New York University Abu Dhabi Arts Centre kicks off its inaugural music festival tomorrow night. African-American blues singer Toshi Reagon is raising the curtain on the UAE’s newest — and longest — music festival. Her performances tonight, tomorrow and on Friday are the first in a marathon series free concerts and theatre productions at NYUAD Arts Centre, which will continue until May.
The 50-year-old heads an impressive line-up that ranges from established and influential names to indie darlings.
The centre’s executive director, Bill Bragin, says the programme was designed not to cater to popular tastes, but to expose the audience to a wide range of artistic styles and disciplines. “Abu Dhabi is an incredible nexus of north and south, east and west, a really cosmopolitan city that is investing in arts and culture as part of its identity,” he says. “At NYU Abu Dhabi, we are looking to be a part of this dynamic and transformative effort, by building an arts destination and a cultural sector for Abu Dhabi and the region by shaping and redefining the arts and by making them accessible.
“We are thrilled that our first full season will include some of the world’s most influential master artists, alongside innovative artists from younger generations, nearly all of whom will be performing in the UAE for the very first time.”
Here are some of the key performances to look out for during the inaugural season:
Kronos Quartet September 16 and 17
The New York-based group are the Pink Floyd of string quartets. They have been pushing the barriers of string music for more than five decades and have worked with an eclectic array of artists — from beat poet Allen Ginsberg to Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Faith No More and veteran Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle. To mark their first performance in the Arabian Gulf, the group will present a world-debut piece.
Polyglot Theatre: We Built This City September 8 to 11; 15 to 17
No, it’s not a stage show based on the classic Jefferson Starship hit, but this show promises to be equally joyful. More than a thousand boxes will be used by the Australian company to create a vast onstage metropolis, with a DJ providing an urban soundtrack. In terms of the plot, all we know is that it is a “hands-on celebration of the unlimited reach of young imaginations”.
Les Ambassadeurs November 18
Music lovers of all persuasions are in for a treat when this influential Malian big band arrives in the capital. World music aficionados will salivate at the thought of hearing renowned artists Salif Keita and Amadou Bagayoko (from Amadou and Mariam) sharing the stage together as Les Ambassadeurs perform a career-spanning set blending jazz and funk with Afro rhythms — bring your dancing shoes.
Hekayah — The Story November 29
Various spoken-word genres will be brought together, including classical Arabic Nabati poetry and gritty hip-hop, in a special evening in celebration of National Day. Expect solo performances and a few unexpected collaborations.
Fanfare Ciocarlia February 28
The Balkan region is renowned for its vibrant jazz culture, and Fanfare Ciocarlia are a leading name. The two-decade-old Romanian outfit, dubbed the Kings of Balkan Brass, are an international live draw, thanks to their high-energy shows full of big horns blasted out over classic and rock compositions.
Alwan Ensemble / Shawq Ensemble May 3
The season will be brought to a close by oriental jazz man Amir El Saffar. The Iraqi-American musician, who plays the trumpet and santur (a Middle Eastern dulcimer) will present two diverse programmes. With the Alwan Ensemble, El Saffar will deliver a lively set of popular Arab folk music. The affair gets more ethereal in the second half of the programme, in which the Shawq Ensemble — featuring the santur and string quartet — and El Saffar will perform an evocative soundtrack for performers who will recite spoken-word poetry from revered Sufi poet Ibn Al Arabi.
• For more details, visit www.nyuad-artscenter.org