Tuesday, October 03, 2006

'lebanon, lebanon' at new players theatre

The launch of the anthology “Lebanon, Lebanon” at the New Players Theatre in central London last Thursday evening was an opportunity for performers and members of the audience alike to express solidarity with Lebanon following the dreadful war there. The event was organized by Saqi Books, publisher of “Lebanon, Lebanon”, in conjunction with Pen, Index on Censorship and Open Democracy.

The evening saw poetry, prose, music and dance performed by Lebanese, British and other artists. A large screen behind the performers showed an ever-changing succession of images from Lebanon.

Some of the readers, including novelists Doris Lessing, Maggie Gee and Hanan Al-Shaykh, South African writer Beverley Naidoo, poets George Szirtes, Moris Farhi and Hugo Williams, read from their contributions to the anthology.

Novelist Margaret Drabble read from the novel “Dear Mr Kawabata” by her friend the Lebanese novelist Rachid El-Daif. The engaging curly-mopped Lebanese actor Karim Saleh read excerpts from Zena El-Khalil’s perceptive Beirut blog. Saqi founder Mai Ghoussoub, together with Ana Belen Serrano, Tania Khoury and Itzel Mayoral, performed “Texterminators” written and directed by Ghoussoub.

The event was presented by the British musician and record producer Brian Eno, who recalled how his interest in Arab culture in the 1970s had come first from music.
He had particularly loved the song “Ya Tair” (“Oh Bird”) by Lebanese singer Fayrouz.

“It was a huge shock when a few weeks ago I started seeing part of that world of which I am particularly fond, Lebanon, being destroyed. And I started to think why on earth aren’t we stopping this, why aren’t we doing something about this, don’t we realize what a jewel this place is?”

Eno was moved to write a letter to the Lebanese people, which was translated into Arabic and published in two newspapers in Lebanon. In the letter he said he thought millions of people in Britain shared his sense of shame “that my government looked the other way while your country was smashed up”.

The evening included several musical performances. The dancer and graphic designer Anna Ogden Smith performed to an Arab-influenced soundtrack produced by Eno. The Muslim rapper duo Mecca2Medina strode the stage as they declaimed lyrics with a message of tolerance.

Lebanese singer and composer Nadine Khoury accompanied herself on guitar as she sang adaptations of poems by Adonis (“The City”) and Mahmud Darwish (“The Girl/The Scream”).

The Persian writer, singer and songwriter Shusha Guppy sang and played the guitar. The accomplished Syrian qanun player Abdullah Chhadeh gave a spirited rendering of one of his innovative compositions.

Brian Eno hopes “we might find ways between us to work around these monolithic structures that stand between us, called governments.” The “Lebanon, Lebanon” evening was a valuable example of direct people-to-people artistic communication.
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, October 3 2006