Author: Nikki Girvan

Juliana Yazbeck performing at LAAF 2019 launch. Photo by Jazamin Sinclair

“Yazbeck is poised on stage. While in stature she is diminutive, she commands the room; her voice is powerful and has a purity and clarity which is absolutely beautiful. She sings in Arabic and English, sometimes switching between the two in the same song.”

A fabulous review of LAAF 2019’s opening event, a spectacular performance from the incredible Juliana Yazbeck.

You can read the full review over on Bido Lito!:

Image by Jazamin Sinclair


This year at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival: ‘Shadow and light’ celebrates the life and films of visionary Arab film maker Youssef Chahine, providing UK pemieres of three of his beautifully remastered works ‘Alexandria…why’, 1979,  An Egyptian story’, 1982, and Alexandria again and forever’, 1989,

Ahead of the series, we share a review by Dr Khalid Ali, Film and media correspondent ‘Medical Humanities’ journal, and founder of ‘Egypt Medfest’, who will also be taking part in the Q&A following the first film, ‘Alexandria… Why?’ 

“Over the course of 57 years, Youssef Chahine (25th January 1926- 27th July 2008) established himself as the most celebrated Egyptian and Arab film auteur (1). In 1997 he received a lifetime achievement award in Cannes Film Festival for his contribution to film as a director, producer, script writer and actor. After studying film in Pasadena, he made his first feature film ‘Baba Amin’ in 1952 at the age of 23. His early career was notable for trialling several film genres from socially-aware dramas ‘Son of Nile’ 1951 (, ‘The Blazing Sun’ 1954 (, to historical epics such as ‘Jamila, the Algerian’ 1958 (,_the_Algerian) , and ‘Saladin, the Victorious’ 1963 ( In ‘Cairo Station’ 1958 (, he proved his acting talent as Qinawi, the sexually-frustrated newspaper seller obsessed with Hannuma, the station flirtatious drinks seller.

Chahine always challenged conventional storytelling styles in Egyptian cinema. However, his most bold statement as a visionary artist materialised in the ‘Alexandria’ film series: ‘Alexandria… Why?’, ‘An Egyptian Story’, and ‘Alexandria Again and forever’. Using his life story as an inspiration, the films follow his journey from a young wide-eyed adolescent ‘Victoria College’ pupil in Alexandria eager to study film in the USA to an international award-winning film maker.

 ‘Alexandria… Why?’ starts his journey with film in 1942 at the height of WW2; Yahia (his fictionalised alter-ego fascinated with Shakespeare’s Hamlet) is surrounded by an extended Christian family; a resilient mother, a dignified idealist father, a strict old-fashioned grandmother, and a romantic sister. The richly detailed characters include school friends from Muslim and Jewish faiths and their families highlighting the cosmopolitan status of war-afflicted Alexandria. Regular Allied forces air raids deepen the Egyptian’s hatred for the British occupation that they root for Adolf Hitler to win Al Alamein battle and free Egyptians of British rule. The socio-political scene is closely observed; drunken British soldiers roaming the streets of Alexandria, one of them has a same-sex affair with a wealthy Egyptian aristocrat, a Jewish woman falls in love with a Muslim activist, while war lords are making money from trading in arms.

‘An Egyptian Story’ begins with Yahia as an established director who is still struggling to operate within the stifling Egyptian movie-industry in 1973. His chain-smoking habit, and explosive temper cause him to suffer a serious heart attack in a film set. He flies to London for an emergency heart bypass operation. In a story line reminiscent of Bob Fosse’s 1979 ‘All That Jazz’ (, a fantastical sequence is played in court with Yahia defending himself against all sorts of accusations from his mother, sister and wife. Chahine does not shy away from portraying himself as a selfish egocentric artist. He moans ‘’no one understands me’’, but what is worse is that he starts to wonder if he can still understand those around him. His inner child appears in court to blame the adult Yahia for stifling his creative outlets. Juxtaposed with the highly charged emotional court scenes, we see Yahia travelling to various film festivals from Cannes to Moscow suffering a series of frustrations in losing out in best actor and director award categories in films such as ‘Cairo station’.

