Category: News

LAAF is honoured to be participating in Liverpool Black History Month with our partners at Creative Organisations of Liverpool (COoL) 

We will present Yemen in Conflict alongside the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool, a project that explores how Yemeni literature and poetry can be safeguarded, and how it can further the understanding of the situation in Yemen. Whether they evoke the iconic streets of Sana’a in Yemen, or Liverpool, the commissioned works for the project are part of a ‘living archive’ that speaks to the experiences of Yemenis living in Britain today.

You can read LAAF’s statement on Black Lives Matter, from 11 June 2020, here.

Liverpool Black History Month
Culture Liverpool is proud to be supporting Liverpool Black History Month 2020, which this year is more vital than ever. The Black Lives Matter protests in response to the racist killing of George Floyd and the Coronavirus pandemic have laid bare deep structural inequalities. Black communities and anti-racists across the globe are demanding change. Creative Organisations of Liverpool (COoL) and partners recognise the role that the arts can play in affecting that change. We have come together to promote equality and justice through a range of art forms and to stand in solidarity with all of our communities facing racial discrimination.

Liverpool, with the oldest continuous black community in Europe, has a vibrant heritage, enriched by successive waves of immigration. BHM2020 shines a light on the city’s history but, like the Liver Bird, it looks out across the Atlantic for international connections. BHM2020 will celebrate the artistic excellence of the diaspora. African Superheroes will dance to Brazilian beats, Calypso is arriving on the Empire Windrush, The Sankofa bird will take flight and sculptor Faith Bebbington will protest with plants. Poetry chimes to Afro beats and Latin sounds. The Chinese Youth Orchestra, representing a community at the sharp end of Coronavirus inspired bigotry, reflects on quarantine though a musical fusion of east and west. Travelling back in time, BHM2020 will lead us through the riot torn streets of 1919 and into the heart of the slave trading capital of Europe. Booker prize winner Marlon James is Zooming in from America with Afrofuturist Ytasha Womack, bringing the WoW factor to BHM2020.

ON RECORD – Untold & Retold celebrates, honours and showcases black music on Merseyside through performance, exclusive content and debate.

BHM2020 is a celebration for everyone, good for your soul and good for society. We look forward to seeing you throughout October.

Creative Organisations of Liverpool would like to thank Mayor of Liverpool and Culture Liverpool for supporting this programme and all of our partners who have come together to celebrate Black History Month 2020.

#BHM2020 #BlackLivesMatter

We are pleased to announce that the four commissioned poemfilms for the Yemen in Conflict project will be screened on Friday 25 September at Casa Árabe, Madrid, Spain.

The screening is part of Casa Árabe’s film series devoted to Yemeni cinema, which is happening at the same time as a photography exhibition by Thana Faroq and Shaima al Tamimi.

Since it was founded in 2006, Casa Árabe has worked to achieve the goal of building bridges, strengthening bilateral and multilateral political relations, promoting and assisting with economic, cultural and educational relations, and providing training and furthering understanding about the Arab and Muslim world.

To watch the films and find out more, visit

The online Dabke classes by Hawiyya Dance Company & El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe are still available to watch. You can also explore their conversations about the importance of Dabke to contemporary dance.

These digital workshops and conversations form part of our 2020 festival programme. In March, the LAAF festival team were finalising details for our festival programme. Our events programme would have taken place, as usual, across Liverpool’s key cultural venues. As the global situation around COVID-19 became more prominent in March, the LAAF team/Board made the difficult decision to move the festival online for the first time in its history.

We held honest discussions with our festival artists, partners and venues about our move online. Our key concern was to ensure that any transition online would challenge the artist and audience equally, while not artistically jeopardising the integrity of the work. While moving online has opened many new doors, not every event works digitally. How can you recreate the atmosphere of theatre or relationship between viewer and artwork? You often can’t through a screen.

Regrettably, many original festival performances had to be either cancelled or postponed until a later date.

