Jerash Festival entertains Jordanians in tough times
AMMAN - Labelled one of the liveliest cultural events in the region for its colourful hand-picked music and art performances, the 33rd Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts will bring life to the ancient Roman city of Jerash from July 19 through August 3.
The much-awaited festival at the well-preserved Roman amphitheatre will have performances from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Spain and Portugal. It will be a happy celebration in a country that has faced economic strains and demonstrations that ended with a change in government and withdrawal of a controversial income tax law.
“What makes this year special is the new and popular performers who are taking part for the first time in the festival such as the famous Egyptian Reda Troupe, the pioneering dance troupe that started as a family business and was the beginning for many artistic performances we see today,” said festival Executive Director Mohammad Abu Summaqa.
The Reda Troupe for folkloric arts has been around for 50 years. It was founded by Mahmoud Reda and the troupe’s lead dancer, Farida Fahmy. They amazed audiences with their choreographies and diverse styles.
In addition to Reda Troupe, Palestinian Smoud for Dabke, Saudi Arabia’s Nagham, the UAE’s Al Awayed Al Harbiah, Kuwait’s Takht Sharqi and Egyptian Daraweesh Abu Ghiat are to take part in the event. The Lebanese presence will also be strong with singers Assi Hellani and Wael Jassar performing.
“In Jerash, there is always a need to have Lebanese singers around as they have strong popularity and people tend to attend their events,” Abu Summaqa said.
Taking into account the country’s economic malaise, some events will be free.
“We have lowered the prices of tickets from $28 to $9 as a way of facilitating attendance of families because we empathise with the hardships of the society that triggered the latest events in the kingdom. Moreover, there will be many free-to-attend events,” Abu Summaqa said.
Jordan faced rare nationwide strikes to protest the income tax law, which was withdrawn after King Abdullah II’s intervention.
Majdi Tell, a journalist who reports on cultural events, said expectations are always high for Jerash Festival.
“The festival is a very popular event among locals and tourists, especially from the Gulf region. In 2016, the festival attracted more than 100,000 visitors and last year, thousands of fans attended the concerts of Jordanian and Lebanese singers Omar al-Abdallat and Wael Kfoury,” Tell said.
“For such a festival, which has been around for many years, people expect diversity and a colourful programme because this is how it is and this is how it should be. Fans wait to see if their favourite singer is performing or not and plan their trip accordingly.”
“For many, the festival means the end of summer and the time to enjoy before schools start. Having a reading of this year’s programme, I think it is different from other years because not many big names are taking part. Instead there are new names and new experience for many, which is good,” he added.
Tell said the festival provides an opportunity for many Jordanian performers to meet their fans such as Nancy Petro, Macadi Nahhas and Jihad Sarkis.
The controversial Bahraini-Emirati singer Ahlam, who has 9 million followers on Twitter and was one of the top 100 influential social media personalities in the United Arab Emirates in 2016, will participate in the festival after a 17-year absence.
Despite Ahlam’s outspoken comments, she is loved by millions. Her performances at Paris Olympia Theatre and Misr Opera House in Cairo, her 4-year tenure as head judge on the “Arab Idol” music competition programme and more than 12 albums make her a must-see for residents and visitors.
“We have been waiting for Ahlam for such a long time and this year she will sing at Jerash Festival,” said Hanin Awwad, a student and fan of the singer.
“That’s what I love about the Jerash Festival. They always have surprises and seek to showcase popular artists and present events that people are waiting for. I don’t feel it is very expensive to attend the festival as there are many free activities, which is a good thing.”
Many Jordanians say the festival is a positive way to promote Jordan globally.
The Jerash Festival was established in 1981 by Queen Noor, the wife of late King Hussein, in coordination with Yarmouk University. It was cancelled during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and in 2006 during the war between Israel and Hezbollah. After a 3-year suspension due to financial reasons, the festival was revived in 2011.