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Family Day fun provides LAAF 2018 with a vibrant finale!

The UK’s biggest annual festival of Arab art and culture closed its 20th anniversary festival with a vibrant and unforgettable celebration at the Sefton Park Palm House.

Visitors descended in their thousands on Sefton Park’s iconic Palm House on Sunday 15 July for Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF)’s Family Day celebrations.

The day began with Simo Lagnawi & Gnawa London bursting into the venue in a riot of colour to perform Gnawa, the music of formerly enslaved black Africans, to a packed Palm House. Within minutes the audience was clapping along to the beats and entrancing vocals which reflect the unstoppable expression of freedom and liberation that Gnawa brings.

The world-class Arab musical line up continued with performances from festival favourite, Danish-Palestinian percussionist Simona Abdallah, who brought the audience to its feet with the unmistakable beat of her Arab Darbuka drum.

The dancing continued as the London Syrian Ensemble, a collective of some of Syria's finest musicians based in the UK, and The Yemeni Musical Group took to the stage to delight visitors at the much-loved final day of the festival. 

Throughout the day, guests of all ages and from diverse backgrounds also enjoyed folktales from the Arab world from LAAF’s storyteller in residence Alia Alzougbi. There were also stalls selling traditional goods, Henna painting and delicious Arab foods on offer – as well as ice cream to help visitors to stay cool in the glorious sunshine.

A perfect conclusion to the ten-day programme, the Family Day gave visitors the chance to continue embrace the theme of the festival ‘What Do I Know?’, encouraging audiences from all backgrounds to step away from the assumptions made around Arab life and explore its reality through the lived experience, expressed through diverse art forms of music, dance, visual art, theatre, film and spoken word.

The festival this year enjoyed an extraordinary line-up with incredible talent from across the Arab diaspora, launching with an opening weekend of glittering musical talent, including a cutting edge co-headline gig from Arab supergroup, 47SOUL and dynamic Golan Heights duo, TootArd, which attracted a diverse and cross-generational audience.

Opening weekend also saw families gathering for a day of workshops and activities at Bluecoat, the premiere of Bachar Zarkan’s Hallaj of Hope (Presented in partnership with MARSM, funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England (ACE)), internationally acclaimed Tunisian singer-songwriter, Emel Mathlouthi captivating crowds at the Invisible Wind Factory and the premiere of spoken word performance What Do I Know? by Amina Atiq and Waleed Akhtar, which featured poetry fused with the music of Ana Silvera and was presented in collaboration with ice&fire theatre.

The impressive line-up of internationally acclaimed Arab music was part of LAAF’s enhanced musical programme for 2018, supported by Liverpool City Council Festival Enhancement Funding (www.liverpoolfestivalcity.com) which allowed an even more ambitious musical programme as the city celebrates a decade since its year as European Capital of Culture.

An exciting and challenging theatre programme saw performances of At Home in Gaza and London from Station House Opera and Artsadmin, a production – funded by National Lottery through ACE and The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture - that united actors and audiences in the UK and Gaza using live-streamed video. The programme also featured The Shroud Maker, a dark yet moving satire by Ahmed Masoud, starring Julia Tarnoky as an unforgettable Hajja Souad, again funded by the National Lottery though ACE.

The 20th anniversary programme also saw the return of the BBC Arabic Festival, with a screening of Those Who Remain, the winner of ‘Best Feature Documentary’ by renowned director Eliane Raheb. A double bill of acclaimed documentaries, Science in Exile and It’s Only the Beginning, followed by a Q&A session with some of the films’ directors also continued the discussion about the realities of Arab life away from the lens of the media. 

LAAF’s visual arts exhibitions also sought to challenge Arab stereotypes and provide a window into the lived experience of people from the Arab diaspora, with manga-inspired workshops from LAAF’s Artist in Residence, Asia Alfasi, It Was Paradise and a collaboration between British Artist Rachel Gadsden and Palestinian artist Ali Saeid Ashour, inspired by the poem ‘Under Siege’ by Mahmoud Darwish. There was also a guided talk of the Tented Dreams exhibition, which featured the work of Syrian artist Mohammad Amari and original artwork by refugees from the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Taher Qassim MBE, Chair of Liverpool Arab Arts Festival said: “It’s hard to believe that another festival is already over, but what a festival it was!

“Over the past two weeks we have been proud to welcome some truly exceptional artists from across the Arab world to Liverpool, as well as being honoured to experience their talent in music, theatre, spoken word, film and visual art.

“The programme delivered wholeheartedly in its intention to challenge stereotypes and invite people from all backgrounds to re-evaluate what they think they know about Arab culture and its people.

“I would like to thank all of the artists who joined us for our 20th anniversary festival, the hardworking LAAF team, visitors and our funders and supporters, including Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council - without them this incredible festival would not be possible.

“Above all I would like to thank them for once again using the rich tapestry of Arab art and culture to break down social and cultural boundaries and bring us closer together as people.”

LAAF’s 2018 festival was made possible by funding from ACE, Liverpool City Council and its Festival Enhancement Funding (www.liverpoolfestivalcity.com). Its programme was supported by P H Holt Foundation, Souriyat Across Borders, Unison North West who were joint supporters of this year’s Family Day, the Al-Omar Family, ACE, Unlimited and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC).

 To keep up-to-date on out-of-festival events and to be the first to know about LAAF’s 2019 festival, visit www.arabartsfestival.com