In an alternative timeline, today, Friday 17 July 2020, would have seen Curfew performed live in Liverpool during the festival. Curfew would also have been performed in London in partnership with MARSM UK.

While Curfew isn’t happening tonight, we are working closely with Hawiyya, El-Funoun and MARSM UK to bring it to Liverpool as soon as we can.

Instead, a wider conversation began around dabke, its continuing importance to contemporary dance and how it form the foundation of Curfew.

You can watch these conversations below.

Including what Curfew means to the dancers

What Dabke means

And why it’s important to fuse the traditional and the contemporary

Explore all of the Dabke classes, including beginner and intermediate here

Please enjoy this short video from the latest performance in Ramallah (2019):

About Curfew

Curfew is a dance production conceived from the international collaboration of two dance groups: Hawiyya (UK) and El-Funoun (Palestine). Devised in 2018 it was displayed with two sell out nights in March 2018 at Rich Mix, London and one night in April 2019 in Ramallah. The cross-cultural and cross-border partnership proved its strength and ability to deliver thought-provoking messages through an experimental work fusing Palestinian folk dance and contemporary vocabulary.

The partnership between the two groups started in 2017, when members of Hawiyya travelled to Palestine and performed as part of the Palestine International Festival in Ramallah. In Ramallah, the two groups started the development of the concept and groundwork, which also included training, rehearsals and performance with members of El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe.

A contemporary dance production by El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe & Hawiyya Dance Company

Artistic Director: Sharaf DarZaid

Producer: Jamila Boughelaf

Dancers: Serena Spadoni, Jamila Boughelaf, Sylvia Ferreira, Mohammed Altayeh, Khaled Abueram, Lure Sadeq, Mohammed Safadi, Sharaf DarZaid

Music Composers: Popular Art Centre, Joseph Karam, Nai Barghouti, Hussein Zahawy, Didier Malherbe

Photographer: José Farinha

Hawiyya Dance Company was founded in 2017 as an all-women’s collective, based in London, who explore identity, culture and resistance through dance. The group uses folk dance ‘Dabke’ and contemporary dance to create narrative works that explore themes such as resistance, oppression, displacement, social justice, individual and cultural identity.

The members of Hawiyya are from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, and have experience in different forms and styles of dance training. The dancers unite in their commitment to anti-racism and anti-imperialism in all they do. The aims of the company is to empower people especially women, to build community, to raise awareness of human rights and to demonstrate solidarity to the causes they support through dance and culture.

In their short time Hawiyya have achieved much success with their own productions, such as full-stage production ‘Curfew’ in collaboration with El-Funoun PDT, performed over a two sell-out nights at Rich Mix London, and one in Ramallah, or full-stage production ‘Safar: Journey’, co-created and performed with refugee and migrant women at the Shakespeare’s Globe and V&A Museum. To date, Hawiyya have showcased their artistic work at major events, such as Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, Migration Matters Festival, GreenBelt festival, Palestine International Festival, and partnered with leading artists.

El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe is an independent, non-profit artistic organization that is virtually entirely volunteer-based. El-Funoun was established in 1979 by a small number of enthusiastic, talented and committed artists. Since then, El-Funoun has been crowned as the lead Palestinian dance company in Palestine, as well as among Palestinians in exile. It holds an impressive track record of over one thousand performances locally and internationally. It also produced 15 productions and over ten dance scenes. El -Funoun has won several commendation certificates and awards over the years.

Since its inception, El-Funoun has aimed at expressing the spirit of Arab-Palestinian folklore and contemporary culture through unique combinations of traditional and stylized dance and music. The Troupe’s repertoire comprises folkloric dance forms, called “dabke”, in addition to more elaborate choreographed forms that embody El-Funoun’s own unique vision of Palestinian dance. El-Funoun is widely recognized as the cultural entity that has played the most significant role in reviving and reinvigorating Palestinian dance and music folklore.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Curfew logos

For Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s digital festival, we are delighted to present newly commissioned poemfilms (video works combining poetry and film) by Olivia Furber, Mariam Al-Dhubhani and Diyala Muir, created in response to original poems by contemporary Yemeni poets Ahmed Alkhulaidi, Amina Atiq and Hamdan Damaag.