‘Alexandria again and forever’ opens with a melancholic song and a tribute to ‘Hamlet’:

‘’To be or not to be, that is the question

Is it nobler to suffer in patience the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune

Or take up arms against a sea of troubles

By opposing them, we can end them

We can die or sleep.’’

Adopting a semi-realist style, Chahine documents the Egyptian actors’ 1987 sit-in and hunger strike against a corrupt union law passed by the Parliament to allow the actors’ union lead to nominate himself indefinitely. In a parallel storyline, the film follows Yahia’s disappointment in Amr (a fictionalised character for Mohsen Mohy Eldin, an actor who was adopted by Chahine in four films before Mohy Eldin ended their artistic collaboration, mentoring relationship and friendship). Yahia finds a new muse in Nadia (Yousra) a feisty actress dreaming of playing ‘Cleopatra’. Yahia and Nadia fight and argue over director’s tyranny, freedom of speech, and ‘Alexander, the Great’ in elaborate dance musical numbers. Chahine here plays the role of Yahia himself, and in the process ‘exorcises demons of a love-hate relationship with Mohy Eldin’. In one scene, he exerts a violent revenge against the actor who betrayed him, but at the same time acknowledges the right of actors to exert their own identity and vision in the film-making process.

Chahine’s Alexandria film series is far from a self-centred, narcissistic exercise by their maker; in these films he explores themes of heritage and legacy, cultural and sexual Identity, memories and nostalgia, artists alienation from the audience, and Egypt’s role in pan-Arab nationalism. Chahine’s beloved Alexandria holds centre stage as an influential character in all stories. Constantly questioning and challenging norms, Chahine defied stereotypes and pushed the boundaries in portraying and analysing the human experience.”



Image courtesy of Misr International Films

Get a taste of the musical artists we’re bringing to Liverpool Arab Arts Festival in 2019 with our Spotify playlist.

LAAF 2019 features artists such as Juliana Yazbeck, who will open our 2019 festival on 5 July at the Royal Court Studio with a UK premiere performance of her record SUNGOD, Rim Banna, whose life we will celebrate at the Philharmonic Music Hall on 12 July with the only performance outside London of The Trace of the Butterfly, and Daraa Tribes, who will make their UK festival debut at our ever-popular Family Day supported by Qatar Foundation International.

You can find the 2019 playlist here

We’ve also created a playlist featuring performers who have been part of LAAF over our 20 year history. Our LAAF performers playlists features the music of a catalogue of incredible artists from across the Arab diaspora, including Reem Kelani, DAM, Emel Mathlouthi, 47 SOUL, TootArd and Cairokee.

You can find the LAAF artists playlist here.

For more information about this year’s festival or to book tickets, visit

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) has announced its first wave of events for the 2019 festival, under the theme “Shadow and Light”. “Shadow and Light” reaches to the heart of how the story of Arab art and culture is told. Inspired by the UK premiere of Beau Beausoleil’s reaffirming exhibition Shadow and Light, which LAAF brings to the Baltic Triangle’s Northern Lights hub (6 – 14 July), the theme addresses how society must reflect on all aspects of lived experience to explore where we are.

The festival opens on Friday 5 July with the UK premiere performance of Juliana Yazbeck’s debut record SUNGOD in the Royal Court Studio. Born in the USA to Lebanese parents, Juliana draws on her mixed cultural upbringing to create her signature sound and will entrance audiences with her unlikely but mesmerising fusion of spoken word, otherworldly electronics, and haunting Levantine vocals.

Also announced for Liverpool Arab Art Festival’s 2019 music programme is The Trace of the Butterfly, a tribute to renowned Palestinian singer and activist, Rim Banna, who passed away in 2018 after a decade-long battle with breast cancer.

