Global sounds from Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, and Turkey: Barzakh returns

The Barzakh Festival is again returning to The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, on 6 and 8 March.

Barzakh’s programmers position the festival as a marker for the way the UAE is becoming a meeting place for postmodern and traditional influences and cultures from across the globe – indeed, that’s probably a summary of The Arts Center’s thinking generally. Barzakh delivers it in the form of fun, danceable, always interesting bands.

As Executive Artistic Director at The Arts Center Bill Bragin says: “I’m especially interested in artists who represent hybrids – of identity, of style, of heritage and future-orientation. The mind-blowing artists in this year’s edition are all deeply rooted in their own cultural traditions, but work in the spaces in between roots and funk, rock, jazz, folk and electronics, with messages of hope, poetry, and deep social consciousness.”

The gigs start at 7.30pm at The Arts Center’s Red Theater. Tickets are AED 100 per show, or buy a two-day pass for AED 150.

Incidentally, why ‘Barzakh’? The word means ‘separation’ or ‘barrier’ in Arabic. It can be interpreted as the dividing line between the physical and spiritual worlds, but in the Qur’an it’s also used to mean an impassable barrier between fresh and salt water – they may eventually intermingle, but there’s a point at which a river remains distinct from the ocean into which it flows. Barrier? Or junction? You decide.

Day One: 6 March
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 / Alsarah & The Nubatones / DJ James Locksmith

Seun Kuti (abov) is the youngest son of Fela Kuti, the pioneer of Afrobeat, and Egypt 80 consists mostly of musicians from Fela’s own band. Seun has followed the political and social ethos of his father, but along the way has added his own twist. The result is pretty special; “as the son of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti carries a torch for infectious grooves and political songwriting” said an NPR review, and you can certainly hear that on tracks like Black Times from the group’s last album (of the same name). Seun Kuti plays a mean sax, too …

They’re on stage with Alsarah & the Nubatones, the “East African retro-pop” brainchild of Sudan-born but Brooklyn-based Alsarah and Rami El Aasser that blends East African tunes with Arabic sounds. Here’s NPR, describing the band as creating “a lavish, joyful, era-spanning sound full of Arabic-language reflections on identity and survival. It’s modern and nostalgic, timeless and new”.

Alsarah says it’s all about identity, but she doesn’t want to be called a ‘refugee artist’ – “I wasn’t from any one place any more. Sudanese people said I wasn’t Sudanese enough. Arabs said I wasn’t an Arab. Americans said I wasn’t American. I used to be like, ‘I don’t belong anywhere! Now I’m like, you’re all mine. All my countries, you’re all mine.”

Here’s Ya Watan from a couple of years ago. The band currently includes Armenian-American oud player Haig Manoukian and French born, Togo-raised bassman Mawuena Kodjovi.


Warming up the crowd pre-show and between bands is Dubai’s DJ James Locksmith, a mainstay of the creative club scene and a longstanding champion of global sounds in the UAE.

Day Two: 8 March
Lekhfa / Altin Gün

Egypt’s alternative indie supergroup Lekhfa is one of the most enticing musical projects that’s pushing the boundaries of a burgeoning underground music scene in Cairo. It features Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca and Tamer AbuGhazaleh, three creative forces who together deliver a potent mix of hypnotic vocals, guitar, slide guitar, synths, beat loops, electronica, ouds, buzuq, mizmar, percussion, and harmonium.

Their lyrics are usually based on the somewhat dystopian poems of their contemporary Mido Zoheir, whom they’ve dubbed the fourth member of Lekhfa. Here’s Nefsif Akli from their self-titled album.


Altin Gün is an equally fun group, a Turkish psych folk band that hails from Amsterdam but comes from various backgrounds (Turkish, Indonesian, Dutch). The music is basically Turkish folk songs reworked so as to be virtually unrecognisable with funk rhythms, wah-wah guitars, fuzz bass, analogue organs, and deft changes in time signatures.

This is Altin Gün live in Groningen last year.

Altin Gün

These two bands are also contributing interactive workshops to the Off The Stage programme at The Arts Center. In ‘ The Making of Lekhfa’, Tamer AbuGhazaleh, Maryam Saleh and Maurice Louca dissect several tracks from their album Lekhfa; Altin Gün offer ‘Reconstructing Traditional Music with a Modern Interpretation’.

Both workshops are at the same time – 7pm on 7 March, which is a shame. Spaces are limited and pre-registration is required; click here to sign up.

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