You can watch the poemfilms, and read an essay by Deryn Rees-Jones, on the Yemen in Conflict project page – please click the image below:

This year’s digital festival means you will be able to watch festival events on a variety of different platforms online. This guide is intended to help you know where to watch events and enjoy our programme.

As you’ll know, many physical venues like theatres, galleries, art centres, cinemas and concert rooms are closed in the UK because of COVID-19. This has meant that, for a festival like LAAF that is hosted in these venues for our ten-day annual festival, moving to a digital programme has allowed us to continue to celebrate Arab arts and culture.

Moving to a digital programme doesn’t necessarily just mean putting every event in a video platform and allowing everyone to see it. Planning this festival has allowed us to consider what elements we love about Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and what elements of those strengths we can replicate online.

Each year, we plan our festival commissioning artists and planning performances and arts events with them, but we also work to secure a venue that fits both the artist, their audience and the work they are performing.

Even though we are digital this year, we have tried to bring this approach to our festival. Not every event works in the same space, and this is as true for digital platforms as it is for concert venues.

Our music programme, for example, will take place on Facebook and you can watch it through our Facebook page. For other events, like our film programme for example, artist rights mean we cannot make those freely available, so you have to register to watch them.

For other events, like literature events or readings, we like when we have a gathering of people getting the feel for an event, being able to participate. For these events we will be doing them on Zoom as Webinars. Other events will be available via YouTube.

To find out how to watch each event, you find out at the top of the event. If you register, you will be sent a link to the platform you will be able to watch the event – a Zoom link, a link to a video or film etc.

We have been working with artists based all over the world for this festival, and as you know, internet quality varies vastly across the world. We are also working in different timezones. This has meant that, for some events, it’s been necessary for us to record in advance. We weighed this up against the disappointment of an artist’s internet dropping out mid performance and felt, on balance, we wanted to ensure the work would be seen. The artists will still be there to answer questions and enjoy the event with the audience where they can, internet allowing!

If you have any questions or queries, please contact us at [email protected]

Celebrating Arab art and culture, musicians from the MENA region bring their sound to Liverpool Arab Arts Festival in July 2020, as the digital festival launches its programme from Liverpool.  

The festival launches on Thursday 9 July with Moroccan musical collective Walead Ben Selim and Widad Broco/N3rdistan. Between rock, trip hop, electro, oriental-beat with world influences, this quartet mixes with ease digital power, ancestral Arabic poetry, the targeted singing intermingling here and there with the melodies of a Qanoon and African Keys. Without falling into the trap of ethnic-electro this firey sonorisation serves as an engine to this group producing the most highly musical journey of the moment. 

Hailing from one of the most musically rich cities in the Levant, Hello Psychaleppo is the brain child of Aleppian electronic music producer and visual artist Samer Saem Eldahr who brings an intimate live performance to Liverpool Arab Arts Festival on Friday 10 July.

Both of these events are in partnership with Marsm UK.

After wowing the crowds at the closing of last year’s Family Day, the festival welcomes back Daraa Tribes as the celebratory closing event on Saturday 18 July. A fusion of ancestral tribal music and Saharan Blues, Daraa Tribes comes from the oasis town of Tagounite in the Daraa River Valley of Morocco, with each member originating from a different tribe, bringing with them diverse music traditions to create an eclectic style only to be found in the oases of the North African Sahara.

Founded in 1998, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival takes place each year in arts and cultural venues across Liverpool. In 2020, a digital programme of performance, music, film and conversation will see artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers connect virtually from their homes in Ramallah, Kuala Lumpur, London, Beirut and more.

