London's Shubbak Festival open to global audiences for the first time

Biennial festival returns to London for three weeks this summer using a hybrid platform

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Hip-hop, spoken word and karaoke are on offer at this year’s Shubbak Festival.

A decade on from its launch, the biennial festival returns to London for its sixth event, with a programme packed with Arab art, film, music, theatre, dance and literature.

Organisers say most of the work was commissioned or specially conceived for Covid-19-compliant conditions, including the use of outdoor spaces, digital programming and live streaming.

Eckhard Thiemann, Shubbak's artistic director, says the festival tapped into an extensive network of international locations, from Sleimani to Casablanca and Cairo to Riyadh, to bring audiences a wide range of performances.

"This year's festival programme transcends the borders of all our previous editions," Mr Thiemann said. "As our world opens up again post-pandemic, Shubbak offers opportunities to reconnect, share and explore our new local and global realities."

Some of the UK organisations to team up with the festival include Glasgow's Dardishi, a platform for Arab and North African women's contributions to contemporary art and culture, and the Safar Film Festival, the UK's only festival dedicated to Arab cinema. Safar will put on a special hybrid event at Shubbak, with its curated selection of films mirroring 10 years of the Arab uprisings, on the big screen and at home.

Shadia El Dardiry, Shubbak's recently appointed chairwoman, said the ability to put the festival on this year was the result of "brave and inspiring responses to a radically disruptive year".

"It has forced artists and curators to think of new ways of collaborating, creating and presenting art. While the festival will retain its roots and a physical presence in London, it will, for the first time in its history, be open to a global audience through a series of online and international initiatives,” Ms El Dardiry said.

The festival said it received vital support provided by the government's £1.57 billion ($2.18bn) Culture Recovery Fund to help face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shubbak's special commissions include a collaboration between two of the most sought-after Arab hip-hop artists. Palestinian-Jordanian rapper The Synaptik and American-Egyptian artist Felukah  will be combining their dynamic music on stage together for the first time in a live-streamed event that will globally premiere two new songs. Felukah, who released her debut album, Dream 23, last summer, told The National she was itching to tour once restrictions eased.

Another Shubbak commission focused on music is from Dubai filmmaker Philip Jamal Rachid (aka Soultrotter) who used dance, spoken word and street art in his film It Ain't Where You From to explore the Gulf's burgeoning hip-hop scene.

Other works include a live and experimental digital performance retelling the history of the legendary Egyptian cabaret Cairo KitKat Club and a specially curated selection of works by female Saudi artists who intermix movement, live performance and choreography.

The Shubbak Festival will run from Sunday, June 20 to Saturday, July 17.