Talk of the town: Shubbak Festival, Southbank Centre

The fifth edition of an Arabic festival will take place bringing performances, music, literature and art from the Arab region. Shubbak Festival, taking place at the Southbank Centre and Battersea Arts Centre, is billed as “a window on contemporary Arab culture”.

The festival will run from June 28 until July 14 and promises to bring exciting and bold work to the stage, including acrobatic performances, art installations, literary panels, film screenings and a variety of music genres from the Middle East and North Africa.

Eckhard Thiemann, Shubbak’s artistic director, said: “This year’s festival has the widest range of artists, venues and artforms since we started from family-friendly circus to performance in museums, from poetry readings to outdoor DJs, from murals to film screenings.

Kabareh Cheikhats

“Our ever-growing range of partners in London shows there is a real hunger and interest to hear Arab artists’ take on our times and the world we live in. “The beauty of our festival is that we can boldly show many of these views, often creatively contradicting each other, but enriching us with powerful emotion and sharp insights.”

This year’s festival was created along with The Gate Theatre based in Notting Hill and features more than 150 artists based in the Arab region, in Europe and in the UK. Ellen McDougall, artistic director at the Gate Theatre, said: “Shubbak@Gate is our jointly curated programme of exceptional theatre by artists from across the Arab world and the diaspora.

It includes work for schools and young people, and features work in both English and Arabic. We are so proud and excited to be presenting the work of these artists at the Gate.”

Highlights from the festival include contemporary belly-dance, drag and Middle Eastern pop electronica from Lebanese performer Mo Khansa; X-Adra featuring Syrian activists who have been held in the notorious Adra prison; a tribute to the much-loved Palestinian singer, songwriter and activist Rim Banna, who died aged 51 in 2018; and French-Moroccan journalist Leïla Slimani discussing what it means to be an Arab feminist in 2019.

Another highlight will be the latest show from Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger (main picture) whose impressive performance, Halka, combines traditional Moroccan dance with music and poetry.

Amir El Saffar

Ouahib Hammich, a performer from Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger, said: “I started acrobatics aged three. Halka tells the story of my life and other Moroccan acrobats.”

Another performer, Samir Laaroussi, said: “Ever since I was a child, I have always practiced with other acrobats on the beach in Tangier, it was our open sky school. “This beach no longer exists. Halka pay homage to this space which was so important us.”

This year, Shubbak will also take over an outdoor stage for a weekend on the south bank of the Thames at a free arts festival by the National Theatre, offering a varied programme of music, performances, workshops and installations giving South Londoners plenty of opportunities to enjoy Arab culture.

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