Produced by MARSM UK, the uplifting celebration of Banna’s life will include performances from Arab musicians including Tania Saleh, the Lebanese artist, singer and songwriter, Faraj Suleiman, Palestinian pianist, composer and leader of the Faraj Suleiman Quartet, Syrian MC and hip hop producer, Bu Kolthoum and Tunisian singer songwriter and composer, Sabrine Jenhani, with more artists still to be announced.

Unity Theatre will also play host to two LAAF events during this year’s edition, theatre performance, Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Yara Boustany’s dance spectaculars, ēvolvō and One Day and One Night Beirut.

Chronicles of Majnun Layla (7 July), produced by Shubbak in partnership with the Bagri Foundation, is Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad’s powerful rendering of the classic love story of Majnun Layla, often described as the Arab Romeo and Juliet.

The story of love, passion, eroticism and unfulfilled desire has been transformed into a bilingual live experience by renowned Palestinian actor and writer, Amer Hlehel, and radically reinterpreted with an original, contemporary soundscore and live performance by Rihab Azar and Kareem Samara on acoustic and electric oud.

LAAF will also bring renowned Lebanese visual artist and performer, Yara Boustany, to Unity Theatre to perform two of her works, produced by Shubbak, in one special show (11 July). The complex and magical ēvolvō follows a journey from idyllic nature in the mountains of Lebanon, to the busy street-life of Beirut, while One Day and One Night Beirut is reflects everyday life in Beirut, depicting 24 hours from sleep to wake – a journey from dreaming to reality.

Shadow and Light is a collaborative project honouring the lives of more than 400 Iraqi academics killed in targeted assassinations between 2003 and 2012 on university campuses, in the street and even at their homes.

Instigated by Beausoleil, founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project, Shadow and Light showcases creative the photographic and written responses from a range of international artists, writers, poets, activists and teachers, including Merseyside-based participants.

The exhibition will also feature ephemera and the list of murdered academics, seeking to both honour and memorialise them, and reaffirm the importance of pedagogy and freedom. Families will be invited contribute to create unique work of art and remembrance in response to the exhibition on Thursday 11th July, at a bookmark making workshop led by artist-printmaker Catherine Cartwright and poet/book-artist Ama Bolton.

Speaking of the announcements and festival theme, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival Chair, Mustapha Koriba, says: “This year’s theme “Shadow and Light” invites us to reflect on the Arab lived experience and how arts and culture can be a powerful tool to help us navigate the paths between all aspects of it.

“So often Arab culture is presented in rigid ways, dominated by a single narrative, traditionally one of war, struggle or dispute. We continue to address this narrow perspective and instead find inspiration in the rich tapestry of Arab culture and the joy that new connections and exchanges of ideas can bring.”

The festival will close on Sunday 14 July, with its ever-popular finale celebration at Sefton Park Palm House, Family Day supported by Qatar Foundation International.

Each year, LAAF attracts tens of thousands of people from Liverpool and beyond, for a thrilling showcase of the richness of Arab culture, with a packed programme of visual art, music, dance, film, theatre, literature and special events taking place in venues across the city.

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival is supported by Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council.

For more information and to book tickets visit

This year, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) and OUTPUT gallery are partnering to put on an exhibition by an Arab artist that is from or based in Merseyside.

The artist will receive a payment of £300, with a further £200 to cover materials. We are inviting applications from people producing visual arts, performance, music, film or any other media. We are looking for a strong and creative art practice that we can platform at this year’s festival in a solo exhibition at OUTPUT gallery from July 4-14. You do not have to class yourself as a ‘professional artist’ or be working in the arts to apply.

Founded in 1998, LAAF is a registered charity delivering arts and community programmes. It aims to increase appreciation and awareness of Arab culture and arts at a local, national and international level.

OUTPUT gallery was established in April 2018 and works exclusively with creatives from or based in Merseyside. It aims to support the development, mobility, and visibility of the local art scene from its base at 32 Seel St.

