Tuesday, March 28, 2006

banipal literary evening in london

Hisham Mattar Posted by Picasa

Londoners wanting a taste of the literature being written by Arabs living in exile had their chance last Wednesday night when three London-based writers - Ghalya al-Said from Oman, the Libyan Hisham Matar and Ghalia Kabbani of Syria - presented their work at the Irish Centre in Hammersmith, West London.

They also had the chance to taste Arabic food from an enticing buffet of dishes such as ful, homous, kibbe and tabboule freshly prepared by the Iraqi novelist Samuel Shimon (author of "An Iraqi in Paris").

Shimon is co-founder of Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, which presented the evening. The event was part of the Westwords Live literature festival being held in West London by eight boroughs during March and April. It was introduced by Banipal's Publisher and Editor Margaret Obank, and chaired by Christina Phillips, an Arabic scholar who sometimes translates for Banipal.

Ghalya al-Said read in Arabic from her recently-published first novel "Days of Heaven". Obank, who read the English translation, described "Days of Heaven" as a novel that is set in London in the 1970s among the immigrant community. "The hero, Ghassan, is a fantasist Don Juan who left his homeland to come to try and find his fortune as a major con man and desperado, and all the adventures he has are recounted." Al-Said writes with acute observation and humour. Ghassan finds that London, unlike cities elsewhere, helps him to keep his many secrets.

Hisham Matar read from his first novel "In The Country of Men". The book trade regards this novel as one of the hottest books due to be published this summer. It was sold in auctions in Europe and the US within a week of being submitted to publishers. It will be published in July by Viking, an imprint of Penguin, and then in 13 other languages. A translation into Arabic is also under way.

Matar's sensuous, dreamy yet precise prose captures the atmosphere of Tripoli in the relentlessly scorching summer of 1979 as seen through the eyes of the nine-year old narrator. The sensitive boy's relationship with his troubled mother, and the mystery over his absent father glimpsed in the street, make a compelling start to the novel.

Christina Phillips read Ghalia Kabbani's story "A Cup of Tea With Mrs Robinson", translated into English by Ali Azeriah. The narrator of this thought-provoking story is a political refugee who describes returning home after a woman has assaulted her in the street injuring her face.

The husband's reaction to his wife's trauma falls far short of what she had hoped for. He is more concerned with discussing politics with his friends than with her welfare. With skill Kabbani takes us inside the realities of life for political refugees, and reveals the stresses political exile places on marriages. It is the English baby-sitter, formerly dismissed as a Mrs Thatcher type with her hairdo and her determination, who gives the narrator the spontaneous comfort she needs.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette March 28 2006

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

from bangla-beat to afro-beat

Idris Rahman

“From Bangla-Beat to Afro Beat” was the title of a concert held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s South bank Centre last Monday week to celebrate the musical heritage of Bangladesh. The concert was presented by Asia House, and the programme contained a message from the Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, Sabihuddin Ahmed, saying he hoped it would achieve its aim of “placing Bangladeshi music on the roster of mainstream performances in the UK.”

Runi Khan, who had the initial idea for the concert, said in her message in the programme that Bangladeshis, who comprise a significant portion of Britain’s Asian population, “are still best known for their curry houses and their rich musical heritage has had little sustainable exposure.” She hoped the concert would start to redress this situation.

The evening got off to an inspiring start with a pre-concert jazz recital, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer, by the gifted jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and her clarinettist brother Idris who are of mixed Bangladeshi-English parentage. They gave wonderfully expressive and engaging performances in which they were accompanied by the lively Brazilian percussionist Anselmo Netto.

Award-winning Zoe’s second album, “Melting Pot” was released recently. Soothsayers, the band Idris leads, released its album “Tangled Roots” a few months ago. As a prelude to the “Bangla-Beat” concert, the recital included some Bengali material based on four songs by the singer and composer Hemant Mukherjee.

The “Bangla-Beat” concert was designed to cover a wide range of music, from traditional folk music and the music of the new generation in Bangladesh to collaborations between Bangladeshi, Asian and world musicians.

The first half of the concert featured Baul culture, declared last November by UNESCO as a national treasure. The Bauls are a mystical group of wandering faqirs who perform devotional songs accompanied by traditional string and percussive instruments.