The Festival programme includes performances from artist-in-residence, spoken word poet and activist Lisa Luxx, renowned Arabist and author Tim Mackintosh-Smith, an event in partnership with independent publisher Comma Press connecting writers in Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem in ‘Writing the Palestinian City’ and a film programme celebrating female directors in today’s Arab world. 

Each of the music events wil be available to watch live on Facebook.

We at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival stand firm in solidarity with those protesting against racism, anti-blackness, white supremacy, and state violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rodney King and all those who have been attacked and murdered before and since. Alongside calling for justice abroad, we must do everything within our power to ensure racial justice and equality within our own communities and workplaces as well.

Our remit is to bring the best of traditional and contemporary Arab arts and culture to diverse audiences here in the UK and internationally. We are proud to collaborate with an incredibly diverse range of artists through our work, which includes black artists who are from or have heritage in the Middle East and North Africa*, who face discrimination at home and abroad. We are asking how we can build upon the work we do to actively fight racism and anti-blackness in the UK, the Arab world, and anywhere our work reaches. We have set up a team within our board whose active role is to ensure our festival is continually thinking about and acting on these questions, not just now but into the future.

We are working through the various resources available, and we are compiling a list that we will share with you and add to, including those that have been shared by other brilliant organisations. We are reflecting upon how we can meaningfully engage. We recognise there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and that true allyship is a lifelong commitment to learning and continual improvement.

*With knowledge that there are numerous ethnic and racial groups in the region, and that there is a lot of complexity around how people describe themselves

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival connects digitally for 2020
The annual cultural festival returns 9-18 July

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, the UK’s longest running annual festival of Arab arts and culture, returns in July, connecting artists and audiences from across the UK and beyond in a digital festival. Featuring artist-in-residence, Lisa Luxx; cultural and social activist, playwright, and performance poet Dayna Ash; renowned Arabist Tim Mackintosh-Smith; award-winning, Palestinian-American author, poet, translator, artist and educator, Ibtisam Barakat; an exploration of Writing the Palestinian City, and a celebration of Arab Cinema, the festival will be online, for the first time in its history, from 9-18 July.

The first waves of 2020 events is available here.

Established in 2002, the festival takes place each year in arts and cultural venues across Liverpool. This year’s digital programme will see artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers connect virtually from their homes in Ramallah, Kuala Lumpur, Liverpool, Beirut and across the world.

The first wave of programme to be announced includes:

Artist in residence, spoken word poet and performer Lisa Luxx brings her unique voice to the festival. British-Syrian, she reflects on identity, sexuality, belonging and gender. Lisa will appear with prominent cultural and social activist, playwright and performance poet, Dayna Ash, in Grinding Saffron; a night of poetic lesbian sisterhood. The event will reflect on LGBTQ+ culture, both online, in lockdown and within Arab society and communities.

Renowned Arabist Tim Mackintosh-Smith joins the festival to discuss his acclaimed book Arabs: 3,000 Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires, delves into language and culture to narrate the evolution of modern Arab identity. The historian, who for many years lived in Yemen, will be joined in conversation with Irish novelist and collaborator, Denyse Woods.

In partnership with the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award, described as the ‘Arab world’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize’, Ibtisam Barakat will deliver a special workshop encouraging participants to explore and develop their writing skills. Barakat won the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for illustrated children’s book Al-Fatah Al-Laylakeyyah (The Lilac Girl.)

Writing the Palestinian City, in partnership with Comma Press, brings together three writers, whose work includes both fact and fiction set in and about Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, to explore the issues, challenges and opportunities of writing about Palestine. Talal Abu Shawish (The Assassination of a Painting, Goodbye Dear Prophets, Middle Eastern Nightmares), Maya Abu Al-Hayat (No one Knows his Blood Type) and Mazen Maarouf (Jokes for the Gunmen, Our Grief Resembles Bread) join Ra Page from Comma Press for a discussion.

