Arabofolies festival celebrates Arab art in Paris

While focusing mostly on music, Arabofolies also offered a movie screening, a slam poetry session, a dance performance, literary roundtables and a discussion forum.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Kurdish singer and musician Aynur Dogan performs during the Arabofolies festival. (The Arab World Institute in Paris)
Celebrating art. Kurdish singer and musician Aynur Dogan performs during the Arabofolies festival. (The Arab World Institute in Paris)

TUNIS - The Arab World Institute in Paris has created a festival honouring Arab art and culture that is planned to take place three times a year.

Dubbed “Arabofolies,” (“Arab Follies”), the first edition of the festival took place in early March at the institute’s grounds along the Seine.

Founded in 1980 in the heart of the city near the Great Mosque of Paris, the Arab World Institute researches the Arab region and promotes its arts and cultures.

While focusing mostly on music, with five concerts scheduled during the festival, Arabofolies also offered a movie screening, a slam poetry session, a dance performance, literary roundtables and a discussion forum.

Musicians selected to perform at the festival included a Lebanese saxophonist and a Palestinian pianist and featured a variety of genres such as jazz, rap, folk and electronic music. The most recognisable name on Arabofolies’ lineup was Algerian folk singer Souad Massi, who previewed pieces from her new project, Ya Dra.

However, the festival’s star attraction might very well have been Electrosteen, the Palestinian electronic music collective, which delivered an “electronic celebration of Palestinian heritage,” as organisers described it.

Electrosteen lit up the Arab World Institute’s sold out indoor performance hall for the festival’s inaugural concert March 1. It was the big coming out party for the group, whose story is as Palestinian and fascinating as its fresh sounds.

The crew’s name is a combination of “electro” and Falasteen, the Arabic word for Palestine.

Styled as “an initiative to bring Palestinian traditional music, in its widest sense, into the contemporary international art/musical scene,” Electrosteen was created in April 2018 following an independently organised 2-week residency in Ramallah. Ten participating artists, based in the Palestinian territories, Israel, Britain, France and Jordan, produced an 18-track album that is yet to be released.

The inspiration and source material for the album came from a folkloric database of hundreds of Palestinian songs recorded by the Al-Fonun Cultural Centre in Ramallah more than a decade ago.

The album, a first step in the group’s professed mission of revitalising and celebrating Palestinian cultural heritage, was showcased during the concert at the Arab World Institute. Sections of the concert on social media showed an electrifying performance with a sound heavy in punchy basslines as well as samples of darbuka and oud, the percussion and stringed instruments prevalent in Palestinian and Arab music.

Electrosteen’s inaugural concert was a fitting opening for a festival organised under the theme of “Resistance.” While the focus of the performance was on the collective’s fresh music, undertones of the festival’s theme were apparent in some of the songs’ politically tinged lyrics as well as in concertgoers wearing or hoisting keffiyehs, a Palestinian national symbol.

The festival’s scheduling attempted to celebrate the art of a young generation who grew up in a region in flux. While the festival’s artistic offerings remain largely apolitical, it is hard to disassociate the theme of resistance from the creativity of an “Arab spring.”

The theme was perhaps most apparent in the movie screening. Set in pre-revolutionary Tunisia, “A peine j’ouvre les yeux” (“As I Open My Eyes”), the debut feature film of Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid, is a coming-of-age story spotlighting a young Tunisian woman’s struggle to pursue a musical career despite societal and family pressures.

22