The Baul performers were Abdur Rob Fakir and Shahjahan Munshi. Also on stage were members of the Ektaar All Stars. The young singer-songwriter Shayan Choudhury, known as Arnob, who is also an instrumentalist, composer, painter and music video maker, sang an appealing selection of songs. His debut solo album “Chaina Bhabish” was released last year.

The Ektaar line up also included Ektaar’s managing director Faisal Siddiqi (Bogey), as bass player and vocalist. He is the guitarist and vocalist of Renaissance, one of Bangladesh’s most established bands. On lead guitar was Al Fahmi Kazi Bashar, known as Kaartik, who plays lead guitar for the group Bangla. On vocals and percussion was Sahana Bajpaie, whose first solo album of songs by Tagore is due out soon.

The second half of the concert was given over to Bangladesh-born Kishon Khan, who grew up in London, and his new world fusion assembly of musicians called Lokkhi Terra. Khan played the piano and Rhodes electric piano. His line-up included more than a dozen performers, among them special guest Fazal Qureshi (second son of the late Ustadh Allarakha) on tabla, Pandit Dinesh on Indian percussion, and the young Pakistani flautist Haider Rahman. Other instruments included trombone, trumpet, cello, bass, guitar, drums and congas. Lokkhi Terra included two singers from Bangladesh, Armeen Musa and Aneire Khan.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette March 21 2006

Zoe Rahman in recital

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

British Council's Arabic translation seminar

The four-day Arabic/English literature translation seminar organised in London last week by the British Council, in partnership with Arts Council England, was one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging explorations of the subject ever to have been held.

The seminar brought together leading Arab, British and other writers, translators, commissioning editors, literary agents, publishers and academics. The sessions on a variety of topics were supplemented by one-on-one interviews with two major Arab women writers, the Lebanese Hanan Al-Shaykh and the Moroccan Leila Abouzeid.

The seminar provided ample evidence of how rich and diverse the field of translating and publishing Arab writers has become in the past few years. One of the valuable spin-offs was the opportunity afforded for networking and contact building.

The event began on Tuesday at the London Book Fair, where a panel examined the translation of Arabic into English and vice versa, and the strengthening of links between the UK and Arab world in publishing, distribution, translation and cultural exchange.

The panel was chaired by translator, author and former British Council representative Peter Clark. It included Jordanian author Fadia Faqir, Palestinian poet and author Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah, and Margaret Obank, the publisher and editor of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature.

On the following two days, the venue of the seminar was Goodenough College. There were several ‘guest hosts’ for specific sessions, among them Banipal, the British Centre for Literary Translation (of the University of East Anglia), the Poetry Translation Centre of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and English PEN.

On Thursday evening there was a reception and dinner for seminar participants at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, followed by author readings and a party. The final event was a brainstorming roundtable on Friday morning to discuss future plans and opportunities to increase links between UK literature professionals and Arab partners.

The Saudi novelist and short story writer Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, who is cultural editor of Al-Yamama magazine, was a speaker at a session on Thursday entitled: ‘How to create and maintain a dialogue: writers making connections.’ Born in Riyadh in 1964, Al-Mohaimeed is one of the new generation of Saudi fiction writers whose work tackles head-on the social conditions of the country.

Two chapters of Al-Mohaimeed’s novel “Traps of Scent”, translated by Anthony Calderbank, were published in Banipal’s special feature on the Saudi novel in its Summer 2004 issue.

“Traps of Scent” was originally published in Arabic by Riad El-Rayyes in Beirut in 2003; Al-Mohaimeed pointed out that because of censorship, a number of Saudi novelists have had their work published in Beirut. He expressed frustration at the misleading images of Saudi Arabia in the West, first as a country of camels, tents and oil and then, after 9/11, as a country of terrorism.

Al-Mohaimeed spoke of some of the difficulties facing Saudi novelists, and artists in such areas as film, theatre and the visual arts, but noted signs of an increased openness. He would clearly like British publishers to take an interest in Saudi novelists, but rejected pressure on those writers to write in a certain way. “In writing novels we feel that we are part of the world – we know the techniques of the novel and we want to contribute, but we don’t want to be ‘folkloric’.”
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 14 March 2006
Saudi novelist Yousef Al-Mohaimeed (L) and Syrian writer Fawaz Al-Haddad