Iconic festival breathes life into Jerash’s Roman ruins
Jerash, Jordan - Presenting the region’s best performers, the Jerash Festival for Culture and Art kicked off on July 23rd in Jordan’s northern city of Jerash, filled with Roman ruins and nestled in a quiet valley between the mountains of Gilead.
The 10-day festival, an annual event that Jordan banks on to boost its revenues from the tourism sector, opened with a ceremony that included poetry recitals and musical performances.
Thousands of Jordanians and Arab tourists crammed Jerash’s streets as well as its spacious public squares as music echoed across the city on a torrid summer evening with an occasional cool breeze. Mohammad Abu Summaqa, the festival’s executive director, said spectators would be amazed this year by the variety and colourful shows.
“We have a host of Jordanian, Arab and international artists and troupes who will bring their newest works and culture to the streets of Jerash mixed with a family-oriented atmosphere for everyone to enjoy,” he said.
“This year, we have the best of the best in the singing world from Lebanon, Kuwait and Jordan,” he noted.
The singers performing include Nancy Ajram, Maya Diab, Wael Kfouri, Hani Mitwasi, Yara, Joseph Attieh, Rami Ayash, Abdullah Rwaished and Omar Abdalat.
“We also have violinist Jasser Haj Youssef from France, the Jubran Trio from Palestine and Spain’s Flamingo troupe in addition to others,” Abu Summaqa said.
The North Theatre will tremble under the feet of performers from China, Egypt, the Balkans, Mauritania, Algeria and the United States, he said.
Forty local artists will also be taking part, Abu Summaqa noted.
He said the festival was being held amid rising violence, sectarianism and militancy across the already volatile region, which forced organisers to make special security arrangements.
But he insisted that organisers tried their best to “make things very easy to all fans, starting with the parking spaces and logistics”. He declined to elaborate on the security arrangements, but there are dozens of police officers deployed at the scene.
“Ticket sales are high and the demand for certain shows is exceeding expectations,” Abu Summaqa said.
Previously known as the Jordan Festival, the event was the brainchild of Jordan’s Queen Noor, the American-born Lisa Halaby, the wife of the late Jordanian ruler, King Hussein.
When she launched the festival in 1981 she wanted to expose Jordanians to other cultures, mainly by focusing on folkloric dance and ballet, opera, symphony and orchestra. Years later, poetry recitals and other activities were added.
Between 2007-2011, the festival was stopped because of insufficient funding. It was later revived under the sponsorship of King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania.
According to Abu Summaqa, the festival, which ends on August 1st, was well thought of in terms of the timing.
“We have a host of Arab tourists, especially from the Gulf area and foreigners. It is taking place after Ramadan and after the results of the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination and before the schools reopen,” he said.
Syrian Khaled Shamout, 37, said he was excited to attend. “It is a way to enjoy some time away from the news of violence around us,” Shamout said.
“I hope my family and kids will like it,” he said. He said he would see the Turkish and Chinese performances, but had not decided on which singers to hear.
It is expected that Lebanon’s Nancy Ajram and Wael Kfouri will draw big crowds as should actress and fashion icon Maya Diab.
“Definitely, it’s Wael Kfouri,” shouted an excited Nesreen Abasi, 19, when asked which show she was attending.
“I have been waiting for this moment for ages and this is my chance to see him live.”
The festival will have a positive impact on the economy of Jerash, which depends mostly on tourism, Majdi Tell, head of the cultural department at the state Petra News Agency, said. “The benefits involve the whole city and its residents, who will exhibit their handcrafts and work of art. Restaurants will be full with guests and taxis will do more business,” Tell said.
Hanan Syouf, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture, said the festival was regarded as “a window to share culture and art”.
“The ministry is proud of the festival and its work and activities and regards it as a window in which it displays the different cultures of the world in a very organised and beautiful way,” Syouf told The Arab Weekly.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of tourists who visited Jerash in 2014 reached 248,750 while in 2013 the number was 228,550.