Making a home in the UAE

The Arts Center at NYUAD has been running Hekayah | The Story for the past six years. The idea is simple: an annual celebration of the UAE’s diversity, realised as a programme of performances in different spheres by performers from different countries.

Usually of course it’s a physical event at (or just outside) The Arts Center. The seventh edition is virtual – practically all of the Fall season events scheduled by The Arts Center are online: better safe than sorry – but again it brings together poets, spoken-word artists, musicians, and others with a story to tell from diverse cultures.

And this year there’s something extra to celebrate: Hekayah. which runs from 6.30pm to about 9.30pm on 24 November, is part of NYUAD’s celebrations for the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

Executive Artistic Director at NYUAD Arts Center Bill Bragin, who initiated the event, says that Hekayah has special meaning for The Arts Center. “The event captures how the arts can celebrate diverse cultures and backgrounds and bring our community even closer together through sharing stories and songs that speak to the themes of nation, home, family, and heritage.

The impressive lineup of artists chosen to celebrate UAE’s 50th anniversary beautifully capture the spirit of UAE itself and its inspiring and wonderful diversity.”

This year’s edition kicks off with a conversation between NYUAD Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann and HE Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to the President of the UAE and Chancellor of the UAE University. Zaki Nusseibeh has been active in government service for the past 50 years (with a particukar interet in cultural matters) and he’ll be talking about the country’s history and his work at the side of Sheikh Zayed.

That’s followed at 7.30pm by a mix of live and recorded performances by a typically eclectic lineup, selected through a collaborative curatorial process by key players on the UAE cultural scene, including Maryam Khalifa Alshehhi, Marcel Kurpershoek, Hanan Al Sayed Worrell, Noor Al Suwaidi, Dorian Paul Rodgers, and Bill Bragin.

The performers:

Rami AbuAmmuna Palestine Novelist and poet. His upcoming novel Prisoners At Home speaks of his roots, a journey of a young man who found himself unexpectedly stuck in Gaza during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Rami also plays the handpan (“for its mystic sound of earth and forests”) and collaborates with other poets and musicians.

Jawad Al Bdiwi aka Jivvy Palestine/Jordan Musician. Jivvy has been making music for over a decade, ranging from live improvisations to fully produced original tracks. Although inspired by Daft Punk and Gorillaz, he has developed a unique style through continuous artistic exploration.

Safeya Alblooshi UAE Sound artist. Using found objects, field recordings, the piano, the computer, and analogue technology, Alblooshi’s work engages with topics of conceptual narrative, environmental listening, and interactivity. A recent graduate of NYUAD with a BA in Music, she has recently assisted with Soundwalk Collective’s We Are Not Alone, an audio-visual soundwalk for Louvre Abu Dhabi; she has also done sound for live performance and moving image, most recently for Re|sound V at the Sharjah Arts Foundation.

Shilpa Ananth India Musician (right). A vocalist, songwriter, composer, and producer based in Abu Dhabi and Brooklyn, Shilpa fuses the dreamy landscapes of South India with soul, jazz, and electronic influences. She has recorded and performed with Grammy award-winners AR Rahman, Bobby McFerrin, Bill Whalen, and Javier Limon’s Original Quartet.

Amro Bakri Jordan Musician. Bakri finds design and music as the ultimate outlets for personal expression. Knowing that his work has a purpose, he is able to face any challenge while creating and finding unique pathways for artistic expression.

Farah Chamma Palestine Musician/poet/performer. Chamma combines music, spoken-word poetry, puppetry, movement, and acting in a multidisciplinary performance arts collective with Fairouz Nustas, Rachel Ghanem and Lama Kassem. Their work-in-progress performance Bait Jowwa Bait (Home within Home) will showcase in video form at Hekayah.

Rand Farmawi Palestine/Jordan Musician. Farmawi’s music style is heavily influenced by morning bus rides listening to Fairouz songs in Amman; living in Washington and the Caribbean enriched her love for different types of music, but she says ancient Arabic and folk music are her vocal strengths.

Rakaya Fetuga Ghana/Nigeria Performance poet, theatre maker (left). She won the Rooftop Rhythms x Brooklyn Poetry Slam Season 9 finale in 2021; her writing often returns to cultural heritage, faith, and overlapping identities.

Ahmed el-Gaili Sudan Classical Arabic poetry. By day he is a partner at an international law firm splitting time between Dubai and Riyadh; he also serves on the Advisory Board of the Beirut Institute, a regional think tank.

Ommissa UAE Musician. An emerging artist based in Abu Dhabi, she published her first musical works in 2021 and with Hekayah ventures into performance for the first time. Her works have a recurring theme of self reflection and growth.

Mahmoud Kaabour Lebanon Filmmaker and author. His films Grandma, A Thousand Times, Champ Of The Camp, and Being Osama have all festival awards. He is based in Berlin and Dubai.

Enid Mollel Tanzania Musician. Currently working towards a BFA in Music Performance at NYUAD, Mollel’s music fuses pop and contemporary R&B.

The Vokeys UAE Band (top). Three university students, based in Abu Dhabi and currently touring the UAE, who share a common passion for music – Abdullah Al-Shamsi (aka NotSoHuman) on vocals, Preston D’costa on keys, Fahim on bass guitar. Together they create a fusion of jazz, RnB, pop and rock.

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