In a celebration of Arab Cinema, LAAF, in partnership with BBC Arabic Festival, shares a programme of short films from Female Directors in Today’s Arab World. Each short film by Dina Naser, Katia Jarjoura, Yassmina Karajah and Mariakenzi Lahlou, take us through the effects and consequences of war on individuals and their families; and the hope for freedom. Sheyma Buali, BBC Arabic Festival Director, will chair a special discussion with the selected filmmakers.

The award-winning feature documentary Jaddoland follows filmmaker, Nadia Shihab, as she returns to her hometown in Lubbock, Texas, to visit her mother, an artist originally from Iraq. Touching and challenging, the film is an intimate portrait of a mother through a daughter’s eyes, which raises questions about what we call home.

Yemen in Conflict is a national partnership between LAAF, the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool exploring how Yemeni literature and poetry can be safeguarded, and how it can further the understanding of the situation in Yemen. An online exhibition will premiere poemfilm commissions by artists Olivia Furber, Mariam Al-Dhubhani, Diyala Muir and Noor Palette, created in direct response to original poems by contemporary Yemeni poets Ahmed Alkhulaidi, Liverpool-based Amina Atiq, Hamdan Damaag and Abel Hakim Al Qadi. This will be accompanied by an essay by writer and poet Deryn Rees-Jones and a selection of material from a series of national workshops held with Yemeni communities in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool and Sheffield throughout 2019.

For some events, please register and you will be sent a link to the event.

The second wave of festival events will be announced later in June.

Jack Welsh is Liverpool Arab Arts Festival Programme Manager:

“LAAF has always been committed to delivering its annual festival, which attracts audiences from Liverpool, the UK and across the Arab world. The past two months have shown vital art and culture is to connecting people in these challenging times. As the UK’s longest running Arab art festival, a digital programme means we can support artists and performers from across the Arab world and bring them into the homes of our audiences. While we would love to host festival events in the city – like our Family Day at Sefton Park Palm House – it is important, now more than ever, that art and culture shares the experience, stories, and reflections from people and places across the world.”

Mustapha Koriba is Chair of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival Board:

“The mission of our festival is to bring diverse cultures together, and to increase the appreciation of Arab culture and art on a local, national and international level. This year, while it is delivered online, we are still eager to be able to provide a platform for the art and artists we care so passionately about.”

For more details on festival events go to Audiences members can register for events taking place online. While all events will be free, we would welcome any donations from our audiences. All donations received during the festival period will go towards supporting artists in the next year.

Notes to Editors

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival is an annual event, part of a year-round programme celebrating Arab art and culture. The founding purpose of the festival is to bring diverse cultures together, with a vibrant celebration of visual art, performance, music, dance, film, theatre, literature and more. Connecting communities, schools and colleges is a stimulating aspect of LAAF’s work, promoting curiosity and learning through arts development.

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. It is funded by Liverpool City Council and Culture Liverpool, with support from Al Omar Family, Trusthouse Charitable Foundation, The Granada Foundation and Qatar Foundation International.

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

A selection of high res images, with image credits, is available here

A highlight reel of LAAF’s 2019 festival:

For images, interviews and further information contact Laura Brown [email protected], 07739321279

Image: Lisa Luxx courtesy of Maria Klenner

100% of your donations will go towards artists and commissioning new work from artists for Liverpool Arab Arts Festival in 2021.

This year, as the festival moves online, we have taken the decision to make our digital programme freely accessible, but we do request donations in lieu of ticket fees.

Each year, we work to keep our tickets affordable, keeping them under £20. In 2020, all the donations we receive will go towards artists, for new commissions in 2021.

We believe that it’s important we continue to support artists, especially during this time. We believe passionately that not only should everyone have access to the arts, but that everyone should have access to being an artist.

Artists matter. Their work matters. We will always put artists first.

You can donate via Paypal here or contact us via [email protected]