Gabrielle de la Puente, Curator at OUTPUT, said: “‘We want OUTPUT gallery to represent the very best of Merseyside’s creativity. We are constantly working with great artists, designers and musicians to show Liverpool, and anyone who visits, exactly what the local art scene has to offer. There are so many exciting things happening behind closed doors in studios, and bedrooms too, and we’re hoping to bring that activity into the open and put on a great exhibition.”

To apply for this role, please email with:

information on yourself, as it would be helpful if you could confirm you are from or based in Merseyside and also from or have heritage in an Arab country
a short description of what you make and why you make it
images/video/audio so we have a good sense of your work
contact details so we know the best way to contact you

Deadline for applications is midnight on Sunday 26 May. Please check out for full accessibility information and get in touch if you have any queries. The £500 is a fixed fee and unfortunately there is no extra budget to cover the work of a PA, our apologies.

Please see the OUTPUT website for a downloadable brief.

LAAF is delighted to be working with Liverpool Arabic Centre for year’s LightNight 2019.

17:30 – 22:00

Liverpool Town Hall | High St, Liverpool L2 3SW

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and Liverpool Arabic Centre invite visitors to drop into a traditional Arabic ‘Living Room’.

Food and hospitality forms a significant part of Arabic culture; the ritual of communal eating is vital to traditional and religious ceremonies and events across the Middle East. Arab recipes, food and culinary traditions help to preserve cultures, while often connecting Arabs living abroad to home. These simple daily rituals are a pillar of everyday life. For some cultures, these actions are a form of resistance in the face of war and displacement.

Creating an atmosphere of traditional Arab hospitality, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival will share traditional Arab music, dress, storytelling and Yemeni biscuits and tea with visitors until 20:30. This informal and welcoming atmosphere will celebrate the differences, but most importantly the commonalities, between domestic life in Western and Middle Eastern cultures through the most basic of human rituals.

This event is part of the tenth annual LightNight Liverpool, the free one-night arts festival, which is taking place on Friday 17 May 2019.

On LightNight, Liverpool springs to life for a Friday night out like no other. With new commissions and a packed programme of more than 100 events, the festival offers an unforgettable experience to be enjoyed with friends and family. Venues across the city will stay open late to present live music, workshops, theatre, exhibitions and much more.

For 2019 LightNight explores personal and collective rituals, from the spiritual to the habitual, and consider how they help us to understand the world and define, or transcend, our place within it.

Festival guides can be purchased from selected outlets across the city centre or ordered online at

LightNight is produced by local social enterprise Open Culture.

For the full LightNight programme, please visit:

Yemeni Poemfilms: Call for artists, filmmakers and animators
The University of Liverpool and University of Leeds, in collaboration with Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, are working on a series of community projects with the Yemeni community in the UK to create new poems which respond to poems and stories by contemporary poets in Yemen.

For the project we are commissioning four short poemfilms – works combining poetry and film.

Each poemfilm will be a creative response to a poem lasting between 2 – 5 minutes.
Filmmakers can work in any media but we are keen that at least one of the poemfilms is an animation. You will not be required to identify a poet as the project team will facilitate this.
The filmmakers can choose either to work with the poet themselves, who will record their poem, or with an actor, but the final soundtrack should be one that can be translated into both English and Arabic.
The poemfilm can offer its own interpretation of the poem, but should be in general sympathy with the poet’s original work.
The finished works should be able to be viewed by a general audience.
The poemfilms, which will be shown in a variety of settings across the UK and internationally, will launched at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival in July 2020. Project start date December 2019.

