universal message embedded in a quotation from Khalil Gibran (1883-1931): ‘You are my brother and I love you, I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit’ More about Souad Talsi and her text
Editor’s Note: nour, noor or nur, Arabic meaning light, is common to many other Middle Eastern, Central and South Asian languages and is also a unisex name for individuals. An-Nur, meaning “the Light” is the 24th sura of the Quran.
Nour Festival 2014 Highlights
Persian Art with Amber Khokhar. Monday 26 October | Persian Tiles from 13:30pm – 3pm and Persian Motifs from 4pm – 5:30pm • Kensal Library. Join artist Amber Khokhar and be inspired by a centuries-old artistic tradition. Using paints and paper tiles, participants will create beautiful designs that can be taken home or used to shape a Kashan-inspired Tiled Panel. Amber is a practising artist who works with traditional motifs and techniques. From her London studio she creates highly collectable paintings and products with a contemporary flair. Amber Khokhar exhibits and teaches nationally and internationally.
The Food Programme. Curated by Anissa Helou. Various dates and venues throughout the festival. Check the website for details at www.nourfestival.co.uk. Anissa Helou writes: “Food is Culture, and one of the gateways to understanding a country and its people. Through sharing food and talking about it, not to mention cooking it, you gain an insight into a people’s way of life. This year’s Nour Festival invited me to put a stronger accent on food culture and culinary heritage through a series of cooking demonstrations, workshops and supper clubs. These events combine the pleasures of cooking and eating together, while offering a window onto the culture of the countries featured.”
Souad Massi. Sunday 2 November, from 9pm | Royal Albert Hall, Elgar Rooms. Souad Massi is one of the leading female World Music artists, with a style uniquely her own, an emotionally charged vehicle for themes of loss, nostalgia and the bonfire of innocence. Her music blends rock, folk, country, classical, flamenco, and the chaabi and classical Andalusian music of her native Algeria. Souad Massi performs in the intimate setting of the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Rooms with her five-piece band.
The Mashrou Leila band
Mashrou’ Leila. Saturday 15 November, from 9pm | Royal Albert Hall, Elgar Rooms. Born of a nocturnal encounter, Mashrou’ Leila fuses the craft of a music workshop with the punch of stadium rock. With their distinct approach to storytelling and orchestration, they have crafted some of the most melancholic ballads and raucous anthems in contemporary alternative Arabic music, and gone on to perform them at sold-out venues worldwide. The band has released three studio albums, Mashrou’ Leila (2008), El Hal Romancy (2011), and Raasük (2013), a third album recorded at Hotel2Tango Studios in Montreal and released in 2014 in Europe with Pias.
Sindbad Sci-Fi presents Arab Science Fiction: From innovation to imagination. Saturday 15 November, from 6.30pm | The Science Museum, IMAX Theatre. Fiction is the ultimate bridge between science and the arts so could exploring this symbiotic relationship enable the next generation to envision an alternative future of the Middle East? Broadcaster Samira Ahmed chairs a stellar panel of visionary thinkers who will offer new perspectives on whether nurturing creativity through Science Fiction could be more crucial to our global progress than we might realise.
The Future Rewound & The Cabinet of Souls. 10 October–29 November (Tuesday-Saturday) from 11am – 6pm | The Mosaic Rooms. The Mosaic Rooms present a solo show by Nadia Kaabi-Linke. The Future Rewound & The Cabinet of Souls features recent work and commissioned site-specific installations that reflect how the artist relates to the way geography and politics inform the identity of both the individual and the collective. Supported by the Goethe Institut, London. See article
The Moment. Monday 3 November, from 8pm | The Tabernacle. The Moment is a solo performance by the Egyptian performer/choreographer Salah El Brogy (featured image). El Brogy returns to the Nour Festival after the success of his collaboration with the calligrapher Soraya Syed in 2013.
House of My Father. Thursday 27 November, from 7.30pm | Finborough Theatre. While war rages in the streets of a divided Beirut, a family refuses to abandon their home as they await the return of their father. As bombs fall and soldiers appear unannounced in their garden, Mona and her family cook, repaint the kitchen, plant flowers and persuade one another that all will be well. Exploring the sometimes forgotten lives of those who remain living in their homes during protracted urban wars, this new play asks how far people will go to preserve a sense of normality in the face of unimaginable change.
5th London Iranian Film Festival. 1–9 November, from 8pm | Ciné Lumière. The London Iranian Film Festival is the only annual festival to focus exclusively on the presentation of Iranian cinema in the UK. The festival aims to produce the best and most diverse Iranian film programme in the country, and to encourage as many people as possible to view Iranian cinema. This is a showcase of both established filmmakers and emerging filmmaking talent, celebrating the best in Iranian feature film, documentary, animation and short filmmaking. It offers compelling viewing for anyone with an interest in alternative world cinema.
Threads along the Silk Road: Celebrating the music and dance of Central Asia. 27 November • 19:45 (Doors) | 20:15 (Performances). The Ismaili Centre, 1 Cromwell Gardens, SW7 2SL. Central Asia has long been at the crossroads of different cultures and civilisations, with the connection of the Silk Road a significant factor in the development of the civilisations of Europe, Asia, Persia, and Arabia. A vast region of unparalleled natural beauty with the trading nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan along the route, the peoples of this area have many treasures, which offer centuries of civilisation hidden from many in the western world. As part of The Ismaili Centre Silk Road programme of culture, we present an evening performance of dance and music, reflecting the unique vibrancy, colour and sounds of the peoples of Central Asia, neighbours and traders along the Silk Road.
Colours of Kurdistan. 28 November • 20:00 Doors | 20:15 Performances. The Ismaili Centre, 1 Cromwell Gardens, SW7 2SL. An evening of Kurdish music, dance and costume, organised by Gulan, the British charity promoting Kurdish culture. The evening features a catwalk show of the vibrant and colourful contemporary designs of Della Murad. There will also be a display of lively and dramatic Kurdish dance, and exciting traditional music featuring musicians Sarwat Koyl on violin, Shaiwan on zarb, Koresh Rafie on santur and Roskar Nasan on flute.