Arab, African multidisciplinary artists evoke questioning through Spoken World

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In a special performance for the Red Zone Festival and Spring Festival, poets, musicians and a visual artist come together for a hybrid performance in Cairo and Beirut — Published in Ahram Online.

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In a unique performance developed especially for the Norwegian Red Zone Festival, parts of which are hosted by the Spring Festival, Arab and African spoken word artists, musicians and a visual artists came together to bring audiences in Beirut and Cairo a special treat.

Between Friday 2 May and Sunday 4 May in Beirut’s Sunflower theatre and Cairo’s Falaki theatre, poets and rappers Ali Talibab (Egypt), El-Rass (Lebanon), El-Far3i (Palestine/Jordan), along with Dieder Awadi (Senegal) and musician Tibass Kazematik (DR Congo) presented a myriad of arts from poetry to rap to music, against the backdrop of Tunsian visual artist, Ghazi Frini’s images.

The ‘Spoken World’ performance gave a platform for each of the poets to recite their new and previously performed individual work, with music and visuals by the instrumental artists bringing together separate yet intertwined sketches.

The artists only had five days to put the performance together, and with a few individual exceptions it was the first time for them to meet and work together.

The evening at Falaki Theatre started out to the soft guitar strums of Kazematik and El-Far3i, and French poetry recited by Awadi. Merely seconds after the end of Awadi’s piece, El-Rass asserted to the audience that the performance’s purpose was to dissect the concept of revolution.

“All of us on stage believe that revolution needs to happen on an in-depth level to change the human being,” El-Rass told Ahram Online after the performance.

While the microphone shifted from one artist to another, each tackling a myriad of issues relating to freeing one’s mind and body in their own individual way, a few basic concepts knotted the show together: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water.

“This in depth level [of revolution] requires the rethinking of basic things. To symbolise the return to the original questions, we decided to question the main elements that constitute the universe,” El-Rass continued.

“We needed to open the space for the question mark or ‘the fifth element’,” he said. “Also each of us opened this question mark in a different direction while all pouring back to the simplest thing to be free.”

In the few days the artists had together to prepare for the show, each chose one of the elements and worked on it on an individual level. Artists shared their process with the others for feedback and interventions, only to find meeting points within their work.

During the performance, each of the artists captivated the audience in his own way, with the spoken word element always accompanied by Frini’s immersive visuals. The artists used music and beats to engage the audience who by the end of the evening were on their feet dancing and singing along.

Bits and pieces from Spoken World

Young talent Ali Talibab, who has been participating in different projects on the Egyptian scene lately such as El-Manzouma and Hadsa, excelled in charming the audience. As he moved swiftly on the stage, barefoot, and sometimes reciting lyrics without the microphone, he performed an excerpt from his poem ‘Qaf’ tackling consumerism saying in Arabic:

To them you are simply ink on paper
They want you an addict, a consumer, an addict to the product
So the producer produces less than your consumption
Then the price soars and he eats you
Your weakness suits you
And misery knows you by heart
But the aid goes to their weapon
Aimed from your rooftop
Their weapon beats with your help
Nurtured by your naivety
With all my respect to the peak of your stupidity
They want you as you are ignorant, numb, a murderer
They sell you air and your hand is on your wallet
You listen to everything you are told that has to be heard
You repeat everything you are told that has to be swallowed
You are simply a zero on the left
You are simply the intent of a dictator
My hand is raised with the sweat of the workers

At this point, after a one minute music break, Far3i takes the microphone, skill-fully building on Talibab’s energy with a poem on being a refugee in your own country and how the Palestinian community was breathing an air of possible freedom due to the wave of protests that shook the Arab world. El-Rass then goes on to face the audience with the double standards we tend to live in.

Never give up the fight
My brother never give up the fight
You better never give up
My sister never give up the fight
You better never give up

The musicians sing in unison, encouraging the audience to provide a rhythm by clapping along.

Later, under the element of ‘water’ which El-Rass announced in one word on stage, Talibab takes the mic again singing his popular piece ‘1772’ in which he faces his audience with important questions on the social givens and expectations people live through from authorities, whether peers, religious leaders or the state. 

The twenty-two year old artist of Nubian decent, originally studied to be a Petroleum engineer. Quickly after graduating however, he decided to pursue a different path. He has been performing regularly over the past several months, and is attracting quite a large following on social media sites. He recites to the audience:

Maybe everything goes according to order
Stand in line
Smile to the order
We dress in order
We undress in order
We work for the order
We are dragged for the order
And the price, is collected by the order
So, uh, maybe everything is going according to order

The word “order” translates to nezam in Arabic, thus representing a play on words as its meaning also extends to “the system” or the “political rulers.” The audience was entranced by this mirror of their reality.

El-Far3i strums his guitar and takes the microphone, telling the audience of life under occupation in Palestine, and the cultural imperialism he sees happening from the west onto the minority controlling ruling classes in the Arab world.

I am waking your friends
My words are knocking on your door
You open and you find no one and wonder what came over you
You go back inside but many factors have started intertwining
Egyptian revolutions everywhere as your youth diminishes

And later he continues:

You who love these countries and feel their features are disappearing
I’ve hid an Arab in my coat for you
I will bring him out when I feel the revolution’s fire could be dying
But first, revolution, you have to be purged

The performance continues with the rest of the elements, and ends on a participatory note from the audience with Kazematik, who has to this moment been only singing and playing guitar, asking the audience to get up, dance and sing along to “be free.”

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