Fees for poemfilms will be in the region of £1k-2k per poemfilm (to be discussed with each shortlisted proposal)

Further examples of poemfilms can be found at and

How to apply

Contact details (name, email and phone number)
Short biography
Web links or examples of previous film work (no more than 5 examples)
Proposed outline of your poemfilm (such as general format and how you would like to explore working with a chosen poem/poet)
Outline budget for your poemfilm
Please send all documents, files links via WeTransfer to

Deadline for applications: 12pm, Monday 24 June 2019

For more information, please email

evolvo by Ayman Baalbaki

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) has revealed the dates for its 2019 edition, along with the first events from its Dance and Theatre programmes.

The UK’s premier annual Arab arts festival will this year commence on Friday 5 July with a launch event and conclude on Sunday 14 July, with its ever-popular finale celebration, Family Day at Sefton Park Palm House.

The announcement comes as tickets go on sale for two of the festival’s 2019 events taking place at Unity Theatre, Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Yara Boustany’s ēvolvō and One Day and One Night Beirut.

The Chronicles of Majnun Layla (Sunday 7 July, 7:30pm), is Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad’s powerful rendering of the classic love story of Majnun Layla, often described as the Arab Romeo and Juliet.

The story of love, passion, eroticism and unfulfilled desire has been transformed into a bilingual live experience by renowned Palestinian actor and writer, Amer Hlehel, and radically reinterpreted with an original, contemporary soundscore and live performance by Rihab Azar and Kareem Samara on acoustic and electric oud.

On Thursday 11 July (7:30pm), Unity Theatre welcomes renowned Lebanese visual artist and performer, Yara Boustany to perform two of her works. Complex, magical and filled with wondrous images and optical illusions, ēvolvō follows a journey from idyllic nature in the mountains of Lebanon, to the busy street-life of Beirut with its startling roofscapes and noisy traffic.

During this journey a strange creature invades the city, is it an ancient monster or an image of the city drowning in plastic pollution? ēvolvō, like an open-ended riddle, leaves the audience to make its interpretation.

One Day and One Night Beirut is Boustany’s shorter work, reflects everyday life in Beirut, depicting 24 hours from sleep to wake – a journey from dreaming to reality.

Both performances are presented by Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and produced by Shubbak.

Each year, LAAF attracts tens of thousands of people from Liverpool and beyond, for a thrilling showcase of the richness of Arab culture, with a packed programme of visual art, music, dance, film, theatre, literature and special events taking place in venues across the city.

Confirmed venues for LAAF’s 2019 edition include Picturehouse at FACT, Bluecoat, Philharmonic Music Rooms, Unity Theatre and OUTPUT gallery, with more to be announced.

For more information and to book tickets visit

Image: ēvolvō by Ayman Baalbaki 

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF), has appointed a new Chair after founding member, Taher Qassim MBE, announced he is to step down after a 20-year tenure.

Former Vice Chair, Mustapha Koriba, takes up the position from the start of the 2019 programme, with Taher remaining a committed and active member of the board of trustees.

Taher revealed he was to step down from his long-held role following LAAF’s successful 20th anniversary festival in 2018. The decision was taken to allow the public health practitioner to focus more time on vital health projects including the Yemen Special Interests Group (Yemen SIG), chaired by Dr. Ann Hoskins within the Faculty of Public Health UK.

The newly established organisation will contribute to the rebuilding of the country’s health system, which has been destroyed by the four-year war in Yemen, along with more than half of its health facilities. Taher will also be working on a significant project, currently in development, that is using mobile technology to address cholera, which has affected more than a million people.

Taher said: “Standing down as LAAF Chair was a very difficult decision to make. The board, the artists we work with, our staff and volunteers are like a family and I have worked with many of them for a long time.

“However, the time felt right, with the organisation in a stronger position than ever. Following our 20th anniversary festival last year we received excellent feedback from Arts Council England (ACE) and we have secured funding for the next four years.

“What’s more it has a stable and dedicated board, committed staff members and under Mustapha’s leadership I am confident that the festival will continue to grow.

“His deep understanding of the festival and its boundless potential, combined with his international expertise and ability to communicate with and motivate people from all walks of life, will be invaluable to LAAF in the next phase of its evolution.”